The Robotics of Sex: Research Phase

Recent developments in the field of robotics have bought society one step closer to the creation of artificially conscious, female sex robots – but not without its share of complicated gender politics relating to AI development. According to an ISACA Global Survey Report on breaking down gender barriers, in the tech sector men outnumber women at every job level: only 21% of tech executives are women. Women are discouraged from studying STEM degrees, they are faced with smaller wages, and there are unequal growth opportunities.

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ISACA Global Survey Report – The Future of Tech: Breaking Gender Barriers – Source.

This artefact serves to observe the complicated gender politics relating to AI development, and analyse the hypothetical situations that may arise when a male dominated industry becomes the sole creator of conscious, female sex robots.

As we advance as a society, robots begin to reflect our culture. The article ‘Using/Abusing Fembots‘ by Helen Heath is an insight into the future of female sex robots and artificial intelligence, and how technology modifies our behaviour. Heath highlights that women are not involved in making technology at the same capacity that men are, but are embracing technology all the same.

This is relevant, as an argument is made that the issue is not the ‘development of increasingly humanlike machines’ but rather ‘how gender is performed through technology.’ (Heath, 2016) If a robot is equipped with a brain and a body, Heath’s argument that ‘once you’re in a body, society wants to allocate a gender to it, complete with associated expectations of behaviour’ (Heath, 2016) becomes part of an alarming reality, especially in regard to female sex robots.

Sophia the Robot is one of the world’s most life-like humanoid robots. 

The key strengths of Heath’s article draws on complex, real-life gender politics – a female robot may be taught to adhere to sexist gender roles and female stereotypes and ‘contribute to the myth of women as passive, ever-consenting sex objects’. (Heath, 2016) This becomes especially concerning when regarding the development of artificial intelligence and consciousness within sex robots. The article ‘On the Evolution of Artificial Consciousness’ by Stephen Jones explores and conceptualises the idea that consciousness is the ‘ultimate development’ (Jones, 2000) of artificial life.

Jones argues that a ‘genetic algorithm’ (Jones, 2000) present in robots and other artificial life forms provides an environment for evolution within artificial creatures. For this to happen, the intelligent object must have a ‘genotype’ that has been assembled to evolve in complex and dynamic situations. A conscious entity would need to act independently, gather information for itself, show generosity, interact with others, and project into the world.

The key strength of Jones’s argument is the strong emphasis on the idea that artificial consciousness means life – Jones notes that we must acknowledge the autonomy and intelligence of these ‘built organisms’ (Jones, 2000) and construct a set of ethics to protect artificial life – which means taking an approach like Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Although these three laws are fictional, they should serve to inspire an ethical code of conduct by programmers and developers.

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First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. – Source.

The above arguments overlap in the article ‘Robot Sex and Consent’ by Lily Frank and Sven Nyholm. Frank and Nyholm argue that humanoid sex robots who have achieved a human level of sophistication cannot be left out of discussions involving human-robot relationships and consent. (Frank and Nyholm, 2017) The article however operates on a hypothetical basis, as current technologies do not have the capacity to create completely autonomous robots – and there are not yet widespread laws that afford person-status to advanced robots.

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The issues that may arise if robots are considered citizens – Source.

However, the authors note that ‘Levy (2008) and Turkle (1984) are right that once robots reach a certain level of sophistication, people will intuitively start treating them like persons/agents’ and the lines between ‘morally and legally acceptable sexual conduct’ (Frank and Nyholm, 2017) will either be blurred, or blatantly ignored. This argument is particularly compelling because it is a catch-22 – we will eventually ‘see’ robots as people, but still treat them with disrespect. 

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‘What if I told you that there were no chance encounters. That you, and everyone you know, were built to gratify the desires of the people who visit your world? The people you call the newcomers. What if I told you that you can’t hurt the newcomers, but they can do anything they want to you?’ Westworld S1EP1 (2016) – Source.

It is this catch-22, in conjunction to the above arguments, that this project aims to analyse. How exactly are conscious sex robots going to function within a moral framework? And consequentially, how are humans going to model an ethical framework for them?

From the discussion of the aforementioned texts, the main arguments that are going to be discussed in the upcoming presentation for my artefact include:

  1. The idea that sex robots will eventually develop highly sophisticated artificial consciousness.
  2. How technology modifies our behaviour.
  3. The ramifications of both.

 


 

On an end note, my artefact has not undergone any significant changes – there have only been some small tweaks in the research department. A website has been created, and there has been progress moving towards ‘interviewing’ popular chat bots such as Siri and Eviebot to ask them how they feel about sex robots.

I initially began this project to learn more about robots and artificial intelligence, something that I was scared of. Over the past seven weeks I have come to learn that it isn’t humanity who should be scared of what robots might do to us, but rather the robots should be scared of what humans will do to them.


 

Sources

Heath, H. (2016). Using/Abusing Fembots. Sex Futures, pp.71 – 76.

Jones, S. (2000). On The Evolution of Artificial Consciousness: Re-inventing the wheel, Re: Inventing the wheel. Technoetic Arts, 2, pp.48 – 52, 65 – 66.

Frank, L. and Nyholm, S. (2017). Robot Sex and Consent: Is Consent to Sex between a Robot and a Human Conceivable, Possible, and Desirable? Artificial Intelligence and Law, 25(3), pp.306 – 309, 320 – 322.

Header image: Dalston Superstore. (n.d.). Robots. [online] Available at: http://dalstonsuperstore.com/tag/robots/ 

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