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Sex Machina: How Robots Will Change the Way We Love

By Lilly Ball

Technology has reached a point in which it has taken over nearly every aspect of modern life, including the most intimate of all: sex. With 68 million pornographic search engine requests made daily, according to Top Ten Reviews, internet porn has gifted society with the ability to focus increasingly on self-pleasure and satisfaction. The tech industry is now taking this interest in self-love one step further with humanoid robots and electronic sex toys that will soon be available to the general public.

Many have opposed the oncoming robotic sex revolution, particularly Kathleen Richardson, senior research fellow in the Department of Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University and founder of the Campaign Against Sex Robots. Opposers, like Richardson, claim that these self-serving machines only further the gap between personal intimacy and sex acts, allowing the once-passionate interaction to become dehumanized. In an interview with The Washington Post, Richardson stated, “If anything, the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognize both parties as human subjects.” This opinion stems from the belief that sex culture has already become animalistic, and the introduction of non-human partners will only further dehumanize it. With robots created to look humanoid but without all the complications of true feelings, users will be allowed to have sex guided by instinct, mechanizing both the act and themselves.

Richardson certainly isn’t unique in her opinions either. When the International Love and Sex with Robots Conference was set to take place in Malaysia, the Malaysian government deemed it too vulgar and “unscientific,” banning it from taking place and passing it on to the Goldsmiths University of London, England, where sex with inanimate objects is less taboo.

Scheduled for Dec. 19 and 20, the conference will bring together thousands of field experts and android enthusiasts, hosted by Goldsmith’s computing lecturer, Kate Devlin.

Devlin, unfazed by the “immoral” stigma surrounding robot-human relations, publicly explored its benefits in her essay, “In defense of sex machines: why trying to ban sex robots is wrong.” While many allow themselves to narrow-mindedly deem the very idea sacrilegious, Devlin thoroughly analyzes the concept of robots built for pleasure, connecting it to both the story of Pygmalion and the alluring cyborg in Alex Garland’s film “Ex Machina.” By the end of her essay, Devlin comes to the conclusion that “to campaign against [the] development [of sex robots] is shortsighted. Instead of calling for an outright ban, why not use the topic as a base from which to explore new ideas of inclusivity, legality and social change? It is time for new approaches to artificial sexuality.”

There was once a time in which sex itself was an unspeakable topic. Thus, there is a possibility that these opponents are too myopically influenced by their inhibitions and fears. Yet, there are still warnings to be heeded when entering a sexual relationship with a robot.

Pornography has already taken its toll on society by giving its viewers unrealistic expectations that lead to their disappointment in actual sexual contact. Normal human beings do not perform as exceptionally as porn stars do in the bedroom, and certainly will not be able to function as well as a robot designed specifically for sex. If sex robots do become mainstream, hookup culture could dissipate completely, as people will fulfill their craving for a “no strings attached” relationship through a robot who brings them full gratification every time. This could be viewed as positive, as it could lead to diminishing cases of STDs and unplanned pregnancies, but a robot that doesn’t have the ability to say “no” allows people to fulfill their yearnings and desires limitlessly.

In a study conducted by the National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity, it was determined that six to eight percent of Americans are sex addicts, and a robotic partner that is always readily available would allow those suffering from the condition to easily succumb to their impulses. When having sex with an inanimate body, there is no issue of consent, but would that prevent rape or rather allow people to look at one another as mere objects? Would the lines between robot sexual partners and human sexual partners become blurred? According to Richardson, “These robots will contribute to more sexual exploitation.”

The rise of sex robots could signal the end of romantic sex, as it further becomes an act conducted exclusively to release tension.

Supporting this idea is the fact that nearly half of the millennial population in Japan has never engaged in sex: 44.2 percent of women and 42 percent of men between the ages of 18 to 34, according to CNN. While these numbers are quite high, they aren’t shocking for a country with a sex culture dominated by the internet and animated porn. Many turn to animated pornography to fulfill their specific fetishes and fantasies, as the onscreen performers can exceed the abilities of normal humans, just as sex robots might be capable of.

Whether or not the concept of “free love” extends to robots is up to the individual user, but there are certainly both advantages and disadvantages to making love to a robot, and even more ethical questions yet to be determined.