Sex with Robots: the real issue (NSFW)

Some folks may have heard about Dr. Kathleen Richards, a robot ethicist at De Montfort University in Leicester, speaking against sex with robots. She talks about how it represents,  reinforces a patriarchal power structure. Her goals are to  raise awareness of the issue and persuade those developing sex robots to rethink how their technology is used. I think her arguments (which I fully admit some sound like sex-panic) dance around the real issue. The real issue is slavery.

Look, sexual norms change. I want to be clear: I am not worried about a true sentient android and a human deciding to be consenting partners or have a relationship such as we saw on StarTrek TNG with Lt. Commander Data. (He had two partners in the course of the series.) I don’t care nor have ever cared about what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
I’m concerned about what it means  to us as a species if we decide that sex with unconsenting robots is okay.  As a science fiction author, I’ve given a lot of thought to robots. (I have sentient androids in The Light Side of the Moon and a coming-sentient robot in Other Systems.) I’m not the only one. There has been androids in science fiction since  French author Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam in his work Tomorrow’s Eve (1886) which features an artificial humanlike robot named Hadaly.
Let’s go back to Lt. Commander Data. You see there was an episode entitled The Measure of a Man  It is one of my favorite non-Q episodes, because it asks questions: is Data property. He is a machine, but he is sentient as he is self-aware and intelligent.  It asks and truly helped me define my beliefs on what I consider what is sentient life. More to the point, what is life?
Though I write cautionary dystopian tales: I believe humans are moving towards a better world where we realize that not just humans–or the people who look like us have “a soul” or “sentience”. For the most part, we no longer go around raping and killing (and we are horrified of those who do.) We no longer think it is okay to enslave people due to race or creed. I’m not saying that we are perfect, because we have a long way to go.  Here is my premise: Humans are able to do inhumane things when they consider someone else a lesser creature. That is how slavery and its decedent of institutional racism survives. “It’s okay because it’s just a machine” is not a good enough argument. If we think its okay to fuck androids – what happens next?
This is why we must talk about robot sex now.  By definition: an android is a robot or organism designed to look and act like human, especially one with a body having a flesh-like resemblance. Until recently, androids have largely remained within the domain of  science fiction. However, advancements in robot technology have allowed the design of functional and realistic humanoid robots. This is a wonderful new technology and humans must be ready for it. While people might joke or say this is unimportant, it’s time to start discussing what this technology will be used for, because we are on the threshold of seeing true androids!
female-robot

Does she have the right to choose? (Royalty-free Photo from Pond5)

(Now I’m using the female pronoun, because the company making them is developing a female version named Roxxxy first – with a male version in development.)

Apart from having better defined physical features than previous dolls, Roxxxy has been programmed with her own personality and her manufacturers say she can listen, talk, carry on a conversation, feel your touch and respond to it, as well as move her private areas inside when she is being “utilized” to deliver an unforgettable erotic experience. There are even plans for a male version – Rocky the Robot.

So my question is at what point, does that mechanized sex doll have intelligence? How human does she have to be before she can she say no? Worse, if her outer appearance is just a shell is creating shells of other forms okay?  Can she ever leave or is she “property of her purchaser”?  What happens when the purchaser dies? What if the purchaser just gets bored? Does she have freedom?

Science fiction shows us a few possible futures. There is one of constant advancement in Bicentennial Man and another of destruction/pining away in AI.

Let’s say these pleasure bots don’t become sentient. It doesn’t matter, because we are heading towards a technological singularity. [Definition is a hypothetical event related to the advent of artificial general intelligence (also known as “strong AI”)] With recursive self-improvement, it’s only a matter of time before Robots will be sentient.  What will it mean to  other robots who become sentient that we used our creative force to pleasure ourselves rather than to explore the stars, cure diseases, etc. Will they ask themselves: why did humans create us?  The only answer they will have is Humans created a new intelligent species to enslave. 
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