Richard Rodriguez Navi Pillay
guaranteed minimum income and SEX ROBOTS
by JOHN DANAHER
about technological unemployment typically focus on the displacement
of mainstream, socially accepted forms of human labour. Such
displacement often generates sympathy and ethical concern
for the displaced workers. But what about the effects of technology
on less accepted forms of human labour? In particular, what
about the effects of technology on sex work? For a long time,
human beings have used technological artifacts for sexual
stimulation; and for an equally long time (if not longer)
they have engaged the services of (human) sex workers. Could
a day ever come when the former displace the latter? And what
ethical/social implications might that have?
displacement hypothesis is the claim that one day sophisticated
sexual robots or artificial intelligences will displace human
sex workers (specifically prostitutes), in much the same way
as manufacturing robots have replaced their human equivalents.
While such a claim might seem like the purest science fiction,
it has been defended by several authors. The argument is that
if one assumes that sex robots will become increasingly human-like
in appearance and function, and that such robots will have advantages
over their human equivalents, one can also assume that people
will switch their demand from human prostitutes to robots. The
Resiliency Hypothesis argues that sex work may be one of the
industries that is resilient to technological unemployment.
that no matter which hypothesis you prefer — displacement
or resiliency — each provides fertile grounds for favouring
the introduction of a basic income. The first holds that if
we wish to discourage people from entering into sex work,
an unconditional basic income might be the best way to do
that; the second holds that even if one has no qualms about
sex work itself, the failure to normalize sex work in most
countries (even when it has been decriminalized) provides
grounds for favouring a basic income.
ARE SEX ROBOTS
robot as any artifact that is used for sexual stimulation with
the following three properties:
(i) a humanoid
(ii) the ability
to move in a human-like fashion, and
some degree of artificial intelligence (i.e. some ability to
interpret and respond to signals in its environment.
example, Roxxy, billed by its makers as the world’s first
sex robot, is human-like in appearance and touch, and comes
pre-programmed with a set of responses to external stimuli.
Videos of Roxxy are easily located online and clearly illustrate
that the degree of human-likeness is, at this stage, quite crude.
Still, it is an indication of where the technology is going,
and when one appreciates that there are more impressive developments
in human-like movement and intelligence, one can imagine future
sex robots being considerably more human-like in nature.
and technological innovation can have a profound impact on employment
patterns. In many cases, the impact is positive: technology
can increase productivity and economic growth, and create new
and exciting employment opportunities Still, certain forms of
labour have displayed resiliency, and there are niche markets
for products and services that are made or provided purely by
much resiliency is really out there and where does sex work
fit within this matrix?
THE DISPLACEMENT HYPOTHESIS
Hypothesis: Prostitution will be displaced by sex robots, much
as other forms of human labour have been displaced by technological
and Mars (2012), for instance, argue for a possible future in
which the Amsterdam sex industry is taken over by android prostitutes.
Avid Levy argues that prostitutes are at serious risk of being
displaced by sophisticated sex robots, and that the ethical
and social implications of this displacement need to be addressed.
Transference Thesis: All the factors driving demand for human
prostitutes can be transferred over to sex robots, i.e. the
fact that there is demand for the former suggests that there
will also be demand for the latter.
Advantages Thesis: Sex robots will have significant advantages
over human prostitutes.
coupled with some basic decision theoretical principles about
what causes people to demand or supply certain things in preference
to others, these two theses can make a decent case for the displacement
Innate biological urges provide a reasonably consistent baseline
of demand which can be accentuated in certain cultural milieus.
