Sex Robots are (Almost) Here. How Will We Respond?
What’s the thoughtful Christian response to the rise of the sexbots?
This is the first in a series exploring the Christian response to “sex robots.”
If you’ve checked the Drudge Report at all in the last year, you’ve already seen the news. Sex robots are here. Or almost here, anyway.
Life size, inert sex dolls have been around for a while, but have stayed in the shadowy fringe world of sex toys and other perversions. Sex robots are a much bigger deal. Want proof? National news outlets have stories about them almost every day, and Matt Drudge links to them.
The technology could change life and marriage as much as the Pill and legal abortion did. And not for the better.
Of course, some of the hype is due to the belief that computers will soon become conscious persons, like we are. That’s science fiction.
Don’t think of sex robots as conscious androids. They make use of artificial intelligence. Picture the responsiveness of a Google search that users can adapt to their own personalities. And tweak for their own personal fantasies. Plus voice command. And lifelike “hardware” with thousands of options, which looks and feels like human skin, not like Rosie the Robot maid from the Jetsons.
No Big Deal?
For years, scholars have been prepping the soil for this. Way back in 2007, computer scientist David Levy wrote a whole book about it. In Love and Sex with Robots, Levy set out to convince readers that we really shouldn’t worry about it. We love our pets, right? What’s so bad about having a “relationship” with a fancy robot, especially in a world where we tolerate all manner of sexual deviancy? Who knows? Once these bots resemble real people, maybe sex and marriage with them will be better than the real thing.
That’s Levy’s argument, of course, not mine.
The technology could change life and marriage — and not for the better.
Sure, some folks in the popular press have started to worry. There’s even a group called the Foundation for Responsible Robotics. Ethicists are exploring all the big questions: What about robot rights? Shouldn’t we come up with rules and laws for how they ought to be treated? What about break time?
Aside from these fantasy complaints, though, the general “expert” response is much like Levy’s. Paul Abramson is a professor of psychology at UCLA. In an interview about his new book on the topic, he told the Daily Caller News Foundation: “The legal implications of robots are similar, in many respects, to all of the previous masturbatory enhancements. The question is largely about differentiating tangible harms from moral pontifications in the guise of societal rules.”
In other words, if nobody gets hurt, what’s the big deal? Don’t be a prude or, worse, a fundamentalist.
Hey, What About the Upsides?
Besides, some experts say, there will be huge upsides. Think of the millions of Chinese men who might never marry because of the lack of women (relative to men) brought about by decades of China’s one-child policy. Do you really want them to be lonely, or decide to fill the ranks of the Chinese military?
Closer to home, Abrahamson and others argue that pedophiles are “hardwired” to be attracted to children. We can lock them up if they get caught, but we can’t change them.
Instead, what if we could match them with a sex robot that’s tailor-made to fit their “fetish”? Then we might reduce the abuse of children and the costly jail time for pedophiles. Win-Win!
In the same way, we could take a real bite out of sex trafficking, and maybe even rape, by meeting the same market demand with robots. One company offers a model that a user can set to “frigid,” perhaps for men who like to force themselves on women. Not a happy thought, but wouldn’t a rape simulation be better than the rape of real women?
I don’t buy any of these arguments. I agree with Laura Bates, who wrote in the New York Times a few days ago that such uses could reinforce the vices and crimes they’re supposed to prevent. “To make such a solution available,” she argues, “is to risk normalizing rape by giving it a publicly acceptable face.” That sounds right to me. This tech is not just about private sin — though it is that. It could devastate swaths of civilization.
We adult Christians need to start thinking about this, and fast.
Still, it’s hard to get your mind around. Last week I talked to Michael Medved about this. He asked me: Which is worse, sex with a prostitute or with a robot? I had a brain freeze and needed to reboot. I wanted to say “both,” but that didn’t make sense.
In any case, we Christian (adults) need to know how to respond to this new tech, pronto. One American company will release a high end sexbot this fall. The “good” news is that it costs fifty grand for the complete model. That should limit sales to only the saddest and loneliest rich guys. But the steep costs won’t last forever. This is information technology. IT has a way of getting way better and way cheaper, really fast.
How will we defend marriage, chastity, and the meaning of sex in the age of the sexbots? What will we say to our Christian friends who shrug their shoulders? And how will we respond to our secular and libertarian friends who welcome the new technology?
I’ll explore the moral, spiritual, and social dangers of all this in follow-up pieces. But for now, think about how you’d answer.
Jay Richards is the Executive Editor of The Stream. Follow him on Twitter.