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Friday December 9th, 2022

‘Call me baby’: Talking sex dolls fill a void in China

AFP- With China facing a massive gender gap and a greying population, a company wants to hook up lonely men and retirees with a new kind of companion: "Smart" sex dolls that can talk, play music and turn on dishwashers.

Rows of voluptuous silicon bodies hang in the warehouse of EXDOLL, a firm based in the northeastern port city of Dalian, but engineers are also working on bringing them to life.

A programmer in a lab coat asks a petite blonde prototype sitting on a chair and dressed in a see-through white blouse: "What is your name?"

"My name is Xiaodie but you can also call me baby. But if I’m not happy I won’t answer," the robotic voice says through a speaker, though its lips do not move.

EXDOLL has ambitions to apply artificial intelligence to make dolls so life-like that they could cure loneliness among the country’s singletons and care for the elderly and handicapped.

There are 33.6 million more men than women in the country of 1.4 billion people.

The gap is attributed to China’s former one-child policy and a traditional preference for sons, which has led to selective and illegal abortion. Some 114 boys are born for every 100 girls, far above the global average.

China also has a rapidly ageing population, which is putting strains on the healthcare and social welfare system.

Seated between two non-robotic silicon companions, one in a short black skirt and a smaller model in a schoolgirl outfit, marketing director Wu Xingliang said his company’s products could solve the country’s major social problems.

"China has a shortage of women, and this is a factor in why there’s this demand, but they’re not just for sex," Wu, whose customers include single young and older men but also married ones, told AFP.

"We’re designing them so they can have meaningful conversations with you and help with chores around the house. They could eventually even work as medical assistants or receptionists," Wu said.
– ‘Hottest body’ –

Xiaodie is essentially a sex doll fitted with a wifi function similar to the iPhone’s Siri application, which can surf the internet and respond to voice commands.

It can turn home appliances that are connected to the wifi on and off.

Users can control the 25,000 yuan ($4,000) doll with a phone app or by giving it oral instructions — much pricier than the traditional sex dolls that the company sells for as little as 2,500 yuan.

In the next year, EXDOLL hopes to roll out more advanced robots featuring artificial intelligence technology, complex facial expressions and body movements, voice recognition systems and eyes that can follow people’s movements.

A shapely prototype in a racy white dress bows to greet male engineers at the factory.

The programmers pore over 3-D models on computer screens while another one assembles a skeleton with exposed wires and joints — reminiscent of the white droids in the Will Smith sci-fi film "I, Robot".

The machine becomes more lifelike as he gingerly affixes a silicon skin — handpainted in sultry makeup colours — over its face.

Qiao Wu, chief development officer at EXDOLL, said the goal is to create the most beautiful and most human-like robot possible.

"There are already good robot technologies developed, so we want to concentrate on having a robot with the most beautiful face, and the hottest body," he said.
– ‘Friends of dolls’ –

The company makes 400 custom dolls per month, up from 10 in 2009. It began research into sexbots in mid-2016 and now employs 120 people.

On the factory floor for "traditional" sex dolls, Wu points out that buyers can customise each doll for height, skin tone, breast size, amount of pubic hair, eye colour and hair colour.

However, the most popular dolls have pale skin, disproportionately swelled breasts and measure between 158 and 170 centimetres (five foot two and five foot seven) tall.

When asked whether smaller models are supposed to resemble children, Wu recoiled and said they were diminutive because some customers prefer "less heavy" and "more portable" dolls.

On Chinese social media, some say the products reinforce sexist stereotypes or endorse paedophilia.

"When sex robots become more technologically advanced, will men prefer to use them instead of respecting human wives?" one commenter on the Twitter-like Weibo platform wrote.

Others, calling themselves "friends of dolls", share user reviews and advice on dedicated online forums.

"The material is quite good, very soft to the touch. When I hold her I feel very comfortable," one anonymous user said in a review of a standard sex doll on e-commerce platform Taobao.

China is estimated to make more than 80 percent of the world’s sex toys, with over a million people employed in the country’s $6.6 billion industry.

Prominent Chinese feminist Xiao Meili thinks that some men will always have outdated expectations and "sex housewife robots" might actually help women.

"A lot of men want the same for women: sex, housework, childbirth and filial piety. They don’t think of women as individuals," Xiao told AFP.

"If every nerd buys a sex doll for himself … that would free a lot of women from these kind of men."

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Sri Lanka president slams power regulator chief after conflicting with minister

ECONOMYNET – The powers to change the electricity tariff in Sri Lanka is vested with the Minister of Power and not the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL), President Ranil Wickremesinghe told the Parliament.

The minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekara has requested an upward price revision to be implemented in two phases both in January and July next year, saying the recent tariff hike was not enough for the state-run utility provider Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to continue uninterrupted power supply.

