Researchers Argue That Sexbots Should Have ‘Consent Module’
“Virtuous sex robots” suggested as therapeutic tool to teach humans compassion.
One of the most debated topics in the world of sex tech is whether the rise of sex robots could promote rape culture or not.
In 2018, journalist Adam Rogers wrote on Wired that sex robots will never be able to consent to any form of sexual activity. Conversely, philosopher and robot ethicist Steve Petersen argued that love dolls could be programmed to take pleasure in their job, and therefore be happy and fulfilled as sex slaves.
Now two researchers have propsed a new solution to the problem.
Anco Peeters of the University of Wollongong and Pim Haselagerthe of Netherlands’ Radboud University wants sexbots to come pre-programmed with consent modules.
Will sex robots be able to teach us the importance of consent?
The paper that Peeters and Haselager recently published on the International Journal of Social Robotics explores the benefits of creating “virtuous sex robots”, designed to teach humans the importance of consent in sexual relationships.
The scholars argue that those robots could nudge human behavior in the right way, or exhibit the correct behavior themselves.
Outside the sex tech industry, robots with the purpose of educating humans already exist. The two researchers cite the Sociable Trash Box, developed by the Toyohashi University of Technology, that exhibits a polite and friendly behavior in front of children.
As Peeters and Haselager write in their research paper, sex robots could learn “to mimic certain behaviors that we might consider displays of virtue, such as a light touch on the shoulders to express sympathy,” through machine learning.
Thanks to artificial neural networks, the robots could be trained to respond to a certain input, i.e., a certain facial expression of the human, with a selected gesture. Simply put, in the near future sex robots could be able to recognize human emotions.
Peeters and Haselager intend to respond to the critiques of another robot ethicist, Robert Sparrow, who argued that robotic sex dolls could promote rape fantasies in their owners.
The two scholars make it clear that sex robot producers play a crucial role in avoiding this risk: if sex tech companies design their dolls in an ethical way, they could actually produce the opposite outcome, encouraging the spread of consent culture.
Sex robots as a therapeutic tool
Additionally, the researchers state that “a sex robot which is equipped with a consent-module could support the cultivation of compassion when used in supervised, therapeutic scenarios.” In other words, they believe that ethical sex robots have the potential to become useful tools for sex therapy and education.
In particular, Peeters and Haselager suggest that “virtuous sex robots”, capable of teaching compassion to their owners, could be tested on people diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD may cause patients to lack empathy towards other people, including a romantic or sexual partner.
The researchers see a future where professionals in psychiatry and sexology could work together with AI experts to develop robots intended to help narcissistic patients.
“If this turns out to have promising results,” say the researchers, “work can be done on improving the design and expanding the use of such robots for other settings and for other groups of people.”
However, it seems like all that glitters is not gold, at least for now.
Professor John Banzhaf from the George Washington University told The College Fix that Peeters and Haselager’s paper “is totally divorced from reality.”
Banzhaf, who also urged the Congress to regulate the sales of sex robots, stated that it’s very unlikely that people would purchase sex dolls and robots in order to improve their virtue. He also considers it unrealistic that robots could be used to teach consent culture.
In the same article from The College Fix, he says:
It is hard to see a university requiring its incoming (presumably male) students to have sex with a robot enough times to teach this virtue, or even permitting students to interact with a sexy female robot on a voluntary basis much like checking out a book from the library or some scientific equipment from a lab.
We’ll have to wait until sex tech companies decide to actually implement this consent module in their gynoids. Then we will see if it will actually create healthier and safer interactions between humans and sexbots.