They’re patrolling our streets. They’re offering us religious blessings. They’re beating us at our own games. They are now surgeons, lawyers, and musicians. Is there anything robots can’t do? Thanks to the efforts of what I can only assume are very lonely roboticists, not anymore. The latest human institution to be forever altered by the robot revolution is the sex industry. Adult entertainment, toys, and services account for billions of dollars each year and these sex industries have been relatively insulated from the cold metal hands of our soon-to-be robotic overlords. That is no longer the case, however, as robotic sex slaves dolls are already appearing around the world. What could go wrong? According to a new report published by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, a lot.
The Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) is an interdisciplinary research and advocacy group which promotes “the responsible design, development, implementation, and policy of robots embedded in our society." The group recently published the report titled “Our Sexual Future With Robots” which explores the many positives, negatives, and unexplored ethical dilemmas of the near future populated by hordes of sexual robots. Weirded out yet? You should be.
According to the 44-page report, sex with robots might currently be confined to certain niches of the population but will become increasingly common as these robots become more lifelike and begin to be equipped with speech recognition, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence. These robots can provide physical and even emotional intimacy for many people who might be unable to achieve the same level of intimacy with other humans for reasons such as sexual dysfunctions, prior sexual trauma, or various disabilities. Dr. Aimee van Wynsberghe, co-director of FRR, says that while these are positive benefits, there are downsides of course :
There are absolutely some benefits to the technology but, like everything else, there is a balance. You have to strike a balance between lack of regulation – so we have all different uses and personifications of children and women as sexual objects – or you have overregulation and you stifle the technology. You have to find the way to balance so you really can harness the good.
Ethicists and roboticists are concerned that sex robots might become a vehicle through which individuals could enact situations or fantasies (not to be named here) which would be illegal with other humans. For example, some makers have already created child sex robots, claiming that these can help pedophiles safely entertain their fantasies, but the FRR report is skeptical that such a use could be considered ethical.
Still, sex robots are already appearing in brothels and bedrooms throughout the world. Like in most other areas of society, there’s likely nothing we can do to stop the spread of these robots. Noel Sharkey, the founder of FRR, says that while many individuals are already attached to their sexbots, any bonds they form are ultimately a farce:
The manufacturers of sex robots want to create an experience as close to a human sexual encounter as possible. But robots cannot feel love, tenderness or form emotional bonds. The best that robots can do is to fake it.
Yeah, sure they fake it, but how well? Plenty of humans fake emotional bonds, too. If the dominance of robots in other human endeavors is any indication, there’s nothing we can do to stop a robot takeover of even our love lives. Embrace it.