Experts look at the future of sexbots and society, but can’t see it

Summary: Sexbots have hit the a milestone, with a serious think tank report exploring the state of the art and what we can expect to come next. It is fun in a pear-clutching kind of way. Despite the long report, experts refuse to consider their potential impacts. We still cannot begin to see how radically they will reshape society.

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
— Attributed to Roy Charles Amara as paraphrased by Robert X. Cringely.

Our Sexual Future with Robots

Our Sexual Future With Robots
By the Foundation for Responsible Robotics.

Sexbots will have large effects on society that today we can only dimly see. The authors of a major report looking at that future see only the trivial details. Like looking at the French Revolution in terms of its influence on men’s fashion.

“In 2017 most liberal societies accept or tolerate sex in many different forms and varieties. Sex toys and masturbation aids have been used for centuries and can be easily purchased in stores in many countries. Now companies are developing robots for sexual gratification. But a robot designed for sex may have different impacts when compared with other sex aids.

“Those currently being developed are essentially pornographic representations of the human body  — mostly female. Such representations combined with human anthropomorphism may lead many to perceive robots as a new ontological category that exists in a fantasy between the living and the inanimate. This is reinforced by robot manufacturers with an eye to the future. They understand the market importance of adding intimacy, companionship, and conversation to sexual gratification.”

What is a “pornographic representations of the human body”? Is that legal? Is it immoral cultural approbation unless approved by the women of the world? The rest of the report is equally funny, showing a amazing lack of understanding about both human nature and the evolution of technology.

But can she cook?

Realbotix - head of a sexbot

What kinds of relationships can people have with sexbots?

For the foreseeable future, sexbots are competition for masturbation and streetwalkers. But the authors of the report have their minds in the clouds, dreaming of holodecks and futuristic androids. They show no awareness of (or sympathy with) what life is like on the bottom of the sexual marketplace — for the ugly, the poor, those with poor social skills or mental illness.

“However, except in very limited circumstances, there is still no evidence that a robot can react appropriately to the subtlety of human emotion in context …More importantly, robots can no more feel the emotions that they express than cartoon characters can. We do not fully understand how human emotion works – chemically, hormonally or neurally – and we have no idea how to create genuine feelings in an artefact. So this is not worth considering for now.

“Robot appearance and the illusion of emotion aside, whether or not a human can feel something for a robot addresses only one side of the equation. For a number of authors, the anthropomorphic illusion resulting from the design of a robot means that there can only be a one sided relationship between a robot and a human (Sullins, 2012). This may be considered similar to other technologies (e.g. your phone, fridge, or car). It would be a case of loving an artefact that cannot love you back (Turkle, 2011). This has led robot ethicist John Sullins ibid to argue that the illusion is disrespectful of human agency and ‘should not be used to fool people into ascribing more feelings to the machine than they should. Love is a powerful emotion and we are easily manipulated by it.’

“Sullins ibid also frowns on the idea of human-robot loving/intimate/sexual relationships, saying that this ignores ‘the deep and nuanced notions of love and the concord of true friendship.’ He argues that while we may find the machines physically attractive, ‘we have an engineering  scheme that would only satisfy, but not truly satisfy, our physical and emotional needs, while doing nothing for our moral growth.’ In other words, sex robots are little more than widely used sex toys.

“As philosopher Charles Ess (2017) puts it, ‘since the machines are incapable of real emotions, they are simply “faking it”, no matter how persuasively’. …

“Elsewhere Ess (2016) discusses the notion of complete sex that is, ‘marked by the full presence and engagement of persons as autonomous, self-aware, emotive, embodied, and unique.’ He highlights Ruddick (1975) who sees the central role of mutual desire in complete sex between two such fully present persons: we not only desire the Other – we desire to be desired and, still more completely, we desire that our desire be desired.”

A date with a robot

Revelation of the blindingly obvious.

They do see the obvious. The most important, which they dimly see, is that the first generation of sexbots will be primitive — but whose commercial success will start a cycle of improvements — which boost sales to larger markets, which drive improvements — cycles with no obvious end. Society probably will look quite different after 50 years of this.

“We have scholars telling us that the relationship afforded by sex robots is one sided; that it ignores ‘the deep and nuanced notions of love and the concord of true friendship’ and will do nothing for our moral growth. They say that the best robots could do is ‘fake it’ and this will not be like the full presence and engagement required for ‘complete sex’ in which we desire to be desired and, still more completely, we desire that our desire be desired.

“Pretence and fantasy are perhaps the key to an answer about the kind of relationship that could be had with a sex robot. It is unlikely that robots will be able to act out a fantasy relationship to anywhere near the same level of performance as the theatrics of a good professional sex worker or be able to party with them convincingly, at least for the foreseeable future. However, they may be good enough to enable the user to ‘suspend disbelief’ and enter into what could be regarded as a fictive relationship with a robot. This is a little like imaginative play.

“We must not underestimate the psychology of fantasy and the ability to suspend disbelief. As we have seen, there are already men having fictive ‘loving relationships’ with silicon dolls that cannot react in any way. These doll ‘relationships’ are certainly outside of societal norms but they are apparently making some people happy. And sex robots could push the illusion a step further by moving automatically, speaking and delivering limited conversations, moaning in the right places and showing emotional signs. With the added repertoire that robots bring, the numbers of users would increase. …”

Responsible Robotics

Got to worry about all those unregulated people doing stuff.

The Left’s campaign for regulation of thought, speech, and behavior has no limits. They already mobilize to control this new technology. Many are eager to regulate sexbots – for people’s own good, of course.

