Doctors David Levy and Kate Devlin discussed the emerging technology of sex robots on Thursday night. I heard about the event a few weeks ago, and having written about the topic on my blog (also here), it’s relevant to my interests.
The two speakers are techies, and bullish on the subject of these forthcoming… abominations?
Should I call them that? I think using that word gets across how I feel about sexbots, but it doesn’t convey the whole of it. I don’t want to ban them, cf. the feminist Campaign Against Sex Robots. They follow me on Twitter, lol.
Devlin mentioned the fellow academics of the Campaign with, as I read it, some disparagement and some hope of reconciliation. Like them, she’s concerned about sex robots’ potential contribution to the sexual objectification of women. Products from sex doll-maker Abyss Creations typify this, so naturally she used them as the example:
Abyss is a leader in the bespoke sex doll industry, and associated with Realbotix, makers of the famous Harmony robot prototypes. They pride themselves on making ‘the world’s most realistic’ products in that realm. Their porny aesthetic is divisive.
I prefer a more natural look. But Devlin is interested in sex technology moving further away from realistic human forms. She notes that women’s masturbation-devices have progressively moved away from realistic dick-shapes to more abstract forms. Levy, somewhat dismissive of the objectification concern, thinks traditional humanoid robots will the predominant preference. He predicts that they’ll serve to as complete intimate companions, with realistic simulated emotions.
This brings us to the part of the topic discussed early in the event, what are sex robots for? Or rather, who are they for? Lonely people, that’s supposed to be one answer. The speakers don’t think humans will stop procreating with each other. Levy suggests that for some, it’s not a choice between relationships with humans or robots, but a choice between robots and nobody.
This idea of robotically-simulated companionship as a solution for loneliness (a growing social ill) is worth closer examination. At the event, this is where the first questioner in the audience pushed back against the speakers, asserting that the loneliness issue is properly conceived as a mental health problem, pointing out that the notion of sexbots as an effective solution is highly speculative.
What is loneliness? It’s not just being alone. It’s unease associated with an unsatisfied desire to connect with people. First, why is this to be considered a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’ at all? (Evgeny Morozov‘s critique of techie ‘solutionism’ comes to mind here.)
With loneliness we’re talking about an aspect of ordinary human psychology that motivates normal behaviour: people’s search for lovers. Forming those relationships results in more ‘problems’ coming into one’s life, like those of keeping the other person interested, arguments, illness, children, in-laws, etc.
Loneliness brings people together.
Genesis 2:18: And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
What about unremitting, chronic loneliness, associated with consistent, repeated relationship failure? The sexbot solution sure looks tempting for that guy, who perhaps feels like he’s undergoing pointless suffering. Benevolent normie response: improve yourself, lower your standards, stop watching porn, etc. And learn to be happy being single, but stay open to real relationships. Don’t give up hope.
A lonely guy resorting to sexbots appears to be giving up on the real thing. Is he?
He’s using an artificial substitute. It’s like masturbating to porn. Just because someone uses porn, doesn’t mean they’re resigned to lifelong singledom. But to some extent, it’s a replacement for sex. The more realistic and compelling the porn is (with sexbots and virtual reality at the hypothetical apex), the more total of a replacement. There’s less impetus for them to do the necessary relationship-establishment work. So, isn’t there a danger that isolated, lonely individuals will, by using virtual sex and relationships, become more isolated, and cheat themselves out of ever developing the ability to form loving human connections?
Levy mentioned the possibility of companion robot AI that responds positively to nice behaviour. Such a robot could, conceivably, provide sex and relationship practice for socially inept people, serving as progress toward real relationships.
But what if the sexual aspect of the robots develops to a totally compelling stage, why bother?
What’ll keep lonely, frustrated guys away from the temptations of the mechanical succubus? First, the hope and faith that they’ll eventually get a real, worthwhile relationship. And when that faith is challenged? One barrier would be the stigma associated with masturbation, which academics like Levy and Devlin are hard at work trying to destroy for whatever reason. What else? Religious convictions. The desire to biologically reproduce for the sake of kin/tribe/nation. So, dying, marginalised institutions, as icy says (629).
As with VR, some dudes are going to plug in and disappear. Perhaps society should welcome this, as a means of humane, non-violent negative eugenics. Cf. Moldbug on the ‘virtual option‘.
This was a decidedly pro-sexbot panel (and that surprised me) but they obligingly discussed some possibly harmful emerging aspects.
There was mention of child-form sexbots, and the suggestion that they could be limited to therapeutic usages, not available for private ownership. I suppose the audience was too rustled by this proposition to demand an explanation for how the heck that would work!
They mentioned privacy issues, with the idea of sexbots made in the image of real people. Levy suggested that in-demand persons like celebrities could choose to license their likenesses to be used. Porn performers do that already, with their genitals and other body parts used to make sex-toy moulds.
We heard an anecdote about a talk on the subject, featuring an anti-wanking heckler. That’s how religious objections were mentioned.
My prophesy is this: God will curse sex robot users with more loneliness.