Sex robots to become a reality

Sex robots to become a reality
Inside the Realbotix factory, where some of the world s first sex robots are being developed. It’s only a matter of time before we will love, marry and have sex with robots, believes David Levy, an artificial intelligence expert.   (Abyss Creations/ Phoenix Studios)  

By Sunny FreemanBusiness Reporter

7:00 AM, Sat., June 4, 2016

She’s the perfect woman: 34-24-34, compliant and agreeable, an enjoyable conversationalist and lacking any traits that could be considered a flaw — including rejection.

That’s because she’s a machine.

Robots designed to satisfy sexual desires are close to transcending fantasy to become reality thanks to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, computing that allows machines to mimic human affects and high-tech sensors and materials.

The technology has so far yet to cross the “uncanny valley” — the wide gulf from creepy to sexy sparked by almost-but-not-quite real humanoid robots.

They’re essentially rubber bodies with motors and some software; more like the love doll Bianca from Lars and The Real Girl than emotionally intelligent gynoid Ava from Ex Machina.

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Sex robots are essentially rubber bodies with high-tech senors that can mimic human beings similar to the love doll Bianca from "Lars and The Real Girl."  (BBS)  

But sex robots are already raising ethical, legal and moral questions of consent, sexism, human biases and what our desire for them says about human psychology.

The debate over them highlights one of the more controversial aspects of the increasingly social nature of our interactions with robots as they move from factories into our homes and someday, our bedrooms.

“How we treat robots — it’s a mirror of our own psychology in a way,” said Kate Darling, an expert in robot ethics at MIT’s Media Lab.

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Darling is fascinated by our strange desire to anthropomorphize, or attribute human agency to machines, and engage with them in a social way. She studies human empathy for robots through the lens of violence toward them.

She cites the outpouring of sympathy for Hitchbot , a hitchhiking robot that was vandalized (or “killed” according to Twitter reactions), and calls to PETA about a four-legged Boston Dynamics robot who was kicked in a promotional video as examples of how our treatment of robots offer insights into the human psyche.

“The interesting thing is not the robots, it’s how robots reveal things about our own behaviour and psychology that we’re only just learning — including the question of whether sex robots are going to be a healthy thing or unhealthy thing for people.”

Sex robots are transcending from fantasy to reality because of rapid advancements in artificial intelligence.  (Abyss Creations/ Phoenix Studios)  

The questions being raised about sex robots are similar to the conversations about the link between violence in video games or pornography. However, the physicality of a robot brings such questions to a new level as the line between fantasy or reality becomes even more muddled in the subconscious, Darling said.

And even though we know they are machines, it doesn’t take much for us to treat robots as if they are people.

Participants in one study even reported becoming more aroused by touching the “private parts” region of a humanoid robot, than when touching, say, the machine’s hand or eye. Others felt uncomfortable touching the machine in that way, a recent study by Stanford University found.

With an increasing amount of money being pumped into artificial intelligence and robotics and our growing comfort levels with robot interaction, it’s only a matter of time before we will love, marry and have sex with robots, believes David Levy, an artificial intelligence expert.

Human-robot intercourse is the next sexual revolution and will be normalized by 2050, Levy predicted in his 2007 book Love and Sex with Robots.

“Once they move and speak and they feel warm, I don’t think there will be any problem for people to relate to them,” he said.

“I think once one or two companies are actually producing these, I think the field will suddenly become very full.”

A life-size robot named "Mark 1", built by product and graphic designer Ricky Ma, 42, is seen in Hong Kong, China on March 31. Ma, a robot enthusiast, spent a year-and-a half and more than $51,000 (U.S.) to create the humanoid robot, which is modelled after a Hollywood star, to fulfil his childhood dream.  (BOBBY YIP/REUTERS)  

Sex robot company True Companion says thousands of people have paid upwards of $7,000 for pre-orders of Roxxxy , “the world’s first sex robot,” programmed to learn an owner’s preferences. However, it remains unclear whether any have actually been produced.

Elsewhere in the race to be first to market, Real Doll is developing Realbotix, a high-end silicone doll with artificial intelligence. It plans to release prototypes this year with sales slated for 2017.

“It is possible to develop an emotional connection to a life-like doll, and it is our goal to take that connection to a higher level using user-customizable artificial intelligence to create unique personalities,” the Realbotix website says.

Levy believes sex robots can offer solutions for a number of sexual issues: from curbing cheating in long-distance relationships to a safer outlet for violent sex or pedophilia to offering companionship to those who can’t form relationships with humans either because of mental health, disabilities or anti-social behaviour.

However he does worry that once robots are “regarded as wonderful lovers” it could be difficult for someone to have a relationship with a human without having “performance anxiety.”

As for sex criminals, robots, equipped with therapeutic functions, could be an outlet that “could wean people off unfortunate sexual leanings.”

Not everyone agrees with Levy’s progressive stance. An academic conference he organized on robot love and sex was deemed illegal in Malaysia, with the police chief threatening to throw Levy in prison if it went ahead.

There’s also an organized campaign to ban sex robots over a lack of critical examination of questions about the potential harms and inequalities exacerbated by the new sex objects.

Sex robots are raising several constroversial questions. The lack of consent in robots is problematic and could further objectify women, Sinziana Gutiu, a lawyer who authored a chapter in "Robot Law," said.  (Abyss Creations/ Phoenix Studios)  

Sinziana Gutiu, a lawyer who authored a chapter in Robot Law on ethics and sexbots called “The Roboticization of Consent” believes users could be alienated by rendering them less able to form human relationships and that they could erode the need for consent in male-female sex.

The lack of consent and heightened control in robots is problematic, she said, and could further objectify and dehumanize real women and children.

“A person’s desire to own a sex robot implicitly brings with it a desire to control something that’s essentially indistinguishable from a woman”

“Putting those violent misogynistic actions and beliefs behind closed doors and pretending that there’s no effects on society and on women is a bit naïve.”

The concern that users may apply the anti-social interactions they have with sexbots to women and society is reinforced by the phenomenon of anthropomorphism, Guitu said.
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