The ethics of robot love

November 25, 2015 by Sean Welsh, The Conversation
Films like Ex Machina explore the bounds of emotional interaction between human and machine. Credit: Universal Pictures

There was to have been a conference in Malaysia last week called Love and Sex with Robots but it was cancelled. Malaysian police branded it "illegal" and "ridiculous". "There is nothing scientific about sex with robots," said a police chief.

However, others believe there are many interesting and important aspects of intimate partners that are worth researching and discussing.

There is a lot of science in Ava and Kyoko, the sexually capable robots in the movie Ex Machina, for example. Concepts raised in the film include the Turing Test and the Mary's room thought experiment of ANU's Frank Jackson, among others. Although, inevitably, as is the way of fiction, the robots turn on the humans.

Putting aside the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robophobic tropes of movies such as Oblivion, Robocop and Transcendence, is there a moral issue when it comes to intimacy with a robot?

Some believe there is. There is a Campaign to Stop Sex Robots, which has called for sex with robots to be banned. The organisation's argument is that sex robots would reinforce gender inequality. It links to similar arguments made against pornography and prostitution.

However, if you argue that something ought to be banned because it reinforces , you would be committed to banning the Iliad or various plays by Shakespeare, or novels by Jane Austen. If this is the objection, one could no doubt develop sexbots that do not reinforce gender stereotypes, either in behaviour or form.

A more salient concern about sexbots might be: what would happen if everyone started bedding bots? What would be the trajectory? Where would humanity end up if these devices proliferated?

Perhaps we'd be in much the same place as we are now. The invention of sex toys has not stopped people getting married and having babies. Slippery slope arguments are intuitively tempting but they need strong gravity and weak friction.

Arguments in favour of sexbots put by proponents, such as David Levy, are that robot prostitutes are a lesser evil than human prostitutes. They will reduce incentives to traffic humans and subject them to the "degradation" of sex work. Robot prostitutes might be safer than human ones, and therefore preferable.

Perhaps the stickiest moral problem is whether sex with a robot would count as adultery. But does an orgasm with a toy count as adultery? A sexbot today might be little more than a programmed artefact, but by 2050, who knows what it might look resemble?

Artificial bonding

Perhaps a more tractable moral issue in the short term is what Mattias Schuetz, Director of the Human Robot Interaction Lab at Tufts University, calls "unidirectional emotional bonds". This is where someone falls in love with a robot, but the robot cannot fall genuinely reciprocate the sentiment.

It is well-known that humans affectively bond with robots. People name their robot vacuum cleaners, and even introduce them to their parents by name. Gnarly bomb disposal specialists beg the Baghdad robot hospital to fix their beloved blown-up robots because they have gone through hell together.

One could plausibly program a robot to go through the motions of expressing love. It could gaze at you with robo-dilated eyes, or could hold your hand and smile at you. It could play music like the "Gigolo Joe" character in Steven Spielberg's movie Artificial Intelligence. It could do all this and yet feel nothing.

It might have an ability to sense your affective states and produce actions that you would interpret as emotions, but inside the robot there would be no feeling, just a Turing machine applying its rulebook to sensory inputs, passing scripted outputs to its actuators.

The robot would act "as if" it loved you, but it would not love you any more than a rock would love you. Is this moral? Should such devices be banned?

Personally, I think not, as long as we understand exactly what we are getting into bed with. People already get into bed with animated yet lifeless artefacts. There are artefacts on the market that enable people to experience orgasms. Are machine generated orgasms as good as the real human deal? Who is to judge? Opinions differ.

I do not see a persuasive case for banning sex toys, whether they are manually or remotely piloted or even embodied and autonomous. However, there is a case for a health warning to ensure people know about unidirectional emotional bonding. Robots may be able to perform acts today but it may be decades or centuries before they can return your love.

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36 comments

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Rolyataylor2
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 25, 2015
People have the ability to fall in love with their car and the relationship between an inanimate object and a person is just as justified as a person falling in love or forming a bond with a robot.

The feelings and the perception from the person's perspective is firing the same circuits as between two people I would assume, maybe a little different.

