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The Future of Sex Robots: Medical Opportunity or Sexual Threat?

Machines may help heal broken souls or create new dark desires.

By 2025, robots will be fully integrated into our day-to-day lives. We’ll be living, eating, and even sleeping with them, according to a recent study done by the Pew Research Center.

“Robotic sex partners will be commonplace,” predicts Stowe Boyd. “Although the source of scorn and division, the way that critics today bemoan selfies as an indicator of all that’s wrong with the world.”

Fembot

But what are the social, legal, and ethical ramifications?

With robots on the verge of being as ubiquitous as smartphones, they’re becoming a topic of public debate. One area that’s generating intense discussion is robot intimacy.  The subject was recently discussed by Ron Arkin, a Georgia Tech roboticist, while speaking on July 11,2014, at a robot ethics panel hosted by the University of California, Berkeley.

“We’ve had sex toys for as long as mankind, and womankind, have been around. But how will we deal with robot intimacy? Will we consider it bestiality? Could we use it to treat sex offenders?” questioned Arkin.

Making the comparison to heroin addicts and methadone, Arkin proposed research into the possibility of using robots to rehabilitate convicted sex offenders. Can they help prevent future reoffending?

“We have a problem with pedophilia in society,” Arkin said. “What do we do with these people after they get out of prison? There are very high recidivism rates.”

While many are hopeful about the potential for treatment, others are more wary, such as Noel Sharkey, a professor of robotics from the University of Sheffield, England.

“How do you actually do the research until these things are out there in the wild and used for a while? How do you know you’re not creating pedophiles?” Sharkey asked the panel.

It’s not hard to understand Sharkey’s argument. Blurring the line between person and object, treatment with child-like robots may only serve to further desensitize sex offenders from the abuse they perpetrate.

Unfortunately, the illicit street economy is always in search of new products. If we fail to investigate them in a clinical setting we may end up with a brand new black market. Do we really want this technology evolving into an underground industry of back-alley opportunists and sleazy predators?

Yet research into the treatment of pedophiles might prove too controversial to ever attract mainstream funding. The public outcry would likely be massive, regardless of the possible benefits the research may yield.

However, the imminent everyday presence of sex robots could also hold implications for those with more harmless fetishes or unconventional desires. The capacity for limitless physical customization would provide a means of acting out all their secret kinks.

This presents its own dangers.

While lifelike sex robots will likely provide great benefits, it’s worth considering their possible pitfalls as well. Relying on robots to fulfill our fantasies may lead them to grow beyond our control. With pornography’s well-known potential for addiction, it’s easy to imagine a mirrored arc of chronic behavior. The constant indulging of extreme appetites could erode attraction to more conventional bodies. Prolonged use might even leave people unable to have human relationships.

While there are no easy solutions to these questions, it’s worth keeping in mind that the future’s coming, whether we like it or not. In just a little over a decade, robots will be an everyday reality. These are the ambiguities that we’re going to have to address as we grapple with an increasingly robotic world.

Do you think robots should be used to treat pedophiles or other sex offenders?

Image source: Tucia (CC 2.0 license)

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