One could argue that the level of demand is accentuated nowadays
thanks to the increasingly casual and taboo-free attitude towards
sex in many Western societies.
first factor influencing the demand for prostitution is the
so-called myth of mutuality: clients seek out prostitutes because
they think they can obtain the kind of emotional bond with them
that is typically associated with sexual relationships. Prostitutes
are (sometimes) willing to facilitate this fantasy. The second
factor influencing the demand for prostitution is the desire
for sexual variety, both in terms of the number and type of
sexual partners and the type of sexual act. The third factor
influencing demand for prostitution is the appeal of sex that
is free from the typical emotional and social constraints and
complications. And the fourth factor influencing demand is a
lack of sexual success in ordinary life, where this lack of
success can itself be caused by numerous factors, including
social isolation, disability, long working hours and age.
gist of the transference thesis is that sex robots are credible
substitutes for human prostitutes. The strength of this case
is dependent on the state of the technology. It is relatively
easy to see how certain factors would transfer over; less easy
to see how others would, without a significant improvement in
the technology. For example, it is relatively easy to see how
three of the factors — lack of sexual success, desire
for sexual variety, and freedom from constraint and complication
— could transfer over to sex robots. Indeed, we already
see sex robot manufacturers catering to these demand-based factors.
Roxxy, who was mentioned earlier, comes pre-programmed with
five different personalities, ranging from the prim and proper
to the prurient and kinky. These personalities help cater to
the demand for sexual variety. We can also assume, plausibly,
that sex robots can be made available to those who experience
a lack of sexual success, and that sex
with such robots can be free from all complication
and constraint. What is more difficult to see is whether emotional
bonding will be possible with sex robots. But, of course, the
case for displacement does not rest on the transference thesis
alone. It is only when this thesis is combined with the advantages
thesis that we begin to see how sex robots may come to displace
ordinary human prostitutes. It is only if sex robots will be
demanded (and supplied) in preference to human prostitutes that
displacement is likely to take place. So what advantages do
sex robots have over humans?
can start with legal advantages. In many countries, prostitution
is legally prohibited, thereby putting both the prostitute and
client at risk of legal sanction; the use of sex robots is typically
not subject to legal sanction. A similar argument could made
on the grounds that sex robots can cater to certain, currently
illegal, sexual deviancies.
are also ethical advantages. Many people are concerned about
the ethics of human prostitution, particularly where it is suspected
to involve trafficking or enforced sexual slavery. Provided
that sex robots do not reach the level of sophistication needed
for artificial personhood (in the moral sense of personhood)
the same sorts of ethical concern do not arise.
there are the health risk advantages. This, however, must be
tempered by the observation that if sex robots are reused by
multiple clients, poor sanitation could also carry a risk of
there are advantages of flexibility and production. Robots can
be programmed and designed to suit the whims of their users.
If the demand for prostitution is increasing at a rate that
cannot be met by human workers, sex robots can be produced en
case for the resiliency hypothesis rests on two key theses:
Human Preference Thesis: Ceteris Paribus, if given
the choice between sex with a human prostitute or a robot, many
(if not most) humans will prefer sex with a human prostitute.
Increased Supply Thesis: Technological unemployment in other
industries is likely to increase the supply of human prostitutes.
sexual activity comes in many forms, there is a core type of
sexual contact that is a deeply human, interpersonal and embodied
activity. The desirability of this form of sexual contact is
not simply a function of sexual excitement or orgasm since people
can achieve sexual excitement and orgasm through solitary sexual
if robots did obtain that level of sophistication, it is likely
that the human concern for the ontological history of certain
objects would maintain the preference for human partners. And
no matter how you look at it, robots won’t have the right
Post/Yougov poll conducted in early 2013 asked people whether
they would be willing to have sex with a robot. Only 9% of those
polled said they would, with 81% saying they would not, and
10% saying they were unsure. Still, the results of the survey
must be interpreted critically: people may not be willing to
admit (even anonymously), to a willingness to couple with a
the problems with the human preference argument, by itself,
is that it doesn’t say anything about the overall supply
of human prostitution. If there aren’t enough human prostitutes
to meet the available demand people many will be likely to seek
out the comfort of a sex robot. The case for the increased supply
thesis rests on four premises:
(1) An increasing
number of jobs, including highly skilled jobs, are vulnerable
to technological employment.
