Ian Pearson describes the concept of "active skin," which could enhance and expand human sensations.
In the future, a smart "skin" that slots seamlessly over and under your own could give you access to sensations that you can only dream of now. It could sync your nervous system up to the information network, allowing you to record and replay senses, experience orgasms on demand, and switch genders as you wish, according to one futurologist.
Ian Pearson is a former British Telecommunications engineer, a chartered fellow of the British computer society, and a senior futurologist at communication agency Futurizon. I met him recently at a Virtual Futures event about sex with robots, where he was a panelist.
"At the end of the 1990s, MIT did an experiment that showed that you could transmit the sort of information that you put on a business card through a handshake. So you might have a wristwatch that allows you to use your skin as a means of electrical connections between you and the other person," Pearson told me over the phone. "I read that and thought it would be interesting to see if you could use the skin to transmit electricity," he added.
This "active skin," according to Pearson, would let users have enhanced sexual experiences, where they could record and replay sensations, have networked sex, and even swap genders. It would connect to the nervous system through a neural implant as well as to external computing networks and devices.
Active skin is just a concept for now, but Pearson reckons that the advancement in artificial skin technologies and computing power could see it become a thing by the 2040s and 50s.
He envisages part of the skin as a membrane that could be connected to a computer database and programmed to vibrate so you could experience physical sensations, similar to when you play a video game with a haptic controller. It could also act as a haptic memory storage device that lets people record then replay sensations they've experienced.
"You could allow special friends to create sensations—i.e. an on-command orgasm—by pressing command+shift+O."
This, said Pearson, could extend to sex, allowing people to record and replay their own sex scenes, or download a pornographic sequence and activate the sensations on their own body via the skin and nervous system. Networked sex and e-orgasms could also become a thing.
"If you've got those capabilities to create sensations using a computer, you could allow special friends to create sensations—i.e. an on-command orgasm—by pressing command+shift+O and sending it to someone over a network," said Pearson.
Ian Pearson believes that "active skin" could enhance the sensations we feel. Image: Ian Pearson
Pearson envisioned that someone with the active skin and neural implants could also experiment with their sex.
For example, a woman might strap a dildo on and actually feel like they were inside a man's body, or at least that the the dildo was a real extension of their body, as they could feel sensations relating to it.
"You might decide to design entirely new genders."
"It would have all the senses in it, so you would feel as though it were real," said Pearson."When you feel like it, you would just take it off, and put it in a drawer, and you're back to being who you are. So you would be able to change gender, just by changing your outfit."
Pearson even imagines a future where people could "download" a personality to go with the new character they feel like.
"You might decide to design entirely new genders," said Pearson. "Once you're at that point, you'll have all these new genders to pick from, and it's also possible that people might just swap between them quite routinely."
Pearson recognized that his musings on a future where genders can be switched with the flip of a switch might provoke ethical debate.
But Pearson remained adamant on one thing. "Active skin is about creating stimulations," he said. "[With active skin] you don't have to go in at the genital end, you can go in at the other end of the nerve and straight into the brain."
For researchers like Pearson who draw a distinction between their body and mind, the hypothetical possibilities of this kind of neural manipulation are exciting.
"I don't feel particularly emotionally connected with my body, it's just something that I need to carry on living with," said Pearson. "I'd be quite happy as a brain in jar."