If someone wants to spend time with a robot that is their choice. And holding a event regarding this topic is very important because "Soon" people will have to deal with this. Its like people obsessing over video games and social media. We didn't see that coming. We can see this robot love doll thing coming though and we should be prepared.
NoStrings
5 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2015
This question easily passes a simple test: 1. whether it harms any other being or a participant and 2. whether it brings a few minutes of pleasure to the participant.
One could argue that consuming live animals as meat has moral implications, but most of us eat meat. And comparing to social media, it sure will not waste anywhere near the time people spend on FaceBook or YouTube, etc., etc., etc.
Let's not create a faux ethical argument where none is justified. Then again, for people that like to ponder, sure, go ahead, it is your right. For people that would like to have sex with a robot - just do it, mate.
Also, imagine the job creating potential of this new industry! Hundreds of billions $ in sales, for sure, and someone needs to make them, sell them, ship them, market them.
Vietvet
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 25, 2015
The only value I can see in sex robots is in protecting children. If pedophiles can get off with a machine instead of victimizing children I'm all for it. If it saves just one child it is a worthwhile endeavor but who is going to cater to that market?
Shaco LePurp
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 26, 2015
"It might have an ability to sense your affective states and produce actions that you would interpret as emotions, but inside the robot there would be no feeling, just a Turing machine applying its rulebook to sensory inputs, passing scripted outputs to its actuators."

Isn't that what humans are? Just because we don't fully understand ourselves doesn't mean our feelings are magically generated. Of course machines will be able to feel.

If we can fully simulate a complete worm, we can humans. Thus simulated humans are artificial but do they know it? Would it matter?
Osiris1
3 / 5 (2) Nov 26, 2015
Feeling may not really long be only the province of biological humans. Do not sell short the urge of programmers to 'go over the next hill.....'
Even at present we cannot claim that biological beings are all capable of affection and/or love.
After all, we have humans here like Donald Trump who are total sociopaths who literally would kill any and all in their way to their quest for power. As well as his perfect opponent, that Califf Fagdadi over in Arabi. Put them both in an octagon and see who is the next star of 'The Legend of Ichabod Crane'!
OttJ
3 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2015
LePurp: I almost agree with you. The thing is, the author here must not be talking about AI performing these tasks. If it is not AI, then, yes, the reaction will be scripted, and we certainly are not scripted in our reactions. There is a nudge, obviously, but we have the free will to engage in these activities and many others with or without the nudge.

If the author is talking about AI doing this kind of thing, then he is completely wrong about the script part. An AI will learn from the world around it and be able to have sincere reactions based upon all of the knowledge it has accumulated. At this point, it will also have the freedom to choose and do what it wants based upon nudges in its OS ... which to us would be like instinct.
serge747
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
Most American consider a mere dog as a "family member". Won't be long before AI becomes on par with human intelligence.

The affirmation that a synthetic person cannot have true feelings is just a view of the mind. We don't know yet. And even then, many human have already been in a one way emotional relation. Goldiggers, anyone?

Finally, why is our sex life always under the scrutiny of Ethics? Can we leave puritanism to the 17th century once and for all?
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2015
The only value I can see in sex robots is in protecting children. If pedophiles can get off with a machine instead of victimizing children I'm all for it. If it saves just one child it is a worthwhile endeavor but who is going to cater to that market?
@Vietvet
i see your point, but this is also far, FAR more likely to cause escalation in a sex offender than anything else. Most pedophiles aren't in it because of love or even sex... it's about control

the keywords for sociopaths are the same for sex crimes and pedo's...Manipulation, Domination and Control

if you use the AI as "bait"... you could protect a real kid, but... cost effectiveness? everyone would have to have one

if you give a pedo the "treat" it seeks, then escalation is a known given, much like sociopaths and sex crimes (serial crimes)
this is why you usually (almost always) see a history of offenses in these types of crimes, starting young and escalating as they age
bluehigh
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2015
Indeed Captain .. unless I misunderstood Vietvet, I find it outrageous to suggest allowing child like sexbots for the satisfaction of pedophiles. Could I logically surmise that Vietvet supports pedophilia? Or worse ..