However, Jaynaka Ratnayake, the Chairman of the PUCSL had said  the recent tariff hike is enough for the CEB to cover the cost of production and it will not allow another price hike. However, he has said a twice a year price revision is necessary though it should be in April and October instead of January and July.

President Wickremesinghe said the PUCSL chief was opposing the tariff hike due to his personal reasons.

“The power is vested with the Minister and me. I am the one who made the PUCSL act and I know what is in it,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament on Thursday. quoting a letter from the Attorney General which mentioned provisions in the island nation’s Electricity Act.

Accordingly the Act, the PUCSL would be statutorily obliged to give effect to such policy. It is observed that neither the Act nor the PUCSL Act contains any provisions that empowers the PUCSL to change or act invariant of such policy guidelines.

“The Chairman of the PUCSL is misguiding the general public. I have to meet him and see,” Wickremesinghe said.

WIckremesinghe said the Chairman does not want the tariff hike because he owns one of the highest electricity consuming companies.

“He is the Chairman of the Trillium corporation. It is the firm that takes up the most energy”, he said.

The Trillium group is managed by Janaka Ratnayake and he also holds positions as the chairman and CEO of Trillium Property Management & Services Ltd., City Housing and Real Estate PLC, Trillium Residencies Ltd., Computer Care (Pvt) Ltd., and Rent a Comp Services (Pvt) Ltd., and JR Management Consultants (Pvt) Ltd.

“It means when the electricity bill increases, his expenses increase as well”

He said the CEB still has a loss of 300 billion rupees since 2013 and it needs to be covered.

The CEB issue can be solved only in three ways, either printing more money, increasing value added tax or increasing the tariffm, he said. (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Sri Lanka President bemoans over inconsistent LNG deals

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe bemoaned over successive governments’ liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal that has brought in all the world powers into the discussion.

Wickremesinghe’s center-right United National Party (UNP) had discussions with India and Japan between 2002-2004 for an LNG project.

“Following dialogues with India and Japan, the UNP government could come to agreements to get two LNG power plants. After we were defeated the successor government, without cancelling those agreements granted it to New Fortress company in USA,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament.

“Thereafter, as they did not like New Fortress, they gave it back to Pakistan and China. So within the same premises, there were China, Pakistan, India, USA, Japan and only Russia was not there.”

“It was wonderful that a world war did not ignited there as there were five main powers in the world.”

“Now there is no LNG or anything here and now they ask me to solve this issue.”

Wickremesighe’s outburst comes as his government is forced to raise tariffs on power prices after successive governments failed to implement cheap and renewable power generation projects.

He said a total loss for the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board since 2013 was 300 billion rupees and a possible drought next year could increase the 2023 electricity cost to 420 billion rupees.

“If it rained, we need Rs. 352 billion while Rs. 295 is required if rained so much to have floods. How are we going to find this money? We would have to print money, but Rupee would depreciate. We would have to increase VAT but it would increase the price of all commodities or to charge it direct.” (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Air quality drop forces Sri Lanka to close schools; public warned

ECONOMYNEXT – A rapid drop in air quality in Sri Lanka has forced the Colombo government to close all schools across the country after a deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal, officials said.

The Education Ministry, issuing a special notice on Thursday said, it has decided to close all government schools for Friday, after discussing with the officials in Meteorology Department and Disaster Management Center.

An official said the drop was due to the deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal carrying the air from India.

Due to the depression over South east Bay of Bengal (370 km east of Trincomalee) has concentrated into a cyclonic storm “Mandous” by Wednesday night.

“Cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that is the prime reason for the increase in the pollution load as we receive more wind from India,” H.D.S.Premasiri, Senior Scientist, Coordinator-Air Quality, noise and vibrations at National Building Research Organization (NBRO) told EconomyNext on Thursday.

Officials said there is a likelihood of the cyclone moving west-northwestwards and further intensify into a severe cyclonic storm tonight and cross North Tamil-Nadu, Puducherry and South Andhra Pradesh coast around midnight of 09 th December and the maximum wind speeds will be 70-90 km per hour and can increase up to 90 in sea areas.

“Hopefully, today we can expect normalization in the environment and the effects of the fog will disappear”.

According to the NBRO’s real time Air Quality Index Indicator, the quality of air in northwestern coastal district of Puttalam has dropped drastically and indicated a particular matter (PM) 132, while Kegalle (85) and Mannar (84) were the districts which had next worst air quality.

According to NBRO, Battaramulla, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Kegalle, Mannar and Puttalam indicate a poor quality of air due to higher PM.

“The fog will lead to lung and breathing issues,” Premasiri said.

“So the public is warned to wear a mask when they travel outside. The pollution highly prevails in city areas and has a less impact on the other parts of the areas.” (Colombo/ Dec08/2022)

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