A campaign has called for an outright ban on robots developed for sex. Leading academics in robot ethics have warned that their creation will only increase the objectification of women and children, further dehumanising those who are abused for sex.
The warning comes as artificial intelligence approaches a point where it could be used in robots designed solely to satisfy sexual desires. But such robots, campaigners argue, should not exist. “The development of sex robots and the ideas to support their production show the immense horrors still present in the world of prostitution,” read a statement on the Campaign Against Sex Robots website. The authors of the campaign argued that sex robots would further increase the perceived “inferiority of women and children” and continue to justify their use as “sex objects”.
The campaign, led by Kathleen Richardson, a senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester and Erik Brilling, an associate senior lecturer in informatics from the University of Skövde in Sweden, hopes to encourage a wider debate around the development of sex robots and their potential implications for society.
The development of “ethical technologies” that reflect the human principles of dignity, mutuality and freedom are critical, the campaign argues. To this end the campaign has called on scientists and roboticists to refuse to help with the development of sex bots, by withholding code, hardware and ideas.
The first sex dolls imbued with artificial intelligence are due to launch later this year. True Companion, which claims to be developing the “world’s first” robot sex doll under the strapline “always turned on and ready to talk or play”, said its Roxxxy doll would allow people to “find happiness and fulfilment” without the need for human interaction. “We are not supplanting the wife or trying to replace a girlfriend,” chief executive Douglas Hines told the BBC. “This is a solution for people who are between relationships or someone who has lost a spouse.”
Hines said that the physical act of sex would only be a “small part” of the time people spent with the robot. “The majority of time will be spent socialising and interacting,” he added. But with little discussion of their ethics, robot sex dolls risk becoming enablers for abusive behaviour.
The further development of sex robots, which would have no rights and could be freely abused, could have a hugely damaging impact on the lives of humans, according to Richardson and Brilling. “We propose that the development of sex robots will further reduce human empathy that can only be developed by an experience of mutual relationship,” their manifesto explained. The campaign mirrors a call issued by AI experts to withhold technology that could be used in the development of lethal military robots.
In a research paper published earlier this month, Richardson explained there was an explicit connection between prostitution and the potential development of sexual relations between humans and robots. “I propose that extending relations of prostitution into machines is neither ethical, nor is it safe,” she argued. “If anything the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognise both parties as human subjects. Only the buyer of sex is recognised as a subject, the seller of sex (and by virtue the sex-robot) is merely a thing to have sex with.”
The issue of human-robot sexual relations has made both the big and small screen this year. The AMD and Channel 4 co-production Humans and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina both explored the potential dangers.
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