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The idea of sex robots has been around for a long time – I vividly recall watching the 1980s movie Cherry 2000, which was about android women being used as substitutes for human partners. Today, technological advancements mean the industry is growing, and experts say it’s time for society and governments to consider introducing regulations.
Noel Sharkey, a professor of Robotics and AI at the University of Sheffield in the UK, and co-founder of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) said a sex robot revolution could see an increase in the number of companies making the machines.
"We do need policymakers to look at it and the general public to decide what is acceptable and permissible," he said. "We need to think as a society what we want to do about it. I don't know the answers - I am just asking the questions."
Sharkey is one of the authors of a report called ‘Our sexual future with robots.’ It states that while the realistic, silicone-skinned dolls could benefit certain people, such as those that struggle with intimate relationships, the elderly, and disabled, they also raise many ethical questions. There’s already at least one Japanese company that makes robots resembling children – a legal case over whether it’s legal to own one of them is currently taking place in Canada.
While some say the robots could help prevent the abuse of children, other claim they will make the problem worse. “Treating pedophiles with robot sex-children is both a dubious and repulsive idea,” said philosophy professor and robot ethicist Patrick Lin of California Polytechnic. “Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not. The ethics of sex robots goes beyond whether anyone is physically harmed.”
The report describes four manufacturers of the sex robots, whose products sell for between $5000 to $15,000, though the firms hope to eventually lower the price. They can be customized by sex, height, hair and eye color, and personality.
It’s also noted that up to two-thirds of men and around 30 percent of women were in favor of using the robots.
Some companies have started introducing AI features into the sex robots, and while we’re still a very long way off the kind of androids seen in Westworld, these models can respond to human emotions and are able to communicate at a basic level.
Much like the ‘I dated a robot’ episode of Futurama that sees Fry become overly attached to his Lucy Liu bot, there’s concern over possible addiction and users preferring the machines over humans.
“It’s very sad because it’s going to be a one-way relationship,” said Sharkey. “If people bond with robots it’s very worrying. You are loving an artifact that can’t love you back, and the best they can do is fake it.”