We knew this was coming, didn't we? Just as virtual reality is being led by the porn industry, so sex is leading robotic engineering. As in sex with robots.
There are now four manufacturers making lifelike robotic sex dolls, but many predict this number will expand dramatically in coming years. In fact, there are already calls for "pleasure-bots" to be regulated by governmental agencies because of the pending explosion.
A recent report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) found that up to two-thirds of men and about 30% of women are in favor of using sex robots. Doll brothels already operate in South Korea, Japan and Spain. The first robotic oral sex coffee shop recently opened in West London. Companies are starting to incorporate AI (artificial intelligence) so said robots can communicate and respond to humans and human emotions.
"The concern is that this is going on and nobody is talking about it," says Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sheffield, and co-founder of the FRR. "People snigger about them, but they are actually shipping quite a lot and we are going to see them a lot more. We need to think about as a society what we want to do about it."
Yes, we do.
The authors of the FRR report warn that the onslaught of sex robots raises serious moral and ethical questions that need to be addressed. They warn that users can become socially isolated or even addicted to the machines. There's an even darker side to the industry where companies program "shy" or "reluctant" personalities into their dolls so that users can feel they are forcing the robots to have sex. Japanese sex doll manufacturer Trottla has even started selling underage schoolgirl dolls for pedophiles.
Aimee van Wynsberghe, Assistant Professor of Ethics at the University of Delft and co-founder of the FRR echoes Sharkey's words, "There isn't a conversation happening in the general public about what is acceptable, permissible and what should be promoted."
Well, let it begin. Because this is about more than sex with robots. What is at hand is the very definition of human identity.
Which is our soul.
To be human is to be made in the image of God, which, in essence, is the ability to respond to and relate to God. We talk of being "magnanimous" and often define it as being noble in intent. But the word literally means "high-souled," for only through a soul can there be such nobility.
Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, to have "chests."
As Lewis explains, there is intellect and there are appetites. Between them, for humans, lies something utterly distinct:
"The head rules the belly through the chest – the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments… It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal."
Removing this would create men without "chests."
But that is precisely how our world views human beings. That we have intellect and emotion and appetite, but not soul. As a result, why not declare a robot a person? They have everything required to be deemed so.
Of course, this creates a bit of a social dilemma.
As Lewis ends his essay,
"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise."
That doesn't work with robots.
It doesn't even work with humans.
James Emery White
Sarah Knapton, "Sex Robots on Way for Elderly and Lonely… but Pleasure-Bots Have a Dark Side, Warn Experts," The Telegraph, July 5, 2017, read online.