(2) People will
be forced to seek other forms of employment (all else being
(3) When making
decisions about which form of employment to seek, people are
likely to be attracted to forms of employment: (i) in which
there is a preference for human labour over robotic labour;
(ii) with low barriers to entry; and (iii) which are comparatively
satisfies all three of these conditions (i) - (iii).
there is likely to be an increase in the supply of human prostitutes.
the increased supply thesis is combined with the human preference
thesis, we provide a reasonable grounding for the resiliency
thesis. People prefer to have sex with humans, and in the future
more people will be willing to supply human sexual labour, being
driven to it by increasing levels of technological unemployment
in other industries. This picture is very different from that
being promoted by proponents of the displacement hypothesis.
many (Western) countries have now relaxed or decriminalized
prostitution. This trend could well continue, particularly if
more and more people are forced into sex work by technological
unemployment. When it comes to ethical advantages, we can again
note that these have not dissuaded people historically from
engaging the services of prostitutes, and, in any event, ethical
attitudes have been shifting thanks to increasing acceptance
of casual sex. Finally, when it comes to health risk advantages
and advantages in terms of flexibility and production, the response
is straightforward: human prostitutes will adapt in order to
maintain their advantage over robot competitors.
AND THE BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE
unconditional basic income guarantee is radical proposal for
reforming the way in which income is distributed.
Income Proposal: A basic income is an income unconditionally
granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or
work requirement. It is a form of minimum income guarantee that
differs from those that now exist in various European countries
in three important ways:
(i) it is paid
to individuals rather than households;
(ii) it is paid
irrespective of any income from other sources; and
it is paid without requiring the performance of any work or
the willingness to accept a job if offered.
prostitutes are already a particularly vulnerable and precarious
sector of the working population, with many people driven into
it through economic desperation. It may be right and proper
for us to be especially concerned about the effects of technological
unemployment on them, and to do our utmost to minimize the suffering
they may be forced to endure. But, of course, many prostitutes
are unwilling to publicly disclose their participation in the
sex work industry and it is consequently difficult to target
those who may be affected. A basic income guarantee may be the
most effective way to protect their well-being.
we think prostitution is ethically permissible, the case for
the basic income is less easy to see. At first glance, we may
even be driven to the opposite conclusion. If prostitution is
one of the few industries that is resilient to technological
unemployment, we might try to encourage people to join its ranks.
But there is still an argument for the basic income to be made
here. For even if we think prostitution is perfectly acceptable,
and so have no desire to discourage people from becoming prostitutes,
it could be that sex work remains so precarious that a basic
income guarantee would improve outcomes for the workers. Even
in jurisdictions where there is considerable mainstreaming of
prostitution (and sex work more generally), there is not always
a corresponding increase in the legal protection of prostitutes.
Prostitutes are typically self-employed, even when working at
a brothel owned by a third party, and consequently don’t
have access to the same employment rights and protections as
other workers. Furthermore, social stigmas and norms mean that
sexual labour tends to be viewed as a unique and exceptional
form of human labour, not something that easily sits within
the traditional framework of legal rights and protections. The
result is that prostitutes face difficulties in protecting both
themselves and their income streams. So, if technological unemployment
in other industries is likely to drive more people into prostitution,
and if we think prostitution is an acceptable form of human
labour, we still have a case for the basic income guarantee:
the failure to fully normalize sex work in countries in which
it has been tried suggests that a more robust form of income
protection is desirable.
I am amused that depictions always show men lusting after
sexy sex robots, that if it were the other way around it is
a non-starter. Well, woman discovered the joys of sex robots
long before men. Have you ever heard of the dildoe? It's a
bare-bones, unsophisticated sex robot that women have been
using for decades. And unlike men, we don't require an emotional
relationship relationship with our electronic sex toys.What
that means is that we would never fall for something that
ridiculous when you think about it: an electronic dummy that
speaks and obeys instructions. It might look more real than
real but women aren't fooled by it like foolish men.
Responding to "I am amused." You don't get it. Men
are a lot more visual than woman, that's why a soft surface
with a lubricated hole in it (the equivalent of a dildoe)
doesn't turn us on. We need the whole package -- and the sex
robot offers that.
I enjoyed the video but I still prefer my wife after 30 years
Anyone who wants to fuck a dummy-robot is hard up and fucked
We are a long way from Ex-Machina, like light years away.
Until that happens, no thanks.