Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
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Are sex robots a cure for loneliness?

Maybe, in a culture where people see themselves as machines

 Sex robots will soon be available for rent in Houston:

The company’s Facebook page promises that the robots “will allow you to fulfill all your fantasies without any limitations.” Some even include settings that simulate rape (the doll is programmed to resist)…

Some argue that sex robots will reduce crime, as potential offenders take out their fantasies on dolls instead of real people. But that sanguine prediction is “not borne out by evidence,” writes Kathleen Richardson of De Montfort University. Nancy Pearcey, “Women vs. Machines: Sex Robot Brothels Coming to Houston” at CNS News

Richardson points out that sexual offenses do not appear to decline with the availability of consensual sex or sex substitutes. Which brings us to another question, what is the attraction of sex robots? Well, for one thing, they can skirt taboos, as a BBC documentary made in Japan, where they are well accepted, showed:

The owner of the brothel explained to James that his clientele benefits from sexual freedom

‘The thing is for the doll it can’t shout, it doesn’t say “no you can’t do that with me”‘ he said.

‘Real girls here are human and if they don’t want to do one thing with a client then they are not going to do that. Because they have a voice they can do that.’ Natalie Corner, “Sex doll the size of a CHILD being made in a Japanese factory reduces a TV presenter to tears – as the manufacturer admits customers decide the robots’ ‘age’” at Daily Mail

It’s not clear how helping people to simulate sexual offenses will reduce their likelihood. But, as for the general idea of a robot as an intimate partner, Nancy Pearcey, who is the author of Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, reminds us that the most popular metaphor for the universe today is a vast machine. That can impact our view of relationships:

Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT, wrote a book titled “Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us.” They will change us by teaching us that a human being is likewise a robot—a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry.

In ordinary life, Brooks admits, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But “when I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”

Interestingly, Brooks also wrote “The Seven Deady Sins of AI Predictions” in Technology Review (October 6, 2017) in which he deflated AI hype, “The claims are ludicrous. (I try to maintain professional language, but sometimes …)”.

In the end, the machines will not become people, of course. But that might not matter of the people truly imagine that they are machines.

Here’s the BBC documentary:

Are sex robots a cure for loneliness?