Vietvet
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
@Captain Stumpy

My comment was a knee jerk reaction, I should have put more thought into it. Thinking pedos would be satisfied with a robot thus sparing children is unrealistic.

@Bluehigh

Personaly I'd prefer to see pedos nuts cut off with dull rusty bolt cutters.
Captain Stumpy
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
Could I logically surmise that Vietvet supports pedophilia? Or worse
@Blue
he doesn't support it

there are actually a lot of people who advocate the use of "toys" or other sex objects for the pedo or other fetish type sexual deviants, including serial offenders (or even sociopaths)

what is not very well understood by a lot of people is that the mentality of the criminal, especially in sexual crimes, serial offenders and sociopaths, is one that isn't about the object so much as the motivations and certain acts

(it's not about MO as much as it is about Signature)

That is the key... and it speaks volumes about the offender etc,
this is also why it's studied and profiling works as well as it does, BTW
Captain Stumpy
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
My comment was a knee jerk reaction
@Vietvet
WHOOPS. meant to 5 star you... sorry
yeah, i figured that,especially considering what i know about you (as i noted to Blue)

but i am actually glad you brought it up... most people actually believe it will help... like the following
Personaly I'd prefer to see pedos nuts cut off with dull rusty bolt cutters
this will NOT help at all, really, as it is not about sex or love.... not about the "feeling" of loving a child

it is about manipulation, domination and control
nothing more

and most pedo's choose targets they can easily manipulate physically and/or mentally because they're not capable of anything else
Spineless

the only thing cutting off privates does is appease the violence in the child's family
and not even that does it most times
this is a type of crime that you don't "rehabilitate" IMHO
you can't REhabilitate someone who isn't HABILITATED to begin with, as John Douglas says
TRUE
bluehigh
2.5 / 5 (8) Nov 28, 2015
@Vietvet
i see your point
- Sick Stumpid

Well, a little gang of trolls that thinks tendency to support pedophelia is a knee jerk reaction.

Hey Captain, as a knee jerk reaction would you be buying a child-like sexbot too?

Vietvet is a sicko for even considering the use of sexbots to satisfy criminally sexual deviant activity that harms children and the best he can say is it maybe it's unrealistic.

Be judged by the company you keep.

bluehigh
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 28, 2015
Oh, I forgot what you announced. It's not about sex or violence toward children. It's about control and somehow that makes it okay.

Would your mate Anti-Thinking want a kid size sexbot too?

bluehigh
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 28, 2015
I'd prefer to see pedos nuts cut off with dull rusty bolt cutters.
- a rock spider called out.

Of course, you must protest too much. Some more violence surely helps satisfy your twisted tendencies. What was is it you're jerking Vietvet? Your knee?

Captain Stumpy
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
a little gang of trolls that thinks tendency to support pedophelia is a knee jerk reaction
@blueIDIOT
i CAN see the point made, because a LOT of people think this way

- a lot of people think that it will help
- a lot of people also think that snipping the "equipment" off of the sexual criminal will curb the desire towards committing the criminal acts or sexual perversions, etc

NEITHER are true
and NEITHER will affect the typical sexual predator
Oh, I forgot what you announced. It's not about sex or violence toward children. It's about control and somehow that makes it okay
where did i say that made it ok?
by all means, quote me where i said that... because i never did, you illiterate moron
you must protest too much. Some more violence surely helps satisfy your twisted tendencies
you seem awfully fascinated by this topic... perhaps we should talk to your DR about your meds and sequestering you for observation?
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2015
It's not about sex or violence toward children. It's about control
@blueTROLL
it IS about control

feel free to read the following books for more information:
DSM-V
Mind Hunter
Anatomy of Motive
Journey into Darkness

John Douglas authored the last 3, and was involved in the studies that support the first
You can find the last three here: http://www.amazon...0douglas

if you want to read the first, you can talk to your psychiatrist about perusing it during your next involuntary incarceration into your psyche ward (that is why you seem to disappear for short periods of time, right?)
somehow that makes it okay.
would you be buying a child-like sexbot
i never took you for being blatantly lying manipulating pedo

this is the worst blatant lie ever, but i guess it stands to reason considering your other delusional beliefs

thanks for the heads up

SuperThunder
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
70% of Internet traffic is porn, but porn is so prolific that studios are seeing hits to their bottom line. Already, licensing porn star images for sex toys is lucrative and popular, so imagine if you could have a robot copy of your favorite porn star? People will buy this. People already do.

