Humans create mechanical beings for a lot of varied and ever-evolving purposes, but can you imagine having an intimate emotional relationship with a robot? What about falling in love or having sex with one?

The concept of technosexuality or robosexuality — where humans are sexually attracted to humanoid machines — has been popular fuel for the science fiction realm. We’ve seen it before on-screen, from the comical booty call between Data and a slightly not-herself Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation to the more serious and explosive romantic pairing between Gaius Baltar and Number Six in Battlestar Galactica.

Robot Love: Science or Fiction?

Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s new sci-fi thriller, is the latest to venture into this quasi-taboo territory — but it goes deeper than most by taking a more real-world approach to exploring identity, attraction, and the strong psychological and romantic emotional bonds that could potentially form between humans and humanoid robots. It opens the lid of this particular Pandora’s Box in a way that hits a lot closer to home than the fantastical flings scattered across the sci-fi cosmos.

Like with most science fiction, it’s the slight ring of truth, that seed of reality planted within the tall tale, that makes these stories so enthralling and relatable. But you might be surprised to learn that humans have already begun establishing relationships, both emotional and sexual, with our robotic counterparts.

From Sex Bots to Robo Romance

The adult industry’s advancements in sexual robotics is probably the more obvious and publicized example of humans going robo, with its development of overt sex robots featuring lifelike skin, simulated heartbeats, circulatory systems that warm them to the touch, and… other curiously realistic features. While these naughty droids have some basic functionality that makes them more lifelike, they’re still a far cry from the real deal.

Sex bots may be a titillating prospect to some and absolutely horrifying to others, but let’s not overlook the more emotionally driven attempts to connect with robots, like the Japanese man who married his virtual girlfriend from the game Love Plus or the guy who built his own DIY robot girlfriend from scratch.

As crazy as it might sound, these quirky connections between humans and machines are very real to the people involved, whether they come off as pervy or platonic.

The Future of Attraction

In a 2008 interview in Scientific American, AI researcher David Levy builds a compelling case for why a future with coupled robots and humans isn’t so outlandish as you might think. “It’s not that people will fall in love with an algorithm but that people will fall in love with a convincing simulation of a human being, and convincing simulations can have a remarkable effect on people,” says Levy.

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Getting romantic with a walking toaster may sound absurd, but what if tomorrow’s robots were practically indistinguishable from the real deal? What if that toaster looked like an attractive man or woman, responded to your touch, expressed an invested emotional response, and acted like a potential partner in every other imaginable sense?

Human-robot relations are only going to get more entangled as technology continues to advance. Today’s scientific minds and engineers are keen to push the boundaries of robotics, creating even more realistic, more adaptive humanoids. As robots become more human-like in appearance and their ability to adapt expands, it’s possible they might someday supplant significant others — both in the bedroom and in day-to-day life.

Want to see robosexuality in action? Check out Ex Machina, in theaters now.

Image by Jake Inferrera.

Nathan Meunier is a journalist and freelance writer who covers video games, technology, and geek culture. He’s also the author ofUp Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide to Video Game Journalism, which is out now on Kindle and in print.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between Ex Machina and Studio@Gawker.