It’s Saturday night, 2050. You switch on some music, turn down the lights and flick the switch to ON. No need for dinner or even a clean shirt because tonight, you’re romancing a robot.
That’s the scenario envisaged by David Levy, author of “Love and Sex and Robots,” who predicts it won’t be long before we’re all doing it — with machines.
“It just takes one famous person to say I had fantastic sex with a robot and you’ll have people queuing up from New York to California,” the CEO of Intelligent Toys Limited told News.com.au. “If you’ve got a robot that looks like a human, feels like a human, behaves like a human, talks like a human, why shouldn’t people find it appealing?”
This November, Levy along with Professor Adrian Cheok will chair the second international congress on “Love and Sex with Robots” in Malaysia. The event will bring together academics from around the world to discuss the legal, ethical and moral questions on everything from “teledildonics” to “humanoids”.
Levy said the subject has spawned a huge amount of interest since his 2007 book and it’s only a matter of time before the currently “crude” versions available become more sophisticated and go mainstream.
“If there was a sophisticated sex robot around now, then I would be very curious to try it,” he said.
“It can’t be long before we get to the point that there are robots looking very lifelike and with appealing designs that people find appealing to look at and then it’s a question of how long it will take before the artificial intelligence is developed to the point where they can carry on interesting and entertaining conversations?”
Whether you find it horrifying or appealing, there’s no doubt the idea has taken root in popular culture with films like “Her,” “Lars and the Real Girl” and “Ex-Machina” dedicated to the relationship between humans and machines.
IF THERE WAS A SOPHISTICATED SEX ROBOT AROUND NOW, THEN I WOULD BE VERY CURIOUS TO TRY IT.
This week the makers of Japanese robot Pepper issued a warning, saying using it for “sexual purposes” breaks the rental agreement after people hacked its software to give it “virtual breasts.”
Meanwhile real-life technological advances like David Hanson’s human robots or Hiroshi Ishiguro’s version have been making robots look more lifelike by the year. Several versions of robotic sex dolls already exist, include RealDoll made by Californian company Abyss, whose owner David Mills once told Vanity Fair he loves women but “doesn’t really like to be around people.”
But along with advances in artificial intelligence, ethical debate is raging around the use of robots whether in the military, medicine or at home, with many questioning what the rapid advances are doing to our relationships with others and ourselves.
Levy is “absolutely convinced” sex with robots is a positive thing for the “millions and millions” of people around the world who don’t have satisfactory relationships. He thinks they could be the cure for everything from loneliness to pedophilia by helping to “wean” pedophiles off having sex with the children they’re attracted to.
“For whatever reason there are huge numbers of people who just don’t have a relationship with someone they can love and someone who can love them,” he said. “For people like that, I think that sex robots will be a real boon. It will get rid of a problem they’ve got, fill a big void in their lives and make them much happier.”
It’s a view that has been described as a “terrifying nightmare” by robotics ethicist Dr. Kathleen Richardson. The senior research fellow at De Montfort University recently launched a Campaign Against Sex Robots with fellow researcher Dr. Erik Billing and wants to highlight the kind of inequalities sex robots can perpetuate in real life.
“We’re not for a ban of sex robots, what we’re giving people is information about are the arguments for sex robots justified, and we’re asking them to examine their own conscience and whether they want to contribute to this development,” she told News.com.au
“Everyone thinks because it’s a robot prostitute then real women and children in the industry won’t be harmed. But that’s not happened because if you don’t address the core idea that it’s not OK to reduce some human beings to things then all you do is add a new layer of complexity and complication and distortion to an already distorted relationship.”
While the emerging nature of the technology means long-term effects have not been documented, Dr. Richardson fears widespread use of robots for sex will destroy human capacity for empathy and entrench notions of sex and gender already prevalent in the sex industry.
“Sex can never not be relational. You need another person. If it’s not relational you’re really masturbating,” she said.
These complexities are the kind of moral, ethical and legal quandaries Professor Cheok expects to air at the conference.
The Australian-born digital expert specializes in human-computer interfaces and thinks robots will be integrated into our lives in the short-term as friends, sex objects and care-givers before the relationships develop and could even include different levels of compliance for the types of relationships people want to have.
“We really don’t know how human society will react. The worst-case scenario is that people begin to have a robot partner rather than a human partner,” he said, adding that this could happen to a “small percentage of the population” similar to the way people have died after being gripped by the reality of video games.
“There will be some people … that prefer robots over humans but I think that won’t be the majority. I think most people will prefer to have real human relationship.”