Socially, sexual health is necessary for sanity, in spite of the best efforts of totalitarian idiots, so those with a horrible STD, or a deformity, mental illness, etc, could benefit therapeutically from sex robots.
Captain Stumpy
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
mental illness, etc
@Super
with caveat's, that is
as in fragile ego or a phobia with women...
SuperThunder
3 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2015
@Stumpy
Of course, as with all pharmatechnicals, it should be left to a medical provider and not the manufacturer to determine viable treatments.

But let's be honest, we all want sex robot / ninja robot hybrid bodyguards that come in four packs that we can waste a million dollars on buying clothes, sunglasses, badass boots, and ninja weapons for.
PsycheOne
1 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2015
You can easily program a robot to say I love you and so on. Very soon, a robot will pass the Turing test. Then it will be able to convince you that it loves you.

The question is, does it really love you? The easy answer is, "No, it's a robot.". But once robots become as intelligent as humans they will say they have feelings and are just as conscious as we are. How will we know that they are not telling the truth? We don't even know what consciousness is. We don't even know if any particular fellow human is actually conscious.

So, yes, people will soon have romantic and sexual relationships with robots and will get the same fulfillment out of them as they get now with other humans.

But robots will become too intelligent for humans. They will prefer relationships with other robots.

Then human beings will turn into robots' pets, or worse.

And that will be the end of human dominance of Earth.
antigoracle
3 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2015
No matter how sophisticated it's AI, by it's very design a sexbot will never be able to truly give consent. Now add emotions into the mix and you are headed down a slippery slope, since it's impossible for the sane to rationalize raping that which he loves.
Black_US
3 / 5 (2) Nov 29, 2015
Personally, i think it should be authorized, execpt for child like robots, which would serve to feed the pervesion of sick people only.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2015
But let's be honest, we all want sex robot / ninja robot hybrid bodyguards that come in four packs that we can waste a million dollars on buying clothes, sunglasses, badass boots, and ninja weapons for.

I want mine to look like Charlies Angels... (plus Selma Hayak as the 4th)
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2015
Indeed Captain .. unless I misunderstood Vietvet, I find it outrageous to suggest allowing child like sexbots for the satisfaction of pedophiles. Could I logically surmise that Vietvet supports pedophilia? Or worse ..


C'mon, Blue. That was an uncalled for cheapshot designed to foment, not a realistic observation.
Admittedly, the suggestion of child robots catering pedophilic tendencies is wrong. However, I read it only as a not completely thought out comment vs anything indicating subliminal tendencies.
bluehigh
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 01, 2015
WG,

Thinking pedos would be satisfied with a robot thus sparing children is unrealistic.


Vietvets intention was clear. He was thinking to satisfy pedophiles. He wants to allow pedophiles to continue an abhorrent activity. How do you comprehend that any differently? All Vietvet can say in justification is it was 'unrealistic'. Does that mean that Vietvet would like it to be 'realistic'?

I disagree that my intention was to forment. My intention was to make it clear that Vietvets comment was outrageous and I am suspicious of anyone considering such an idea.

Admittedly, the suggestion of child robots catering pedophilic tendencies is wrong.


Good, let's hope Vietvet now understands why his suggestion was wrong and changes his thinking permanently regarding this issue.

If a bit of a punch up in this thread has help changed one attitude toward this subject then fine, I call that a win.

PS: Thanks to the Captain for explaining stuff in between punches.
bluehigh
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 01, 2015
But robots will become too intelligent for humans. They will prefer relationships with other robots.
- psycheOne

Male and Female robots engaging in sexual activity. How very strange, I can't imagine why. It's so pointless. Lol.
Vietvet
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2015
@bluehigh

My comment wasn't well thought out and my response when called out wasn't much better.
Pedophiles are disgusting scum, my impulsive reaction was concern for the victims, that if a sexbot kept a pedo from molesting that would be a good thing. A good thing for the children not the pedo. I should have made that clear.

