Could sex robots END civilization?
Scientists are currently locked in what might be the best debate ever — will sex robots destroy our entire civilization?
I know what you’re thinking — there are worse ways to go — but, over the past week, there has legitimately been a conversation happening across social media about the overall impact that the future of humanoid sex toys will have on sex and modern society.
Yes, people — many of them — are dedicating time to figuring out whether robot sex with end actual in-the-flesh sex.
The debate was seemingly kicked off by an article in the UK’s Daily Star, in which Joel Snell, a researcher at Kirkwood College, was quoted as saying that, in the near future, “Robotic sex may become addictive. Sexbots would always be available and could never say no, so addictions would be easy to feed. … People will rearrange their lives to accommodate their addictions.”
The article also shared images of the current equivalent of “sexbots” — the notorious Real Dolls, a.k.a. high-end, life-like mannequins with sex toy features embedded within them — and wondered if sex with artificial robots would represent the future of the modern brothel.
Quick question: Am I the only one who remembers the movie Cherry 2000, which played almost endlessly on HBO during the 1980s? It’s set in a dystopian future in the far-off year of 2017 (!), where a rich guy hires bounty hunter Melanie Griffith to escort him through a low-rent Mad Max wasteland to find replacement parts for his sexbot girlfriend.
According to the Daily Star, the future in THAT movie is what we’re facing with the advent of really awesome sex robots. If they're right, the entire way we approach sex will start to change.
However, Motherboard also reported this week that, at an actual scientific conference currently taking place in the UK — the 12th Human Choice and Computers Conference in Manchester — researchers were skeptical that people would become obsessed with and/or fall in love with their programmable sex robots.
But there's good news about sex robots!
There are several reasons why scientists at the Human Choice and Computers Conference don’t believe that humans will abandon each other for the sole company of pleasure-bots.
First, there are the metaphysical reasons. For example, Charles Ess, a professor from the University of Oslo, argued that these artificial “beings” will simply not be able to mimic complex emotions.
When asked if a sexbot could make a person feel loved, Ess replied, “As far as I can tell, the consensus in the AI and robotic communities is, in a strong sense, no … Because to love you, or anyone else, requires what philosophers like to call ‘first person phenomenal consciousness’ — basically the capacity to be aware of oneself and to be aware of one having emotions and desires … The current state of the art, and what I've seen of projections, all point to no.”
So, OK, we’re not going to have the Ex-Machina future anytime soon, where we have long debates about the humanity of our life-like sex toys. But does that really matter? If it feels good, won’t our human brains still gloss over the lack of legitimate emotion behind the pleasure?
The Motherboard article also talked to Kathleen Richardson, senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University and director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots — which is AN ACTUAL THING. (Wow.)
Richardson has some very serious opinions about how the mere idea of sex robots ultimately dehumanizes people (hard to argue with), but, more than anything, I love the way she points out that sex robots are bound to present all of the normal technical problems that ANY other piece of technology would have.
Richardson stated, “Everyone thinks [sex robots are] very exciting to begin with, but when you're alone and you have to carry a 40Ib robot upstairs, or their programme breaks down and you have to call 'support' and go through automated options to speak to an 'advisor' to find out why your robot is twitching it's head repeatedly — the excitement will quickly fade.”
Which are all excellent points. I mean, who’s going to clean it? What will it smell like? And if you think it’s frustrating when your laptop keeps rebooting for no good reason, think about what that experience will be like when you’ve got your private parts hooked into a 6-foot-tall metal and plastic behemoth.
Sure, there will be some early adopters, but convincing people that dealing with the hassle (and potential terror) of a malfunctioning sexbot is somehow better than good old-fashioned masturbation might be a hard argument to win.
Overall, I think those practical considerations are ultimately more damaging to the rumored sexbot-pocalypse than heady philosophical discussions about whether or not they can experience human emotions, but maybe I’m just a skeptic.
The big take-away is — sex robots ARE coming in our future. Their beta versions are already here.
So, eventually, you’re going to have to decide how you feel about them. Will you embrace them to the point where, if your sex-cyborg ever breaks down, you’ll have to hire Antonio Banderas’ wife to help you navigate a desert full of future mutants to being her back online, like in my favorite HBO rerun?
These are the decisions we have to make in the 21st Century, people. Truly, the future is weirder than we ever expected.