Credit: HBO.

Credit: HBO.

One would think that after two seasons of Westworld, people would be more careful with how they handle robots. Instead, all signs point towards a future of violent delights (with possibly violent ends). I’m referring to the fact that more and more companies are selling ‘sexbots’ that are marketed with all sorts of health claims. Specifically, sexbots allegedly have a ‘harm reduction’ effect, supposedly curbing the incidence of sex crimes and sexual violence against women and children.

However, this may or may not be true, according to an editorial published online in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health. The truth is that there is no study that’s been published in a peer-reviewed journal that has documented any of these alleged public health benefits. In the absence of any such evidence, the authors of the editorial, Chantal Cox-George and Susan Bewley, argue that doctors, as well as any potential buyers of sexbots, should act upon the ‘precautionary principle’ and reject its clinical use until data proves otherwise.

The sex technology industry is already worth US$30 billion and could skyrocket if sexbots catch on. But, for now, at least, only several companies are offering android-like sexbots, most of which mimic women, but some which mimic little boys or girls. One manufacturer called True Companion has designed Roxxxy, the world’s first sex robot which is “always turned on and ready to talk or play.” Roxxxy ships for $6,995 and can allegedly learn an owner’s preferences.

“So she likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike, etc. She also has moods during the day just like real people! She can be sleepy, conversational or she can “be in the mood!” the company’s website reads.

Some of the preprogrammed personalities include:

  • Frigid Farrah – She is reserved and shy
  • Wild Wendy – She is outgoing and adventurous
  • S&M Susan – She is ready to provide your pain/pleasure fantasies
  • Young Yoko – She is oh so young (barely 18) and waiting for you to teach her
  • Mature Martha – She is very experienced and would like to teach you!

They’re also working on a version destined for women — Rocky the male sex robot.

“Rocky is described as everyone’s dream date! – just imagine putting together a great body along with a sparkling personality where your man is focused on making you happy! This is Rocky!”

Sounds like a real gentleman.

Advocates of sexbots say that these human-like sex toys will comfort the sexually frustrated and keep potential pedophiles at bay, as well as satisfy a huge market of lonely men and women. They liken it to a 21st-century sexual revolution. David Levy, an artificial intelligence expert, is optimistic and thinks humans will not only have sex with robots but will fall in love with them, too. He believes prostitution, sex crimes, and loneliness will be no more as a result of a robot utopia.

“The world will be a much happier place because all those people who are now miserable will suddenly have someone. I think that will be a terrific service to mankind,” he says.

These sexbots can be programmed to each individual person’s requirements and will always be available. They won’t ever say ‘no’ to anything — and this is why they might cause problems. Some, like Kathleen Richardson, a senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University and director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, claim that sexbots are dangerous because they objectify people and escalate misogyny.

“One of the first impacts of something like sex robots would be to increase human isolation because once you try to tell people that they don’t need other human beings any more, one of the consequences of that is more isolation,” she told Sky News.

“Sex robots will create another means through which women will be presented as objects to be used for sexual gratification and mistreatment,” wrote researcher Lydia Kaye, who, just like Richardson, thinks sex robots will encourage men to think women are nothing more than objects designed exclusively for masculine sexual gratification — something that reinforces the idea that a woman’s body is a commodity.

“They will also desensitise humans to intimacy and empathy, which can only be developed through experiencing human interaction and mutual consenting relationships.”

Ethical discussions aside, do sexbots actually offer any ‘harm reduction’ as some manufacturers claim?

The authors of the new study reviewed the existing literature, interviewed experts, and carried out internet searchers looking for any evidence of sexbots providing health care benefits in four distinct areas: safer sex, therapeutic potential, treatment of pedophiles and sex offenders, changing social norms. They concluded that data supporting the proponents’ positive claims are few or none existent and that any ‘harm reduction’ statements surrounding sexbot use are gravely overstated.

While the authors acknowledge that might be possible that sex robots will reduce prostitution and encourage safe sex, such outcomes are simply fantasies at the moment.

“It is speculative whether the development of a sexbot marketplace will lead to lesser risk of violence and infections, or drive further exploitation of human sex workers,” they write.

It’s even unclear why manufacturers and proponents feel the need to flaunt potential health benefits of sexbots. There will be a lot of people buying them whether they’re scientifically validated or not.

“The overwhelming predominant market for sexbots will be unrelated to healthcare. Thus the ‘health’ arguments made for their benefits, as with so many advertised products, are rather specious,” they write.

“Currently the precautionary principle should reject the clinical use of sexbots until their postulated benefits, namely ‘harm limitation’ and ‘therapy’ have been tested empirically,” they conclude.

 

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