It’s a Friday night, nothing’s on TV and you’re up for a little naughtiness. Unfortunately, you live alone and have exhausted all of your matches on Tinder for the next 24 hours. We’ve all been there, more or less. But fear not, because soon you’ll be able to buy robots which can be whipped out of the cupboard at times of crisis such as this. But not any old robots…Sex robots. And guess what, they literally can’t get enough of you…
Well I for one am glad that thought experiment is over. But this technology really does exist. For those of you who wanted the introduction to last a little longer and perhaps go into more detail, you may be excited to know that, among others, the good people at the optimistically named robot company TrueCompanion have been developing sex robots since 2001. Yes, they really have. We’ll come back to True Companion in just a moment, but first, take a second to consider how you’d feel about being intimate with a machine. Do you find it creepy? Perhaps the idea that you can do literally whatever you want is exciting, even liberating.
Either way, there’s certainly a market for it. TrueCompanion alone claim to have received thousands of pre-orders already, and one of their competitors, RealDoll, have just begun to research adding artificial intelligence and animatronics to its line of already popular sex dolls. In a strange way this all seems depressingly inevitable. Admittedly this is a male-driven market, but in general we seem keen to incorporate technology into every aspect of our lives.
TrueCompanion see no end to the possible positives of owning a sex robot. You can even, they suggest, swap dolls with your friends, and they’re keen to point out that “this is the same as wife or girlfriend swapping without any of the social issues or sexual disease related concerns!” Genius. Take a look at the video below for a behind the scenes look at RealDoll with owner Matt McMullen…
These developments in the sex industry raise plenty of ethical questions. At the moment it’s easy to dismiss current sexbots as ridiculous; creepy, unconvincing toys reserved for men lonely enough to take every hole’s a goal far too literally. But they won’t be so unconvincing in years to come. Even now, TrueCompanion’s Roxxxy dolls “have three “inputs”, and are anatomically consistent with real women!” – slowly but surely they’re getting there, and eventually there will come a point at which it’s difficult to distinguish between sexbots and real people. The incorporation of artificial intelligence, and maybe even something close to consciousness, will go hand in hand with improved robotics and aesthetics. Would you still be as put off if you could design your own sexbot from scratch, personality and all?
In 2007 scientist David Levy published a controversial book titled Love and Sex with Robots. In it he argues that it’s only a matter of time before we develop strong feelings toward our previously cold, mechanical creations. Physical intimacy, he says, is the next logical step; robots will become desirable. He concludes that within 50 years there’ll be marriage between robots and humans. Bold.
Physical intimacy is the next logical step; robots will become desirable” – David Levy, Author, Love and Sex with Robots
But it’s not just the sanctity of marriage that’s at stake. Dr Kathleen Richardson, an ethicist at De Montfort University, argues that the potential dangers go much deeper. Dr Richardson claims that the use of robots for sexual purposes threatens to undermine real relationships between men and women, perpetuating the idea that women are sexual objects to be used, and making further exploitation more likely.
I asked Dr Richardson about why advances in technology are changing the way we view relationships. She said that “there was once a feeling that machines were different from humans, but now people are proposing they can be a substitute to human relationships – robots are increasingly imagined to become our companions and friends and lovers. What does this mean? It means that intimate relationships, once off limits to the market, are now no longer off limits.”
Only free adult subjects can truly consent” – Dr Kathleen Richardson, Ethicist at De Montfort University.
Dr Richardson has, alongside Dr Erik Billing, started a campaign to stop the development of sex robots. Although this is more a pre-emptive strike against an industry beginning to find its feet, Richardson argues that something needs to be done sooner rather than later. She’s keen to point out that her campaign is in no way anti-sex though. She told me that, as a movement, “anti sex exploitation is only able to operate because some people have more power than others, and use that power to control and coerce those who have less power. When this issue dominates, it affects how all of us can engage in consenting adult relations.”
What we do now is going to create our future” – Dr Kathleen Richardson, Ethicist at De Montfort University.
In her research paper, Richardson points to the obvious parallels between the use of a sex robot and prostitution. Both instances completely remove empathy from the equation, objectifying the woman and rendering her as little more than a conduit through which a man can explore his sexual desires. This kind of attitude will only be perpetuated should sexbots become more widespread, which in turn could impact upon our genuine relationships and the already horrible conditions of those working in the sex industry. The bottom line is this: Sex robots threaten to undermine the struggle for gender equality across society.