Smart bots: China's sex doll makers jump on AI drive

ZHONGSHAN, China (Reuters) - Amid Beijing's push to turn the country into an artificial intelligence (AI) powerhouse and embed the technology in all facets of life, some Chinese entrepreneurs are taking the expertise to a new frontier: sex dolls.

WMDOLL, one of China's biggest sex doll makers, which is based in the southeastern province of Guangdong, launched what it calls AI-powered dolls at end of 2016 that offer features ranging from simple conversation to moving eyes, arms and torsos. Customers can personalize their dolls by choosing various appearance options including height, hairstyle and eye color.

AI features on the dolls are still very basic: they can answer questions but cannot hold longer conversations. The doll uses vocabulary by connecting to a database supported by Chinese tech giant Baidu.

*This gallery contains content that some may find explicit*

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China's sex doll makers tap into AI technology
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China's sex doll makers tap into AI technology
Parts of sex dolls are seen on operating platforms waiting to be checked at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A worker attaches a nail to a sex doll's finger at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. All dolls at the factory are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sex doll heads are seen at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. The company hopes the AI dolls will eventually take off with overseas customers, including those in the United States - exports account for 80 percent of their sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A worker assembles a sex doll at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory has over 200 full-time workers, all dolls are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Sex dolls lie on operating platforms during a lunch break at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. All dolls at the factory are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A worker assembles a sex doll at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. All dolls at the factory are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Metal skeletons for sex dolls are displayed at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. All dolls at the factory are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Various doll heads covered with dust bags are seen on shelves at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Wigs displayed on a shelf at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Workers assemble sex dolls at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The exports account for 80 percent of WMDOLL sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. Dolls with tanned skin colour are the most popular in overseas markets. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TEMPLATE OUT.
Various styles and designs of sex dolls are displayed at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The exports account for 80 percent of WMDOLL sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. Dolls with tanned skin colour are the most popular in overseas markets. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A worker takes a photo of a sex doll at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. Online customers can choose different doll styles according to pictures. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Three sex dolls, all called Lucy, have their moving parts controlled by remote control at the WMDOLL factory's display room in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The company hopes the AI dolls will eventually take off with overseas customers, including those in the United States - exports account for 80 percent of their sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A male sex doll hangs in the warehouse at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. About one percent of the products at the factory are male dolls, and are mostly bought by male consumers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A worker prepares a sex doll for a photo shoot at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. Online customers can choose different doll styles according to pictures. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The head of a sex doll mould is seen on an operating platform at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. All dolls in the factory are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Workers wait for an elevator with a sex doll at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TEMPLATE OUT
Different moulds for making dolls are seen in a workshop at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TEMPLATE OUT.
Sex dolls with different shapes and skin colours hang in a warehouse at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The exports account for 80 percent of WMDOLL sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. Dolls with tanned skin colour are the most popular in overseas markets. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Workers have lunch among sex dolls at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. The factory has over 200 full-time workers, all dolls are handmade and each requires the cooperation of over five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Workers hang a sex doll in the warehouse at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The exports account for 80 percent of WMDOLL sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. Dolls with tanned skin colour are the most popular in overseas markets. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TEMPLATE OUT.
Workers check the circuits of a sex doll called Lucy at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The company hopes the AI dolls will eventually take off with overseas customers, including those in the United States - exports account for 80 percent of their sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Heads of sex dolls are displayed in a cabinet in an office at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Employees work at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. The factory has over 200 full-time workers, all dolls are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A sex doll's metal skeleton is seen on the operating platform at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. All dolls at the factory are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sex dolls hang from racks in the warehouse at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TEMPLATE OUT.
A sex doll hangs in the warehouse at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 12, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Sex doll heads are seen in boxes about to be sealed and shipped off to customers at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Workers assemble sex dolls at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The factory produces around 2,000 dolls a month, including dozens of different shapes of body and over 260 different faces. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A worker prepares to test an artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced sex doll at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. The company hopes the AI dolls will eventually take off with overseas customers, including those in the United States - exports account for 80 percent of their sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TEMPLATE OUT.
A worker holds a doll's head to cool it down in front of a fan at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, July 11, 2018. All dolls at the factory are handmade and each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. REUTERS/Aly Song SEARCH "SONG DOLLS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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The firm admits improving the features has been difficult partly because experts aren't interested in putting much effort into developing AI technology for adult products.

"Of course we're not expecting to make our AI dolls that human-like, after all we're just making adult products," said Liu Ding, WMDOLL product manager. "But we will surely add more advanced technologies... for example making the limbs move more naturally."

WMDOLL says it has sold more than 20 of the AI dolls, which are priced between 10,000 yuan and 50,000 yuan ($1,470 to $7,350), compared with their annual sales of 20,000 dolls.

The company hopes the AI dolls will eventually take off with overseas customers, including those in the United States - exports account for 80 percent of their sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States.

(Reporting by Thomas Suen and Aly Song in ZHONGSHAN, China and Min Zhang and Se Young Lee in BEIJING; Editing by Karishma Singh and Neil Fullick)

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