When the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer ran into trouble for employing the resources of an escort agency called the Emperor's Club, I checked it out (unsleeping sense of journalistic duty, you understand) and was impressed by the way the site described its enticements. "Meet Samantha," read one. "Breathtaking beauty, inspiring conversation and a candid personality make her a peerless companion. When seeking a vivaciously rejuvenating girlfriend experience, Samantha is the obvious choice."
At the time I assumed that the "vivaciously rejuvenating girlfriend experience" was a comically overblown euphemism for a shag, but I was wrong. In sex-worker terminology, a Girlfriend Experience (or GFE) means a hooker who offers a fair impression of emotional intimacy for an hour: who can share your mood, mirror your enthusiasms and converse as if she understands what you're on about. To the chronically lovelorn, it's probably well worth $400 an hour, with a shag, as it were, thrown in.
Now here's proof that the essential ingredient in the bedroom isn't, after all, a battery-operated device or mink-lined restraints, but conversation. In Las Vegas, at the Adult Entertainment Expo, an inventor called Douglas Hines, of the True Companion corporation, unveiled a $7,000 life-size sex robot called Roxxxy, whose secret weapon is that it/she can be programmed to chat. She murmurs with pleasure when touched, and, when you tap commands into a laptop (don't snigger) she can project a variety of personalities – "outgoing and adventurous" Wild Wendy, caring and mumsyish Mature Martha, severe, no-nonsense S&M Sarah and "reserved and shy" Frigid Farrah (who sounds, quite frankly, a dead loss as a sex toy.) All have the technological wherewithal to hold a conversation, using pre-recorded words and sounds. "She knows exactly what you want," said Mr Hines excitedly. "If you like Porsches, she likes Porsches, if you like soccer, she likes soccer."
Roxxxy will be a boon to certain male dwellers of Losers' Lane. At last, they can have a "girlfriend experience" with someone interested in their views on the BMW Z4 compared to the Porsche Boxter. But will the robots be programmed to hold proper conversations, with robust exchanges of views? I can imagine S&M Sarah telling her new owner that, although he is a god, a Titan, an Olympian between the sheets, he knows less than sod-all about goalmouth tactics. And I can't see the "outgoing and adventurous" Wild Wendy holding back her contempt after listening to half an hour of techno-bollocks about torque ratios.
But I wonder if the inventors have missed the point about bedroom conversations. In my experience, they tend not to be about subjects, topics, current affairs or world events. They tend to be about people, the oddities and shortcomings of previous partners (to delight and reassure one's present partner), or the theoretical desirability of other people as yet unexplored (to tease one's present partner). Whatever her other virtues, it's hard to imagine Foxxxy the robot lying beside you and murmuring: "I used to be involved with this servo-mechanism in Detroit. He was cool, mostly steel and chrome but with, you know, attachments. He showed me his circuit board. That was amazing. He'd do anything for me but he was too much of an automaton."
A study by a linguistics professor at Lancaster University suggests that the speech of British teens is limited to 800 words of "teen-speak", as used on social networking sites like Facebook. Jean Gross, the Communication Champion for Children, says the failure of children to use their full linguistic potential will damage their later job prospects. I don't share her gloom. The teenagers I know enjoy two things related to language. One is making up and phrases ("Totally rammin'", "well weapon") and persuading their elders that they're from the new, decadent teen-speak. The other is finding long or unusual words ("It was relentless"; "I was aghast") to salt their conversation. Last week, I told a boy that my favourite line in the Sherlock Holmes film was Holmes's reply when asked by Irene Adler: "Why do you never seem to trust me?" "Shall I frame my reply," he murmured, "chronologically or alphabetically?"
The youth beamed. "Tell me that again," he said. You could hear him memorising it for future use. Possibly at a job interview.