Sex with robots may currently be restricted to fiction, but with advances in technology this could eventually change. Despite how some may react, this is something that should be accepted, maybe even embraced
Consenting adults’ private activities seem to get a lot of other people very cross. Almost nowhere is this more pronounced than activities involving sex: the position, placement and management of people’s genital activities seem to keep a lot of other adults awake - but in an unhealthy, conservative way.
Many people don’t like two men doing romantic things together; many dislike women doing things too; and even if it’s the “proper” combination of sexes, there are rules about monogamy and marriage and money and so forth – that must not be violated, lest you incur the wrath of judgemental columnists and incomprehensible comment sections (or, unfortunately, the law itself).
Even otherwise progressive individuals are troubled by things like nonmonogamous relationships, childfree people (mostly childfree women, because wombs must always be filled with future babies, apparently), and men using sex toys.
So when considering, for example, sex robots, we should expect hatred, antagonism, and judgement. That attitude, in particular and in general toward adult consensual sex, should change. We can use sex robots as a good case-study to demonstrate why.
Sex! Of! The Future…?
Books have gone digital; music professionals view CD’s as antediluvian as Penny-farthings; entire careers exist purely online; relationships and friendships are formed and matured and managed via social networks. We order groceries (online) because fridges tell us to.
Thus, there is no massive leap to make here: sex- and love-lives, from finding new partners to even the partners themselves, will get the gloss of modern and future technology. Indeed, researchers at Victoria University, for example, think that sex robots will, in many places, replace human sex workers by 2050.
Sex aids and toys are in use by many people today. The ubiquity of dildos or vibrators in women’s personal possession has eroded much of its shock value.
Though there appears some stigma still for men, apparently the most popular (or widely known?) toy for male users is the Fleshlight. This looks like an anaemic squid stuffed crudely into a heavy-duty flashlight. Gizmodo’s Adam Frucci felt “ashamed” for using it, but reviewed it nonetheless. There’s even an iPad cover that uses a Fleshlight design and the screen of the iPad to display video of a sex performer to emulate sex for the user.
Feeling ashamed, wanting to shame, to judge, admonish, laugh are common enough responses toward those engaging in such activities. Nonetheless, these activities seem tolerated.
If many (not all) of us are tolerant of dildos and Fleshlights – even if, like me, you find such items ill-inducing – is this not already a basis to accept sex robots?
Consider the setup of that iPad Fleshlight design. There is a physical aspect that allows people to engage directly with it, to mimic the sensation of another person. And it allows for visual and auditory aids, which is essentially pornography. This allows the user to emulate sexual interaction.
First we can say this is no different to any other kind of sexual emulation – the only difference is a tool is being used other than embarrassment. Second, consider the relation to something like “Roxxxy”.
In January 2010, the world’s first sex robot was unveiled. As Discovery highlights:
“[Roxxxy] boasts artificial intelligence, speech recognition technology and a bevy of recorded phrases, making it able to, on some levels, converse with her mate. She also has a personality-changer, an Internet connection to receive software and dialog updates.”
So it has physical aspects that can simulate sexual interaction; and auditory and visual stimuli. Thus, “Roxxxy” is no different to the iPad’s cover: most people wouldn’t want their parents to see either.
The point being, if we can accept and tolerate tools like those mentioned – whether dildos or an iSexWorker – there’s no reason we should be viewing items like Roxxxy as anything significantly different.
Even if you’ll never use one, you should care
What’s interesting is that Roxxxy emerged from health concerns. Doug Hines, founder of the company that makes Roxxxy, told Discovery:
“We came up with the concept of using a robot to help care for -- not to replace a nurse -- but help people who need extra care at home: invalids, Alzheimer's patients, etc. It might not be cost-effective or practical to have a nurse full-time with the patient. But the robot would allow interaction with the patient as well as the technology to connect remotely and talk and care as needed.”
Hines saw the sex industry as another avenue, when health didn’t pan out: after all, they had the tech and innovation.
Some, however, might say that Hines’ design never left the health industry – since healthy sexual gratification could be considered a health benefit, as it could, for example, aid various people with physical and mental disabilities as its original design intended.
That the sex robot is providing relief with sexual gratification instead of (vanilla?) nursing isn’t that significant a difference morally - that is, a person is still benefitting without any significant harms.
The benefits of sex robots are obvious: users would obtain sexual fulfilment with something resembling the target of their desire (assuming you manage to find such a model), without harm. No STDs; no confusion about consent (you don’t obtain consent from your mp3 player when you put things inside it, so its no different when you put things inside a Roxxxy device); in terms of sex work, for example, there wouldn’t be a worry around sex trafficking or harm to the workers. We'd be worried about glorified furniture, not people (though of course people still think of women and sex workers as such, anyway, and trafficking is its own complicated discussion).
Confusing the ethics
We come to confusing areas when we start thinking about sentience and the ability to feel and experience emotions.
The robot’s form is what remains disconcerting, at least to me. Unlike a bloodless small squid stuffed into a plastic holder, this sex object actually resembles a whole human, along with that fake human having independent movement. Worse still are ideas raised by popular science-fiction regarding sentience – but for now, such concerns for artificial intelligence are far off (or perhaps impossible).
The idea that we can program something to “always consent” or “never refuse” is further discomforting to me. But we must wonder: how is it different to turning on an iPad? How is it different to the letter I type appearing on screen as I push these keys? Do we say the iPad or software is programmed to consent to my button pushing, swiping, clicking? No: We just assume a causal connection of “push button – get result”.
That’s the nature of tools. We don’t wonder about the hammer’s feelings being nailed, so why should we worry about a robot’s? Just because the robot has a human form doesn’t make it any less of a tool. It just has no property for feelings.
No one reading this ever has to use a sex robot. I plan on preparing for their inevitable taking over of our species, so I’m not getting near one. But the overarching point isn’t future-focused at all: it’s about accepting other people’s choices to do what they want with their bodies and obtain sexual satisfaction, without worry of stigma or shame. Using sex robots doesn’t harm anyone anymore than using contemporary sex toys.
Conveying shame is giving voice to your discomfort – not highlighting what is actually wrong with any of these non-harmful sexual activities. Indeed, if the activities are harmful, pointing that fact out is more important than mere mockery. We are all grown-ups and should be responding that way in our reactions to non-harmful sex and sexually-related activities. Until then, perhaps I’ll consider supporting robots taking over our unnecessarily conservative and judgemental species.
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