Researchers in Japan are working on a device that has managed to intrigue — or at least amuse — public relations executives, social scientists and even the patent holders of a sanitizer for computer keyboards and other peripherals: an Internet-based kissing machine.
The device, as best can be described, looks a bit like a can opener but without the cutting part. Instead, sticking out of the end of what must be one of the most unromantic, unsexy-looking machines ever to be invented, is a plastic tube that is shaped like an Allen wrench, although clearly it is not, as the intent becomes clear.
According to the video’s voiceover, the device is meant to transmit the feeling of a kiss. The kisser places his or her mouth over his machine, which is hooked up to a PC, and gets going, so to speak. The kissee feels the machine move in her or his mouth per the kisser’s actions.
Besides staying in touch virtually with your loved one, there are other uses as well, the developers suggest. For example, these virtual kisses can be replayed, which could lead to marketing opportunities for celebrities or rock stars.
Furthermore, the device that the engineers demoed is just a basic model. Eventually, they speculate, they will be able to incorporate related tactile activities into the device such as breathing, taste and moistness.
What to Say?
People intuitively grasp what, say, Skype, can mean for a long-distance relationship. But using technology to replace tactile, face-to-face kissing? What, really, can you say to that?
Plenty, as it turns out.
“It gives a whole new meaning to catching a computer virus, ha ha,” says Jon Roberts, chairman and inventor of VirWall , the computer board sanitizer.
“I would carry it if it came in a travel size and it were priced right,” Paul Shrater offered half-seriously. Shrater is the cofounder of online travel-sizes retailer Minimus.biz.
“A fake kiss? I can understand the concept of online simulated sex but kissing is different,” said Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM PR, who was once tasked with managing public relations for a device that let people taste flavors via the Internet, and a special printer and paper.
Spiritually cold, pronounced Scott Foulkrod, corporate faculty member at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about the Kiss Transmission Device, which when you consider how ubiquitous and pervasive technology has become — even to our most personal and intimate moments — is not that surprising.
“It is well-known that new technologies tend to get developed and driven by intimate contact in one way or another, so a kissing machine isn’t that surprising,” said Arizona State University Professor Braden R. Allenby, coauthor of The Techno-Human Condition, published last month by MIT Press.
“It is actually fairly tame compared to some of the stuff that happens on the Internet,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Perhaps more to the point, it is an example of how some parts of the human experience are changing because of technology, he continued, which may explain in part why many have a knee-jerk reaction of distaste to the device.
“Look at social networking. Kids don’t go to the mall anymore to hang out with friends, they go on Facebook. This is just a few steps beyond that,” he said.
Ironic that the Japanese would then create a device that replaces the coming together of two bodies and souls into one of the most satisfying and uniting acts we can participate in, a kiss, Foulkrod said. “In the Samurai book The Hagakure, it is written that it is always bad when one thing becomes two. Instead of taking the division of two and allowing it to naturally and satisfyingly become one, we look only within for this virtual satisfaction, keeping us divided, separated, by a technological replacement however maneuvered by another at a distance. It is always bad when two things that could become one, remain two.”
On the Tip of My Tongue
If this device sounds vaguely familiar that is because just about every one of the five senses were targeted by crazy inventions during the Web 1.0 era.
More than 10 years ago, Laermer found himself on “The Today Show” explaining how a product developed by a company called “TRISENX” worked.
Essentially, he told TechNewsWorld, it was developed by scientists who believed there would be a demand by food developers such as General Mills for paper that could reflect a certain taste, such as strawberry. The printer and special paper even came with wafers that could be cut off and actually eaten, he said. “I cannot make this up.”
Jokes and philosophy musings aside, the device could easily be adopted to practical uses, says Roberts, who is an attorney by profession and, with 43 patents to his name, an inventor by avocation.
“As funny as it sounds, I can absolutely get my head wrapped around other uses,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“For example, when he was young my son had a condition in which his facial muscle didn’t develop properly. A speech pathologist gave him exercises to learn to speak, which included moving his tongue,” he explained.
Now his son is just fine, Roberts said (“you can’t shut him up”), but he could easily see how the Kiss Transmission Device could be adapted to a speech therapists tool kit. “It could help stroke victims or a doctor remotely diagnose a problem based on how strong the tongue muscle is.”