“Perhaps the main ethical issue here is in the deception of the vulnerable. Deception is a nuanced concept when it comes to our relationship with artefacts. Is the artefact constructed to enable a fictional relationship that we desire or is it deceiving us into believing that the relationship is two sided? It is an issue worth considering in the making of policy or regulation to ensure that descriptions and advertisements do not misinform about the limitations of devices. …

“Perhaps the main ethical issue here is in the deception of the vulnerable. Deception is a nuanced concept when it comes to our relationship with artefacts. Is the artefact constructed to enable a fictional relationship that we desire or is it deceiving us into believing that the relationship is two sided? It is an issue worth considering in the making of policy or regulation to ensure that descriptions and advertisements do not misinform about the limitations of devices.”

References

Ess, C. (2016). “What’s love got to do with it? Robots, sexuality, and the arts of being human.” In Marco Norskov (Ed) Social Robots: Boundaries, Potential, Challenges.

Ess, C. (2017). “Love, Sex and Robots: from The Song of Songs to Ex Machina.

Ruddick, Sara. 1975. “Better Sex.” In Robert Baker and Frederick Elliston (eds.), Philosophy and Sex.

Sullins J.P. (2012). “Robots, love, and sex: The ethics of building a love machine” in IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing.

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Robot Woman in "Metropolis"

Conclusions

“This will blow up the world. It will make crack cocaine look like decaffeinated coffee.”
— Anonymous (source here).

This report is a milestone, one of the first major reports about a new technology that will shake western society in unimaginable ways. Now experts appear trying to look into this future. They still have blinkers on their minds’ eyes, but this is a start at recognition of the inevitable.

And, of course, we see the almost automatic desire of mainstream authority figures to exert control over fringe behavior. People must not color outside the chalk lines on the sidewalk!

The bottom line: there will be lots of pearl clutching as sexbots appear and disrupt society. At some point the usual suspects will attempt to stop the march of this technology. Bet on sex to win.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about romance, about sexbots, about women and gender, and especially these…

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6 thoughts on “Experts look at the future of sexbots and society, but can’t see it

    1. Boatwright,

      OMG. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of this. “Jerry Springer 2025”, the nightmare.

      Real robotic housewives — a more benign version of The Stepford Wives. Showing guys dating these women, then opting instead to buy a Doll Trophy Wife.

      Lots of material when sci fi becomes reality TV.

  1. This doesn’t make sense to me:
    “The Left’s campaign for regulation of thought, speech, and behavior has no limits. They already mobilize to control this new technology. Many are eager to regulate sexbots – for people’s own good, of course.”

    Wasn’t it the Right (conservative and/or religious) that:

    – Fought for centuries against homosexual relationships, criminalized sodomy (and other sexual activities) and even defined homosexuality as a mental illness?

    – Made it illegal for people of different races and/or religions to get married? (kept in place for centuries until relatively recently)

    – Fought and still fights against abortion and birth control? Often using the argument that these things are dangerous to women – essentially “for their own good”?

    – Fought and still fights to allow legal discrimination against anyone with “different” sexual preferences or behaviors such a homosexuals and transsexuals in housing, employment, and provision of services?

    – Has carried on endless campaigns against a fictional “homosexual agenda”, promoted harsh, punitive “recovery from being gay” programs and fought vigorously against books, TV shows, movies and magazines that portray LGBTQ relationships or people? (and caused these to be blacklisted, cancelled or censored in many cases)

    – Fought against gay marriage and same-sex civil unions?

    – Promoted “abstinence only” educational programs for children and youth despite a wide variety of studies proving they don’t work?

    – Fights against HPV vaccination on the grounds that it “encourages immoral (by their standards) behavior”?

    Aren’t these all examples of “regulation of thought, speech and behavior”? In many cases defended by claiming it is “for their own good”?

    Also, when I look at the quoted section there, I don’t see the same thing. It looks more to me like a Consumer Reports type of regulation of the makers of sexbots. Preventing the “snake oil” sellers from conning people by claiming their product can do things it cannot. We already prevent toy manufacturers from showing a toy airplane flying around by itself using CGI and tricking children if it can’t actually do that. We already prevent pharma companies from making false claims for medicines to prevent them from tricking customers. Given the fact that fake, non-working “enlargement” products are still being sold to the gullible (along with fake baldness cures, etc.) I don’t think it’s unreasonable to keep sexbot manufacturers from taking advantage of the lonely or desperate. A little caution IS in order here. It would be very easy to make claims about a device providing a “fulfilling relationship” when it’s not able to do any such thing. People are free to choose to try new things but they should be provided with all the information to make an informed choice. That’s only fair.

    Stan

    1. Stan,

      You appear unclear about the meaning of “regulation.”

      “defined homosexuality as a mental illness?”

      That was not a right-left thing until recently. Sexual practices vary across societies, and they don’t correlate well with politics.

      “Made it illegal for people of different races and/or religions to get married?”

      That was not a left-right thing until recently. See the Progressive President Wilson, and the mostly Democratic Party opposition to LBJ’s Civil Right bills.

      “Promoted “abstinence only” educational programs for children and youth despite a wide variety of studies proving they don’t work?”

      That’s regulation? You get bonus points for Orwellian use of language. Left and right fight about educational programs, most of which both sides advocate don’t work well.

      “Fights against HPV vaccination on the grounds that it “encourages immoral (by their standards) behavior”?”

      I see you are doubling down on the Orwellian tactics! The opposition is to mandatory vaccination, such as requiring it for school attendance. See Wikipedia description of the laws.

      “It looks more to me like a Consumer Reports type of regulation of the makers of sexbots.”

      That’s a “War is Peace” objection. Feminists and assorted leftist allies want to regulate it because they don’t want people to use it. The fear is that sexbots will do what the manufacturers promise.

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