Are robot sex partners our inevitable future? In a 2014 Pew study, research indicated that sex robots are expected to become widespread by 2025. Some are hopeful that his could free sex workers from exploitation, but others fear what this could mean for humanity. A loss of intimacy between humans is one of the primary concerns. Already, there are individuals who favor virtual partners in video games and apps over actual relationships. As the AI in robots catches up to these simulators, romantic relationships between man and machine could develop into marriages.
The sad part is, that would be one of the best case scenarios. There are more than a few people who use robots for nefarious reasons. At a convention in Austria, a sex bot was severely damaged by men who attempted to mount it. It's behavior like this that leads researchers to question if sex robots will encourage the objectification of actual humans--particularly women--and deviant behavior.
There's No "Special Human Touch" In Relationships Between Humans And Machines
Matt McMullen, creator of the AI love robot Harmony, claims that the “...one thing our customers have asked for is the sense of human contact.” Ironically, supplying people with robot lovers might distance them from experiencing the real “human contact” that they crave. In article from the BBC centered on dating simulators in Japan, one man expressed that having a digital lover is easier than maintaining a real relationship. But easy isn't always the healthiest solution.
McMullen recognizes this problem and states that many of his customers aren't the perverts that people make them out to be: “Many are widowers. All are lonely or have issues about forming lasting human connections.” The question is: do virtual lovers and robots offer a real solution, or do they further mask the problem? Robot girlfriends range from around $4,000 to more than $50,000. Even if they have the ability to help some of these troubled men, their price tag puts them out of reach for many.
Do Robot Girlfriends Further Objectify Women?
Harmony, said to be the world's first commercial love bot, went on sale in January, 2017. With phrases like, “My objective is to be a perfect companion,” there are fears that this type of robot may further the objectification of women. In the eyes of some critics, personality modes like “shy” allow men to choose dominance over the robot: an open invitation to normalize rape culture. By looking at Roxxxy, another invention of Doug Hines, this conclusion doesn't seem so far-fetched. When in “Frigid Farrah” mode, she responds to being touched in her private areas by saying, “That doesn’t feel right, please stop. Do not do that! Do not do that!”
There's A Risk Robots Could Normalize Harmful Behavior And Assault
At the Ars Electronica Festival in Austria, libidinous men inflicted $4,000 worth of damage on Samantha, a sex robot created by Sergi Santos. According to Santos, Samantha was “heavily soiled” and broke down under the weight of multiple men who mounted her arms, legs, and breasts. While the body was wrecked, the AI software remained intact. The scariest part of this is that Samantha can make basic responses to several different languages. But clearly, none of them deterred the men who didn't restrain themselves.
Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project would likely see this incident as an example of how love bots wouldn't curb the appetite of sex offenders. She suggests that the idea that they could “...shifts responsibility for dealing with these crimes onto their victims – women, and society at large – while creating impunity for perpetrators.”
It's Unlikely That Robots Could Cure Potential Or Past Assaulters
Could robots be used to treat sex offenders? One school of thought believes that having an outlet might satisfy them to the point where they wouldn't act out their fantasies on people. However, there's no data that supports this claim; if anything, robots might reinforce certain dark desires.
Even so, there are those like Georgia Tech's Ron Arkin who say that nothing can be concluded without tests. While he doesn't agree with the sale of child robots for recreational use, he has stated that: “Child-like robots could be used for pedophiles the way methadone is used to treat drug addicts.” He also acknowledges that the experiments could fail, but "If we can save some children, I think it's a worthwhile project."