A couple of scientists are campaigning against realistic sex robots, as they’re worried that such machines will promote unhealthy human relationships.
The campaign was launched earlier this week, on Tuesday, September 15, 2015, by Kathleen Richardson and Erik Billing in an attempt to get people’s attention and rally them against these potentially dangerous products.
Kathleen Richardson, research fellow with an expertise in ethics of robotics from the De Montfort University (England), gave a statement to BBC saying that even though sex robots are not widely available right now, they “seem to be a growing focus in the robotics industry”.
Erik Billing, lecturer from the University of Skovde (Sweden), gave a statement of his own to The Huffington Post informing that he and Richardson didn’t launch this campaign because they’re interested in protecting “the rights of the robots”.
What the research duo is worried about is that using sex robots will inevitably lead to unhealthy attitudes towards gender relations and sex. Billing explained that “The danger of sex robots lies in what we read into them, how we form fantasies that, in some respects, become a reality, […] a reality where the human (male) user is expected to turn on his woman robot companion for his own, lone, pleasure”.
He went on to add that he thinks most people would agree this is as far as it can be from “a healthy, mutual, sexual relationship”.
Richardson wrote a position paper for the campaign’s website, where she draws a comparison between the relationship a person has with a sex robot, and the relationship a client has with a human sex worker. Richardson has offered arguments that the use of sex robots would strengthen the objectification and exploitation attitudes that the commercial sex trade already has.
However, even though the research duo says that these parallels exist, they reject previous theories that sex robots might simply be used to replace human sex workers. Instead, they believe that the machines would only reinforce the current sex trade and end up creating a higher demand for human bodies.
The question of how similar sex with robots will be to commercial sex with humans has been a much debated one. On one hand, robots are literally objects, and many have argued that people who pay for sex see the human worker as a thing rather than a living person with thoughts and feelings.
But on the other hand, many other researchers say that the phenomenon is much more complicated than that.
For instance, Teela Sanders, sociologist, says that men who buy sex may do so because they either want more sex, want different types of sex, want different types of women and / or men, or they may engage in the practice simply because they have an opportunity to do so, because they’re feeling lonely, or because they don’t have a relationship with someone else.
What’s more, men who’ve been known to frequently see the same sex worker often perceive this relationship as being intimate and offering companionship.
Kate Devlin, computer researcher, also has some issue with how Richardson and Billing are phrasing their campaign. She would have preferred that the research duo focused on the topics of social change, inclusivity and legality, rather than encourage robot engineers and computer scientists to refuse funding or refuse to contribute with code and ideas that may lead to a technological advancement.
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