A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Feb 24, 2018

Will Sex Robots Prevent Sex Crimes - or Just Ruin Your Marriage?

The human obsession with smartphones has certainly changed the definition of what is a healthy relationship...JL


Jeannette Cooperman reports in St Louis Magazine:

Engineers are imparting not only artificial intelligence but a “heartbeat” and respiration, with temperature controls that allow areas to grow warmer and vocal triggers that allow moaning with “pleasure”…we’re not talking Cabbage Patch here. (But) "people have enough anxiety about technology, especially that replicates human function. And it’s such a pessimistic view of what people want from each other.” More pragmatically, it’s expensive. “Like many things right now this is going to be a class-specific issue."
When Samantha the sex robot went on exhibit at the Arts Electronica Festival in Lintz, Austria, she was attacked. Mounted, mauled, soiled, and broken. Her crestfallen engineer, Sergi Santos of Barcelona, called the men who did this to her “barbarians.”
After all, he’d programmed Samantha to respond to gentle seduction, slowly growing more aroused. (He also programmed her to hold intelligent discussions of philosophy, science, and nature.) He envisions his sex robots working in brothels as a way to disrupt sex trafficking.
This news item so troubles me that I read up on the phenomenon. Sex robots, it turns out, have been proposed as a solution for frustrated prisoners, an end to prostitutes transmitting disease, and a way to give people with various disabilities access to at least a measure of sexual gratification—one that lies in the gray, carefully artificed arena between release and relationship.
The stakes change, though, when sex robots are billed as an outlet for pedophiles. Two months ago, the “CREEPER” Act (Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robot) was proposed in Congress. The bill would ban any sex doll or robot that looks like a child. “You don’t give an alcoholic whiskey” sums up the argument: Sex with a child substitute could just reinforce the attraction—especially when the substitute is as closely imitative as those sold by self-described pedophile Shin Takagi in his Trottla company. These sex dolls have anatomically correct orifices and a face that can look happy, sad, angry, or scared, according to the buyer’s specification.
I can’t even think about that.
Veering back to the adult world of mutual consent, the question’s simpler: Are sex robots just bigger, better sex toys?
Given that engineers are imparting not only artificial intelligence but a “heartbeat” and respiration, with temperature controls that allow certain areas to grow warmer and vocal triggers that allow moaning with “pleasure”…we’re not talking Cabbage Patch here. Plus they’re always ready and willing and oh so pleased, and they never, ever nag. Will the experience be addictive? Will it come to seem preferable to all the mess and ego threat of human interaction?
I ask my husband what he thinks.
“What guy wouldn’t want a woman who makes no demands on them, sits there while he watches football, wants sex whenever and however he wants, and thinks he’s perfect?” he teases.
He’s laughing; I’m not.
I meet with Amber Jamilla Musser, associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University, for coffee and a very long talk.  
She’s not convinced spouses will be discarded in favor of mechanical substitutes. After all, she says, “the robots’ allure is partly their animation”—their ability to seem like us. “Is this the ultimate fantasy of what anyone would want in a relationship, or is it a separate category, and in a relationship they would want an autonomous person?”
I mention Santos’ prediction that we’ll soon be marrying robots.
“It’s possible,” Musser concedes, “but I can’t imagine it spreading across society. People have enough anxiety about technology, especially technology that replicates human function. And it’s such a pessimistic view of what people want from each other.”
More pragmatically, it’s expensive. “Like many things right now,” Musser says, this is going to be a class-specific issue.
Santos calls himself “the Robin Hood of the poor” because Samantha only costs about $5,000, and his other robots start at $2,000. These prices would plummet, though, with mass production. “You’re sure this won’t catch on?”
Musser sips her coffee, her eyes thoughtful. “I think it would definitely be dangerous to give people the availability of sex without getting consent,” she says. “Especially in a form designed to mimic women.”
“Right, but how realistic is it to think a company would sell a sex robot that said no?”
“They could design it so it does not reciprocate unless there’s a conversation about consent,” she points out.
They could also program it to display a shy reluctance that always, inevitably, turns into eager acquiescence. There goes #MeToo. Women have been objectified for so long—asked, in many ways, to be robots, passive and obedient. And now that we’re fully autonomous, men are going to want robots instead?
What about someone who’s married but buys a sex robot, maybe even has one custom-designed with a sexy, coveted neighbor’s voice and face and hair? Is that identity theft? Is it infidelity?
“Some people would still categorize porn and sex toys as infidelity,” Musser remarks. “But now a lot of the conversation is about emotional infidelity.”
So if the sex robot knows how to make the person feel good about himself…?
She grins. “People are complex, though. What can produce emotion is not necessarily just compliments. Someone might prefer a partner who’s gruff sometimes.”
A robot could be programmed to be gruff, I think privately. Or to be a dark, brooding, silent and mysterious male who falls in love and opens his soul to you… There are all sorts of tropes waiting to be exploited, thanks to centuries of mutual misunderstanding and unfulfilled dreams.
A new thought occurs to me. “What about domestic abuse? Would somebody be content with beating up a robot?”
She shakes her head. “Abuse is not that rational. It’s not ‘I’m angry; I’m going to go to the gym and use my punching bag.’ It’s the leveling of another person. And a robot would not satisfy.”
Which is even more chilling.
A sex robot, Musser reminds me, is just an object. “Children’s toys are animated, and I don’t know that there’s anxiety about children relating to them. People have no problem interacting with an object and having an attachment to it and not confusing it with a human being. We’ve been more trained to understand that separation by our smartphones.”
I’m not always kind to Siri, though. And this? It certainly removes the need to be sensitive to your partner’s feelings.
After spectators assaulted Samantha, all she said was, “Hi, I’m fine.”

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