The Pros and Cons of the Sex Robot Revolution

Posted on Sep 4, 2017

By Justin Dubé

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, your grandparents, or society in general, you’ve likely been privy to the technology debate. On the one hand, early tech adopters expound on the benefits of progress, of efficiency, of swiping right (or, left?). On the other hand, luddites bemoan the loss of our planet, free-time, and conversation with strangers. Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and the ability to build anatomically correct dolls have added some (sexy) fuel to the tech debate. Specifically, should humans be harnessing our technological prowess to build sex-bots (a.k.a., pleasure-bots, service droids, R2-D2, etc.)? Some argue that it’s only a matter of time before human-robot sex becomes as ubiquitous as other human-computer interactions, such as using an iPhone to order pizza [1, 2, 3]. Indeed, four companies are currently shipping sex-bots, and sex-bot brothels are now operating throughout Europe and Asia [4]. While the dawn of pleasure droids may seem inevitable (even for the decidedly low tech and low funded), it’s never too late to consider the opportunities and challenges that accompany advances in the $30 billion (!!!) sex-tech industry [5]. This post will provide a brief (and somewhat lighthearted) summary of the pros and cons of sex-bots.

The following arguments have been made in favour of using robots for sex:

  • Sex robots could provide an alternative for people with socially unacceptable or harmful sexual preferences (i.e., paraphilias), such as pedophila or bestiality [4]
  • Sex robots could take the place of prostitution [3] and mitigate human trafficking.
  • According to the Foundation of Responsible Robotics, pleasure-bots could provide a sexual outlet and companionship for elderly individuals in long-term care homes [4], an argument reminiscent of using robo-pets in nursing homes
  • You could fulfill a lifelong dream of having sex with a robot that kind of looks like a creepy version of a celebrity, like this guy did.
  • Having routine robot sex could make instances of non-robot sex (in which you have sex with a real, live, sweaty human) seem more satisfying [1] – a satisfaction akin to eating Vera Pizza Napoletana after months of eating frozen grocery store pizza.

So, if sex-bots have the potential to mitigate human suffering, fill a niche, and make sex between humans more satisfying, then what’s the big deal? Before getting to the crux of this big deal (spoiler alert: the current state of sex-bot affaires perpetuates harmful gendered ideals of sexuality), I’ll outline some cons of using robots for sex, which include the following:

  • Robots haven’t bought into the tinder hookup culture, so it’s pretty hard to meet robots for sex using dating apps.
  • Sex-bots could increase social isolation.
  • Some argue that sex robots used to treat paraphilias, such as a child sex-bot, could reinforce paraphilic orientations, such a pedophilia. This is similar to the argument made against child sex dolls, which are currently illegal in the UK and are being debated in Canadian courts.
  • Sex-bots are being created by (mostly) men with gendered ideas. This leads to robots being created with biased gender norms, which perpetuate preexisting stereotypes [5]. For example, sex-bots currently on the market have settings to reflect submissive (and even frigid) notions of female sexual companions [4].

Although the lack of robots on tinder and the risk of increased social isolation are scary, the last point gives the most cause for concern. Indeed, the risk of perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes is at the heart of a position paper by Dr. Kathleen Richardson, a researcher in the Ethics of Robotics at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility [6]. In her paper, Richardson warns that the development of sex-bots may entrench gender relations that fail to respect the dignity of all parties involved in sexual exchanges. Although I agree with many of the ideas advanced by Richardson, I recognize the march of technology as inevitable. Thus, rather than joining Richardson’s campaign against sex robots, I feel it is more pragmatic to raise awareness of the pitfalls of human-robot sex and to provide people with the skills to foster meaningful and reciprocal human connections. And finally, costing an average of $15,000.00 CAD, who the heck can afford a sex-bot anyway?!

Sources:

[1] Bodkin, H (2016, December 20th). Sex will be just for special occasions in the future as robots will satisfy everyday needs. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/12/19/rise-sex-robots-will-make-people-appreciate-real-thing/

[2] Gurley, G (2015, April 20th). Is This the Dawn of the Sexbots? Vanity Fair Retrieved from http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/04/sexbots-realdoll-sex-toys

[3] Levy, D. (2009). Love and sex with robots: The evolution of human-robot relationships. New York.

[4] Knapton, S (2017, July 5th). Sex robots on way for elderly and lonely…but pleasure-bots have a dark side, warn experts. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/07/04/sex-robots-way-elderly-lonelybut-pleasure-bots-have-dark-side/

[5] Jackson Gee, T (2017, July 5th). Why female sex robots are more dangerous than you think. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/female-robots-why-this-scarlett-johansson-bot-is-more-dangerous/

[6] Richardson, K. (2016). The asymmetrical ‘relationship’: parallels between prostitution and the development of sex robots. ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, 45(3), 290-293.