Danger, high voltage: the sex-bot scare

Clara Kelly

Could sex robots replace real human relationships?

As technology advances, robots are becoming less of a dystopian trope from our favourite Sci-Fi movies and TV shows, and much more of a current reality.

According to an article by the Telegraph in 2017, at that time there were currently four companies making life-like robotic dolls worldwide. But it was predicted that soon they could become widespread, not just to satisfy a fetish, but with practical applications like sexual therapy and companionship.

It is claimed that the most advanced of these robots is called Harmony. Matt McMullen created Harmony back in 2016 and with shipments to customers due any day now, sex robotics is becoming a reality. However, buyers would have to spend $10,000 for just the head, and an additional couple of thousand if they also desired the silicone doll’s body.

The head is powered by a smartphone app filled with artificial intelligence software, which lets Harmony have real conversations with users, move her lips, blink, laugh, tell jokes and even remember details from previous conversations.

The cause for concern comes when, as more and more money is poured into this form of artificial intelligence, possible ethical and societal ramifications get neglected.

Questions like how porn can already be seen to have a damaging reflection on how society views women and objectification, and how young women view themselves, become even more prominent when taken to the extreme of hyper-realistic dolls that can be made to look almost exactly like real women.

The question of when this tech, with human-assigned traits and features, becomes sentient can be a blurry line for the future, especially since it’s a possibility that humans will mistreat these robots.

It also makes people wonder when robotics like Harmony do reach an even more life-like level, when will it become difficult to tell robots and people apart? Will people begin to opt-out of fundamentally flawed human relationships altogether in favour of more complacent and easier relationships with technology, that require less compromise and effort than the real alternative?

Some researchers in this field have already begun to see these possible problems, such as computer scientist Noel Sharkey, featured in the documentary Sex Robots and Us, who warns of possible concerns for dolls that make sex ‘too easy’ on society.

Sharkey who works for the Foundation of Responsible Robotics warned of potential harm if pedophiles accessed robots resembling children or rapists interact with robots that say ‘no’ among other possible societal dangers.

And he isn’t the only one. Dr. Xanthe Mallett, a forensic anthropologist and criminologist, say sex robots could have unforeseen consequences on human relationships, in ways not unlike smartphones.

Also stating the danger, that sex robots have no limits or rules, nothing is out of bounds, is that then going to impact how they act in relationships with and treat real women sexually?

However, despite all possible concerns, not only is sex robotics a growing and profitable industry, but a Havas report from Paris in 2017 concluded that more than one quarter of millennials (aged 18-34) would be happy to have a relationship with a robot. Meaning regardless of the possible outcome, sex-robotics may be here to stay.

Clara Kelly 

Image credit: Iai.tv