pros & cons
SEX WITH A ROBOT
Christina blogs at Freethough
Blogs, and is author of Why Are You Atheists
So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending:
Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns,
for the computer love story Her are everywhere, and it makes
me wonder about the ethics of sex robots. Would I ever have
sex with one? Or would I find it ooky and gross -- in a moral
sense, but also aesthetically and erotically? Here's what I
certainly don't have any objections to using sex toys. I don't
have moral objections, or aesthetic/erotic ones. I think sex
toys are awesome, and I use them enthusiastically. And a sex
robot would essentially be a sex toy. Unless it had consciousness,
from a moral perspective I don't see how using a robot for sex
would be any different than using a vibrator for sex.
I'm finding the idea ooky.
a sex robot would be different from a vibrator, in important
ways. After all, isn't the whole idea of a sex robot that they
would be a stand-in for a human being? That isn't true for a
vibrator. It's not meant to be a substitute for people. It's
meant to be a machine that creates a certain kind of sensation
that feels pleasurable. But the whole idea of a sex robot would
be that it would be like having sex with a person, except you
would get to have any kind of sex you wanted, whenever you wanted,
for as long as you wanted, except without all that pesky business
of it having desires and limits of its own.
the most part, I don’t think this would be much fun. A
big part of the pleasure of sex for me is the connection between
two (or more) conscious beings, the overlapping and intertwining
of two (or more) sets of desires and limits. I enjoy other people's
desires and pleasures, and enjoy fulfilling them -- and that
would be entirely absent with a sex robot. Even when I'm feeling
intensely dominant, even when I enjoy the fantasy of a deeply
submissive partner who's discarded their volition and is catering
to my every whim, I still want them to want it. So on that basis
alone, I can't see a sex robot being a part of my regular sex
if I were framing it as ‘vibrator’ rather than ‘human
substitute’ . . . well, I use vibrators all the time,
with no concern whatsoever about the fact that they're machines
without desires or limits. So at the very least, I could see
being curious about a sex robot, and trying it out for variety
and novelty. I could see experimenting with it, as an interesting
way to act out fantasies that I can't get a human partner to
try -- or to tailor those fantasies as precisely as I want.
the robot didn't have consciousness, I don't think there would
be moral problems -- but for me, it would fall squarely into
‘uncanny valley’ territory. There's a theory about
human simulacra, robots and cartoons and such, stating that
they become more appealing as they seem more human . . . until
they reach a certain point of human-ness, at which point their
appeal drops off rapidly, and they start being disturbing and
creepy. They stop looking like cute human-like simulacra, and
start looking like people with something off about them, something
subtly but seriously wrong. For me, a human-like sex robot without
consciousness would fall into the uncanny valley with a resounding
thud. And the closer they were to seeming human -- which presumably
would be the goal behind their engineering -- the more unsettling
they would be.
course, if a sex robot did have consciousness, having sex with
it, or indeed creating it, would be morally reprehensible. The
idea of designing a conscious being that existed to serve your
desires and not have any of its own is reprehensible. I'm not
sure what it would even mean to have consciousness and not have
any desires of your own. If a sex robot were conscious, that
consciousness would either have to be manufactured in a profoundly
twisted way that perverted (and not in a good way) the entire
idea of what it means to be conscious, or it would be a plain
old consciousness. In which case the sex robot would simply
be a slave.
then, of course, we come to the tricky question: How do we know
whether the sex robot has consciousness? If the engineering
got so good that the robots were really close to seeming human
-- if they acted and reacted like humans, if they had cognitive
processes that were indistinguishable from humans' -- then at
what point would they essentially be human? Once we understand
that consciousness is a physical product of the brain, it's
not at all implausible to think that an artificial intelligence
of a certain type and complexity might have consciousness as
well. It's the Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
problem: If androids are being designed to be more and more
similar to human beings, does there come a point where there'snot
a useful moral distinction between them?
to a certain extent, moral issues and the aesthetic ones overlap.
If the sex robot were human enough to seem really human, you
start to run into the moral problem of whether it has consciousness.
If it weren't human enough to seem really human, it would be
missing the point, and would be disturbing as hell to boot.
I'm curious if other people would do this. I'm wondering if
I'm missing anything in my analysis -- either ethical or erotic.