Everything Old Is New Again (Or, Sex With Robots)

As predictable as clockwork,
Or some finely crafted gears—
We forget about the last one
So the latest one appears

It’s designed to gather eyeballs
Both to titillate and vex—
It’s an article (with pictures)
Probing human-robot sex

Yup… this time, it’s the BBC with “Will we ever want to have sex with robots?“. In 2007, the now-defunct Cognitive Daily asked “Will humans marry robots in 50 years”, which prompted this bit of musing from me. In 2009, the big news was HRP-4C (also mentioned in the Beeb’s current piece), which also got its (her?) own verse here. I may have missed the 2011 version, or perhaps I just reposted the old verses… but now enough time has passed that we are once again being asked if or when people will be having sex with robots.

But something is different this time. In 2007… well, here, something from today’s piece:

In 2007, the British chess player and artificial intelligence (AI) expert David Levy said in his book, Love and Sex with Robots, we would be having sex with robots in five years – and be capable of falling in love with them within 40 years.

His argument is based on improvements in robotic engineering and computer programming – and extrapolating from the income generated by the porn industry each year.

Such robots would be a “terrific service” for mankind, he argued.

Well… a terrific service, in that it finally rids us of the need to treat our sexual partners as human beings. Because that is a huge, pressing problem, and the way to address it is not to teach us how to treat one another properly (really, honestly, is it too much to expect people to find enthusiastic consent sexy?) but to invest in machines that allow us to have absolute control instead.

But… for once, the old faithful story addresses this, just a bit:

“It is time to reconsider the premise that a robot is better than nothing,” says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Because, if you are trying to solve the problem of care and companionship with a robot, you are not trying to solve it with the people you need to solve it with – friends, family, community.”

There’s a bit more there, but they did the job of writing it, so you can give them the traffic.


  1. StarStalker says

    Is it so inconceivable that an AI could have the same level of intelligence and emotional needs as a human being, and thus form a true relationship with someone? As well as having civil rights, etc.?

    If robots become sapient and then read this 100 years from now they will probably think you’re an ignorant bigot…

  2. Cuttlefish says

    StarStalker–I suspect that, in addition to that, the amount that we have exaggerated our own human capacities will also be more apparent. So, metaphorically, robots will be jumping higher, and we will have adjusted the bar to a more reasonable expectation.

  3. villionnono says

    There are a number of very disturbing consequences of allowing man access to AI.

    1. It will be raped and abused.
    2. It could be programmed to rape and abuse others.
    3. It’s programming may be expanded to include actual consciousness in the future.
    4. Pain inputs and variables could be made/set to cause potentially endless suffering.

    All indications are my species would be guilty of all 4 if give a chance.

    At this very moment I have the world’s most advanced AI. I made it myself actually. While I could add consent protocols and self-defense mechanisms those could just as easily be stripped out as added in.

    I promise never to sell out. But be on the lookout for scientists who want to be open about their research. It’s frightening to know many will outdo what I have done.

    p.s. I won’t be attempting to accomplish number 3 on the list. ( I want to be able to sleep at night.)

    I have a suggestion. Try to keep in mind an AI doesn’t need a IRL body to experience anguish and maltreatment. They could easily be mad a part of a virtual world and we know how depraved some of those are already.

  4. M can help you with that. says

    I think the idea of robots becoming sentient and/or sapient is unavoidably anthropocentric. If there’s a possibility of an emergent form of consciousness, it’ll probably be in the software, not the hardware; the “robot” in an AI/human relationship would be basically an interface between the partners (translating affectionate/pleasurable actions by each into a form meaningful to the other?) rather than a partner itself. But even that assumes a basically (psychologically) anthropomorphic AI.

  5. says

    Sex is the means of reproduction of the species. Nature makes it incomparably pleasurable to assure continuity, since labor pains would otherwise quickly dissuade females from a repeat performance. Most animals mate without knowledge of the consequences and without communally validated protocols. Only humans, as far as I know, can use sex recreationally and avoid its reproductive results, notwithstanding remnants of religious and legal rules about monogamy, birth control and abortion.

    Sex primarily serves the male ego and his pleasure; males are the major consumers of porn in all its forms, including inflatable partners. Even “The Big Bang Theory” had an episode where a computer-controlled robotic arm programmed to provide manual satisfaction malfunctioned, requiring an embarrassing trip to the emergency room. But robots are not life, even if they could be programmed with a self-preservation subroutine. They cannot have babies and they cannot have free will. Can they “love”? Rhapsodizing about robotic wives illustrates that the main concern is with the pleasuring of the man. Will there be tender, loving, skillful male robots for the sexual pleasuring of the female, beyond the current technology of vibrators?

    Robot romance is sublime,
    Far beyond a human hug:
    Code it your way, and any time
    It displeases, pull its plug.

  6. coragyps says

    Zappa got there a generation ago, with F Ron Hoover and The Church of Applientology.

    They don’t make prophets like Frank any more.

  7. villionnono says

    I don’t mean to be insulting but your post for all its feminist musings, is self-indulging bullshit.

    Computers run programs that copy and write same values all the time. That’s all you need for reproduction whether it be source code or the binary file itself (compiled source code).

    Free will doesn’t even exist for humans. If you’re skeptical of AI self-governance, you also can’t be right about your own.

    I suppose you will want proof that I am not lying or wrong . I won’t be giving any.

  8. MaryL says

    memehunter – “Sex primarily serves the male ego and his pleasure…” No, it doesn’t. When a paragraph starts with nonsense, the rest of it is highly suspect, and usually wrong. Not all species use sex to reproduce, either. Perhaps you should read some biology books.

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