The technology fields of AI and robotics have become advanced enough that it’s finally time to have “that talk” that many of us dread but nevertheless must have at some point go through with. Yes: we must now talk about robot sex.
As in humans having sex with them – or, as Frank Zappa memorably described it, “plooking” (a term I’m going to use here because obviously).
Humans won’t be plooking just any old robot (though okay, some might, but who am I to be critical?), but robots specifically designed for plooking, reports Reuters:
In a report on the growing market in sex robots, the Foundation for Responsible Robotics said rapidly advancing technologies have already led to the creation of “android love dolls” capable of performing 50 automated sexual positions. […]
The increasingly life-like robots raise complex issues that should be considered by policymakers and the public, the report said – including whether use of such devices should be encouraged in sexual therapy clinics, for sex offenders, or for people with disabilities.
It’s easy to get sidetracked here by moral pontificating and comedy gold – and both are perhaps valid responses – but it’s a serious issue, and one that we’re going to have to take seriously because clearly, people are already making sexbots and other people are already plooking them.
Luckily, it’s not as if no one gave any thought to the possible consequences of robot plooking before now. AI expert David Levy wrote an entire book on the topic ten years ago, in which he predicted that by 2050, we will see humans not only plooking robots, but falling in love with and marrying them. (In January this year, Levy stood by that date.)
If that sounds far-fetched, remember that by 2050, people born after (say) 2025 will have grown up surrounded by both AI and robots, and the idea of sex, love and/or marriage won’t necessarily be as strange to them. (Also, there’s this guy. And this guy here.)
Remember too that if Ray Kurzweil is right, AI will equal (and surpass) human intelligence by 2029, while the Singularity – the point in time where human intelligence and artificial intelligence merge – is on track for 2045. Elon Musk is working on that now. So is DARPA.
This means that by 2050, robots will theoretically look and act just as human as humans. In other words, it’s possible humans may love/marry/plook robots without actually knowing that they’re robots.
We can argue all day over whether humans have valid reasons to plook robots – such as the ones mentioned in the Reuters quote above. But for my money, the more important question is: how do the robots feel about humans building them for the purpose of plooking them?
Levy says it won’t matter because robots will be programmed to love/marry/plook humans. And there is plenty of debate over weak AI vs strong AI and whether AI can ever be truly sentient – either because AI brains and human brains work in different ways or because it’s not mathematically possible.
On the other hand, AI is becoming sufficiently advanced that some people are already suggesting that AI should be afforded the AI equivalent of human rights – or at least personhood under the law. Even if AI doesn’t achieve full consciousness as we understand it, that doesn’t mean it’s just another passive sex toy.
Also, the argument that AI sexbots will be programmed to like it dodges a bigger question of sexual ethics – i.e. is programming the same as consent? And can humans be counted on to understand the difference when they switch between human and robot partners?
Put simply, all of this is headed to morally complex landscape that goes way beyond simple robot plooking.
Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws Of Robotics – published in 1942 – were written from the point of view of humans describing the role of robots in human society. The mandate is clear – robots must always put humans first.
In 2008, Warren Ellis wrote his own Three Laws of Robotics – written from the point of view of the robots. Its position on plooking is explicitly clear.
Yes, they’re both fiction. The point is that if Asimov’s Three Laws are the gold standard for robot development, we should probably give more thought to the role of sexual ethics within that “robots put humans first” framework, rather than simply assume the robots are okay with getting plooked day and night.