You may think that what goes on between you and your sex robot in the privacy of your own home is nobody’s business but your own.
But experts have warned that – like fitness trackers and smart TVs – many of these futuristic sex toys will record and store personal data about how people use and store them.
Unless questions are asked about how and why this data is being used, things could go badly wrong, according to Dr Kate Devlin, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London.
“Right now my big concern is about data,” explained Dr Kate Devlin, during a keynote session at the Second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots in London this week.
“We tick the box of the terms and conditions without checking them.”
Dr. Devlin cited the case of Standard Innovation, a US-based tech company that makes internet-connected sex toys under the We-Vibe branding, which is currently being sued.
The company is being accused of recording incredibly personal data – including things like vaginal temperature and preferred intensity setting – without the user’s consent.
The woman’s lawyer, Eve-Lynn Rapp, said: “This is one of the more incredible invasions of privacy we’ve ever dealt with.”
“We do collect certain limited data to help us improve our products and for diagnostic purposes,” Standard Innovation said in a statement.
“As a matter of practice, we use this data in an aggregate, non-identifiable form.”
Dr Devlin said that, in some cases, collecting personal data can be useful.
“For example, if it is fed back into the product to make it better,” she says, highlighting a thermometer gadget called Daysy that offers menstrual cycle tracking.
User feedback has also been proven to improve the product’s accuracy.
“But do we want people to know when we have sex and how we have sex?” she asked.
The argument is that if data collection is not monitored it could very easily turn into a slippery slope of personal data collection which is then open to hackers.
Despite raising concerns about both the data collection and the objectification of women that are by-products of sex robots, Dr Devlin argues that they are a positive development.
“There are a lot of heath benefits. You can be attached to something that’s not human and we’re already providing a lot of health and therapeutic technology to help older people in care homes. Why can we not provide sex tech as well?”
“The other thing that concerns me is the sexism. Women are massively underrepresented in the technology world and we see that reflected in the products.”
Back in 2007, artificial intelligence researcher David Levy from the University of Maastricht told LiveScience that people could be marrying robots – and consummating their vows – by 2050.
Although it might not appeal at first, he said, “once you have a story like ‘I had sex with a robot, and it was great!’ appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I’d expect many people to jump on the bandwagon.”
In his PhD thesis, “Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners”, Levy stated that the more human-like robots become in terms of personality, function and appearance, the more likely they are to form romantic partners for real people.
“It may sound a little weird, but it isn’t,” he said.
The Love and Sex with Robots congress is running at Goldsmiths, University of London from December 19-20.