BeeLine to the Future: The Perfume of a Sexbot

Robert Bee
Robert Bee's picture

A couple of years ago I reviewed David Levy’s book Love and Sex with Robots for the New York Review of Science Fiction. My review was lukewarm because I felt that Levy’s book was, despite its sensationalistic material, rather bland. Levy was trying so hard to make his presentation scholarly and intellectual rather than tabloidesque that he managed to wring much of the life from his topic. Despite the limits of his presentation, I did agree with most of his argument. People will have sex with robots in a few years, and when robots are more complicated people will have emotional relationships with them (such as lifelong companionship and marriage).

Nikki Olson, in the singularity web blog, recently posted an article that points out that 4 years after Levy’s books we’re not any closer to sex and love with robots

Olson makes a number of good points:

“David Hanson’s skin has gotten more realistic and more people know about Hiroshi Ishiguro’s real looking androids, but many important developments stand in the way of our considering robots something we could one day fall in love with.”

“Some progress has been made in making animated sex robots. At last year’s Adult Entertainment Expo, Douglas Hines, founder of True Companion LLC, presented Roxxxy, a sex robot that is said to have an interactive body and personality. However, Hines’ robot isn’t capable of very much and Hines hasn’t done very well with Roxxxy.”

“Justyna Zander of the Singularity University thinks that relationships with early robots could be compared to relationships with psychopaths in that they would show no real empathy or regard. Empathy is arguably the most crucial component of love and sex in human relationships.”

I find the last quote interesting because it is the theme of the iconic SF novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The difference between humans and androids is that humans – with the possible exception of psychopaths – feel empathy; the only way to determine whether a person is human or a genetically engineered organic replicant is to give them the Voigt-Kampff empathy test. Over the course of the novel that difference erodes, and humans become more machine-like while the androids become more human. The reader even changes his empathetic identification from the humans to the androids, and must think about his/her own capacity for empathy.

If robots are incapable of empathy, then our relationships with them will always be limited; we might have sex bots, but we won’t marry them. It isn’t clear, however, that robots won’t develop empathy and other emotions; an important area of AI is affective computing, teaching robots to respond to human emotions, and perhaps, when they reach a high enough level of cognition, to feel emotions themselves.

“But even if we reach a day where machines are thought to be as conscious as we are, and hence, in theory, capable of empathy, would there not still be some psychological barrier to falling in love with a machine, no matter how human it seemed?”

I’m skeptical that there will be a psychological barrier to sex and love with robots. I think many people will eventually prefer love and sex with robots, and robots may end up better at love and sex than many humans. A different question is: will the robots want us?

In the journal Futures, in an article entitled “Robots, Men and Sex Tourism,” two researchers at Victoria University in Australia inform us that sex with robot prostitutes will be common in the near future. The researchers dramatize a scenario in 2050 at a sex club called Yub-Yum in Amsterdam (which is a bizarre name for a sex club, why not hot bots or something?). Sex tourists pay 10,000 Euros for a range of services from lapdances to massages to various types of sex.

The advantages to robot prostitutes include:
• The sexbots could speak any language and could be sexual gods that possess any body shape, age, or ethnicity.
• The sexbots would be made of bacteria-resistant material and could be cleaned so they would not transmit diseases.
• Clients would not have to feel guilty because they did not cheat on their spouse with a real person.
• Sex robots will reduce sex slavery and the abuse of human prostitutes.

I’ll more or less grant them the first two points. You could build sexbots to fulfill the fantasies of your clients, and could even do studies of what people want and built bots according to their specifications. The resistance to disease is a positive thing, although in the future, with personal computer networks, I wouldn’t be surprised if you caught a computer virus while having sex with the prostitute, and then discovered that the mafia-owned brothel cleaned your bank account out.

The guilt issue I find problematic. Most spouses are going to consider it cheating if you visit a sexbot. I suppose swingers could journey together to a sexbot club and indulge, but unless sexual mores “evolve” by 2050 most spouses will still have a problem with sexbots. I imagine the following scenario:

“I can smell the cheap perfume of a sexbot on you!”
“It’s OK. I read an article written by some college professors, and it’s not cheating!”
“Do you love her?”
“No, she’s not human!”
“That just makes you a pervert! When we go to divorce court, I’ll bring up your sleazy visits to sexbots, which will result in you having to pay additional alimony and suffer public humiliation!”
In addition, we think of prostitutes as women who satisfy men, but robots will diversify that scenario. In Japan women often go to host clubs where attractive young men entertain them. I think the West will adopt that type of club in the future because women will have more money, and sexbots can be programmed to give women whatever they want, from sex to understanding and concern once the programming is advanced enough.

Sexbots may reduce sex traffic and slavery, but perhaps not; after all, a human may still be cheaper than a robot, which probably will cost quite a bit of money to manufacture, especially initially. If Sexbots do become cheap they could have a negative effect on the economies of locales that rely on sex tourism like Thailand; so the social benefits may be mixed. With that said and done, love and sex with robots will be part of the future, so load up on next generation solar batteries.