Last week the tech world latched on to the story of Pepper the robot. This particular product is a four-foot tall amalgamation of code and plastic. Its main selling feature is the “ability” to ape human emotions. The coming and going of this overpriced toy likely wouldn’t have made any waves were it not for a certain stipulation in the robot’s terms of service, which nobody reads anyway. You could literally include entire pages of Mein Kampf in the iTunes terms and conditions and people would still click, “I agree.”
People who buy the Pepper model have to promise not to use it in any sexual fashion. Robot ethicists, a profession which is actually a thing and not somebody cospaying an Asimov character, were quick to respond to this demand. Some of these aforementioned advocates went so far as to even suggest that humanity should ban the production of any sex robot. After reading those words, I felt a need to review some collective stupidity.
Pepper the robot isn’t Mr. Data, HAL 9000, Jude Law in AI, or any other sort of sentient creature. It’s a pile of code meant to trick people into thinking there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s not a Cylon; it doesn’t have a plan. It’s an $1800 conversation starter for assholes who want to start conversations with, “Have you met my robot? I’m not allowed to have it jerk me off/finger blast me.” Pepper is no more worthy of an ethical debate than the average dishwasher.
But Adam, one day we might have thinking machines, and they will judge us on how we treat other machines.
One, shut up. Two, that’s what you’re worried about? You’re worried about a thinking machine passing judgement on how we treat toasters and coffee makers? If we’re worried about being judged as a species, surely the collected history of human-on-human violence is a more pressing concern. I’m sooo sure the thinking machines will come down on the side of humanity when they get to the fall of Carthage, the German Crusade of 1096, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the holocaust, and Stalinist Russia. All those things totally take a back seat to Dwayne from New Jersey sticking his dick into a mannequin with a vibrating vagina.
But Adam, robots can’t consent, somebody has to speak for them.
Oh go fuck yourself. Literally. I want you to go to a sex shop, because clearly you haven’t been to one in a while, buy an implement, and then see what sort of consent you can get out of a glass dildo or a fleshlight. And if the idea of securing consent from a tool before partaking in some vigorous masturbation seems laughable to you, then you now know how I feel whenever some self-appointed tech guru talks about getting consent from a sex robot. Consent is a non-issue apropos of things; things get used and then run through the dishwasher on pots and pans.
Even if we take the concept of sex bots to the inevitable point of interactive human-form androids, consent remains a non-issue. Assuming artificial general intelligence existed in concert with the capacity for androids that don’t weigh 700 pounds, why would you install an AGI in a sex bot? It would be like putting an internal combustion engine on a toilet. One could do it, and it might make the toilet flush at supersonic speeds, but is it really necessary to make the best toilet? Engineering is about functionality and efficiency. Putting an AI in a sex bot might be functional, but it’s inefficient and over-engineers the end product. Since a masturbatory aid, albeit one in human form, has but a handful of purposes, there’s no need to over engineer it with a sense of self.
The only remotely interesting thing to come out of this debate is the notion that sex robots would be focused on satisfying male pleasure, thus further objectifying the female form. Once again I find myself wondering if the people putting forward these debates have ever been inside a sex shop, or if they’ve spend any time online at all.
Explain to me how access to female sex robots would somehow create more objectification of women. Not only do we have near-limitless access to conventional porn online, but also people on-demand through the “camgirl” economy. Nor should we leave flesh and blood sex workers out of this discussion. If a person wants to watch another person or people, or buy the company of another person or people, then the means to do so already exist. Sex robots are just as likely to increase the value flesh and blood sex workers as they are to diminish it.
Oh, now I’ve gone and done it. I’ve turned a rant about sex bots, something people are quick to get judgemental about, into a rant about sex workers, something people are equally quick to get judgemental about. Isn’t that an interesting symmetry.
I’m inclined to think that the entirety of the “sex robots (will/should) have rights” discourse isn’t really about sex robots. It’s about people having problems with sex workers. Since the governments courts of Western nations are taking steps to ensure that sex workers are actually treated like people, maladroit assholes need a new anti-sex mascot. And what better way to drum up the ire of humanity’s lowest common denominator than suggesting technology, a thing idiots naturally fear, is going to lead to the breakdown of society and the enabling of pedophiles and sex pests.
Sex doesn’t lead to the downfall of society. Masturbation, with or without a robot’s help, won’t lead to the devaluing of people. The devaluing of people by governments, police, and popular opinion leads to the devaluing of people. One need only read the news to see we are doing a fantastic job of that in North America without the help of prostate tickling robots.
And now, a compilation of robots
going falling down.