In Japan, famous for the longevity of its people, their endearing use of engrish, and their fetish for girls in Catholic school uniforms, the care of the elderly is a particularly acute problem. A third of the Japanese population is reportedly above the age of 60, and the number of people over 90 years of age just topped two million for the first time. Add in a rapidly shrinking population, and you have a country where you have more people eating the early bird special than not. So it's no surprise that Japan is leading the world in robotic elder care, offering a glimpse into our geriatric future.
Twelve years of Catholic school prepares you for a lot of weird things, but walking into a church to find 50 people testing vibrators on each other's noses, strapping each other into inflatable hug machines and flinging around bits of deconstructed sex toys under a huge stained-glass window that reads THOU ART THE KING OF GLORY O CHRIST is not one of them. I am at Goldsmiths, University of London, in the church of what used to be St James Hatcham but was transformed, some years ago, into an arts "hub". Hacksmiths, the student-run tech society at the university, runs "hackathons" – invention marathons – where over the course of three days, attendees of varying skills and backgrounds camp out on air beds and eat pizza while brainstorming and building machines. For this event, the theme was sex technology. While the aim of all these hackathons is progressive, building new and better sex toys to your own specifications is, in itself, nothing new.