You've made it clear you don't like it when I ridicule cranks and that is the root of your animosity.
antigoracle
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 01, 2015
My comment wasn't well thought out and my response when called out wasn't much better.

No worries, not your fault. You have my pity, you degenerate idiot. Please stick to doing what you do best, trolling and down voting the heretics. Thanks.
bluehigh
3 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2015
@Vietvet, hopefully you followed the info The Captain provided and think about this subject more informed. Trying to appease or satisfy a pedophile is morally corrupt and simply does not work.

Yes, I don't like the way you ridicule other contributors with personal attacks rather than attempt to explain the science or your point of view. In this thread you have admitted misinformed, ill thought impulsiveness. Perhaps you could keep this in mind before launching personal attacks on other contributors that may not have fully thought through their comment.

In any case, what I feel about you in no way excuses your comment.

Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2015
My intention was to make it clear that Vietvets comment was outrageous and I am suspicious of anyone considering such an idea
@Blue
the problem isn't his reaction, but that a lot of people actually think that it will work
(NOT HYPERBOLE)

in fact, this is something that came up many times in my PSYCH classes, including a strong defense from half the class that using a surrogate/tool.etc as a behaviour modification tool would allow for a means of gradual rehabilitation.
and of course, the point i tried to make is that (if you read some of Douglas, Burgess et al) it is not uncommon for a pedo to be married to a spouse that is either: child like (physically or mentally) OR acts out child/adult fantasies for said pedo

almost a full half of the classes, mind you... all educated people! some of them even work in rehab, corrections or law enforcement!

and, as Douglas noted: "You can't rehabilitate someone who hasn't been 'habilitated' "
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2015
@blue cont'd
In any case, what I feel about you in no way excuses your comment
before you get further into this particular judgement, please actually get involved in looking into this subject

there is a reason that i brought that up

There are too many leading psyche researchers, dr's & more that actually believe serial & sexual offenders can be rehabilitated or controlled (medically or through other means) to allow them to be able to function in today's "polite civilized society"

that is not hyperbole or even an exaggeration... and that is the scary part
just as there are people who believe strongly in religion, there are also people who think psychiatry/psychology is able to correct dangerous conditions/behaviours and can help reintroduce serial offenders into society free from obsession or their deviant behaviour problems

and they defend their beliefs as fanatically as any religious verkle/viko
bluehigh
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 03, 2015
Captain, you continue to confuse the issue with red herrings. Your comments should be addressed to Vietvet. It's he that needs educating or perhaps eradicating as evil.

I stand by my my view that his reaction deserves strong condemnation.

I also continue to remain suspicious of your motives in defending his comment.

Best you condemn Vietvets morally corrupt and degenerate suggestion. Else one could wonder, as I have previously explained, of your motives.

I say again, it's Vietvet with whom you should be speaking.

bluehigh
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 03, 2015
Just a thought Captain.
Is Vietvet one your sockpuppets or a smurf?
You seem intent on speaking on his behalf and not speaking to him.
antigoracle
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 03, 2015
It's CaptainStupid to the rescue, and why not. After all, he voted 5 on a comment, knowing it was the ignorant, ill conceived spewings of his fellow flock member and forum degenerate troll.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2015
Your comments should be addressed to Vietvet
@blue
we've already discussed it, just not on PO
I stand by my my view that his reaction deserves strong condemnation
ok- like i said: the problem isn't THAT someone believes it (regardless of who it is)
the problem is that so MANY people believe it, including psychiatrists
I also continue to remain suspicious of your motives
My motives are above: clear, concise and spelled out
as i noted: the problem isn't THAT someone believes it (regardless of who it is)
the problem is that so MANY people believe it
Is Vietvet one your sockpuppets or a smurf?
are you really going to get stupid with socks?
i have exactly 1 log in
also, you seem to be ignoring the obvious

like i keep saying:
the problem isn't THAT someone believes it (regardless of who it is)
the problem is that so MANY people believe it

keep re-reading that
maybe then you will get it...

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