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BDSM, Sex Robots, and the Three Laws of Robotics

Robots and artificial intelligence are rapidly spreading to more and more areas of our daily lives in a sometimes uneasy alliance. Of all these developments, though, the one which most strongly hints at the strange-but-inevitable future in which humans and robots share the Earth as equals is the rise of sex robots. I guess it was inevitable that as soon as we were able to make walking, talking robots, people would begin finding ways to do naughty things them. Our reproductive drives are among the strongest in the human experience, and taking the human element out of the equation somewhat simplifies things.

What would it take to get you to kiss a robot?

Emphasis on “somewhat.”

Of course, there are dangers and downsides to sexbots. Like any technology, they can malfunction or be hacked, and sex robots also open the possibility that people will use them for acts which are illegal or dangerous with real humans. Nevertheless, many groups including the Church of Satan believe that sex robots will be a positive development for humankind, offering the “freedom of choice to satisfy your most secret desires with no-one to be bothered” or harmed by whatever you happen to do once your clothes come off. Or stay on, you do you.

QUERY: WAS THE INTERACTION EQUALLY ACCEPTABLE FOR BOTH PARTIES?

While ethicists, roboticists, and psychologists debate the merits and negatives of sex with robots, interesting questions have arisen. For one: if you asked your sex robot to whip you, choke you, pour hot wax on you, or engage in other acts of BDSM play (bondage, discipline, sadism, or masochism), would the robots be able to comply? Should they be able to comply? After all, chief among Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics is that the law “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” The second law states that “a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.” Put these in the context of BDSM sexbots, and it’s easy to see how complicated things could get.

While Asimov’s laws aren’t necessarily followed by everyone in the robotics industry, they have for decades served as a sort of baseline for how we conceptualize human-robot interactions.  Thus, these laws can serve as food for thought for how we might shape laws concerning all sorts of robotic companions, including sex robots. This week, Gizmodo surveyed a group of lawyers, ethicists, computer scientists, and philosophers whether or not (hypothetical) BDSM sex robots would violate Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and the answers, as you might imagine, were mixed and thought-provoking.

 

Most, however, seemed to center on the fact that “harm” and the types of pain inflicted by BDSM practices aren’t quite the same thing and that harm inflicted by a BDSM robot would be presumably welcomed by the human user. Should robots be able to whip us if we ask them to? I mean, why not? With a few bucks’ worth of parts from the local hardware store and some duct tape, you could rig up your electric drill to do the same thing. Why not give the drill a human face and natural language processing to make the whole thing more exciting?

While these types of questions might seem silly, commercial sex robots are already available for sale and recent developments suggest it will only be a few users before full-on robot brothels start popping up around the world. We’ll soon have to grapple with questions of BDSM robots, suicide-by-robot, and other ethical gray areas which will appear as robots rise up to take their place alongside humankind.

Buckle up. Things are only going to get weirder.