The information age was supposed to usher in a world where we could connect to anyone around the world instantly. But the sour promise of the electronic future is that it's still very nice to be in the same room with someone--with business contacts, sure, but especially with a loved one. Maybe it's time technology solved that problem, too. Welcome to the age of the Internet kiss.
Researchers at the Kajimoto Laboratory at the University of Electro-Communications in Japan (of course) are working on a machine that can replicate a kiss from the Internet. Just approach the box, move the straw with your tongue, and your partner gets a straw moving in their mouth the same way. True bliss. Here's a video:
One of the researchers, Nobuhiru Takahashi, notes that "the elements of a kiss include the sense of taste, the manner of breathing, and the moistness of the tongue." Now that they've got tongue movement down, they're working on those. They project that a famous musician or movie star could record kisses, and then fans could kiss their own boxes: Imagine young girls (or boys!) everywhere staying up late making out with a program of Justin Bieber's kisses. It's a million-dollar idea.
But aside from the pop-culture implications, there is something bigger; a deeper moral quandary about our assumptions about a global world and how we can move around in it. George Monibot invented a term called "love miles"; the miles we must travel out of obligations to people we care about:
If your sister-in-law is getting married in Buenos Aires, it is both immoral to travel there, because of climate change, and immoral not to, because of the offence it causes. In that decision we find two valid moral codes in irreconcilable antagonism.
There is a paradox in a world in which the Internet allows us to form relationships thousands of miles away, and in which flying is increasingly something we should avoid, even as we become closer to people from farther away. This device could actually reduce the miles we travel to be with people we want to kiss. But then: Do we want to live in a world where kissing can be replicated by a box with a straw attached? If that's how we're interacting, have we not lost something essential about being human? Can we truly accept living in a world where we kiss with boxes?
One thing we do know: Takahashi, for all his technical brilliance, appears to be a truly horrible kisser.
Hat tip: Dvice