They could be more than a transgression

When we talk about robots, at some point, we surely end up thinking about their sexual use. The current technology is not good enough yet for what we intend as a sex robot. We have RealDolls but it’s not exactly the same thing.

Sex and robots lead inevitably to social implications about the possible consequences of increasing people’s isolation. But Neil MacArthur, the director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba and the editor of Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications doesn’t agree with that.

“Nobody is forcing sex robots on the public”, he said. “We sometimes forget, this is a consumer technology, and consumer technologies get adopted because people adopt them”.

According to his opinion, people who are really interested in or need a sex robot will use it, and that doesn’t mean everybody will end up using just them, as happened with other technologies. Therefore, just like not everybody stopped performing live music when the phonograph was invented, not everybody will stop having sex with real people because of sex robots.

“Just as we have inequalities and access to healthcare and everything else, we have a lot of inequalities when it comes to accessing intimacy and sex”, MacArthur says. Many people are unable to find sexual partners due to their age, health, physical ability, geography, level of conventional attractiveness, or any other factor.

“We talk a lot about access to healthcare. Why do we care about those things? Health is a human good, education is a human good, and knowledge is a human good. Well, sex and intimacy. Those are human goods in the same way”.

In this way, a sex robot might not be for everyone, but it does not rule out the possibility that it is for someone. We cannot and should not put an end to emerging technologies just because we don’t need them.

Anyway, there is something that robots will always lack: reciprocity: “We desire someone who desires us, and they desire our desire”, said MacArthur. Even if they can one day simulate desire, robots will never be able to reciprocate it.

Is it possible that technology could grow so good and compelling that it will trump our most basic human desires and supplant genuine human relationships? Perhaps. But it has never happened in the centuries-long history of people worrying about just that.

Robots can be used for those who cannot otherwise have access to sexual experiences. Then they might be interesting to the rest of the people, not as a replacement for humans, which we don’t want, but as part of our natural need for variety, just like porn can be a good element of a more complex sex life.

And this is only the start. Research for sex robots could lead to the development of a slew of other sexual technologies and useful new tools that can help us live happier and more fulfilled. Designers are already working on non-humanoid sex devices, such as a pillow that wraps around you, according to MacArthur.

“If we have these stigmas, it means that the research isn’t going to get funded”, MacArthur says. “I think that having an open, healthy approach to it is going to make it come more quickly and also make it come in a healthier way. I mean, there are all kinds of crazy innovative designs out there, and I think that if we unleash the kind of creativity that often is at work in the technology world, I think it could be a really exciting future. Or, we could not have the conversation or have it in a very narrow way, and then we’re just going to be trapped in a very slow-moving and very uninteresting future”.

Sex and technology questions haven’t started today, but the evolution of the internet has allowed people to use chats and webcams for cybersex or for just watching videos. Sex robots will be the next generation of cybersex, with all the pros and cons of new technology. You might say that the internet increased social isolation but at the same time allowed people who were distant to talk to each other or those who had difficulty socializing to get in touch with new people more easily. So it depends. Sex robots might help people with health problems, social problems, or simply those who are looking for a new transgression. However, if someone’s problem was solvable, it would be better to use a sex robot as a step toward a real-life approach. Anyway, there are also darker sides where robots could be used to unleash the worst instincts. In this case, will the outburst against a robot mean one less victim to suffer such violence? Or will this encourage more violence? It’s hard to answer now, but we could be surprised.