Will Sex Robots Actually Replace Human Sex Workers?
Machines are taking jobs from humans, but whether they will rule prostitution is still being debated.
John Danaher, a law lecturer at Keele University in England, is nabbing lots of attention for his research on potential job loss in the future. He’s raising eyebrows after releasing a paper on how the introduction of robots into the workforce could change prostitution.
As academics and robot enthusiasts have been speculating for years, one hypothesis he explores is of displacement: the belief that sexbots will push real-life people out of sex work. This would be similar to how automated customer service phone lines and self-checkout machines have taken over paid human tasks.
On the flip side, Danaher also proposes an opposing view called the resiliency hypothesis. It suggests that as technology advances and more and more robots replace human workers, the number of people who enter into prostitution will increase. This would in part be because of the need to find new low-barrier work.
We spoke to Danaher to find out more and see if people in the future really will prefer sex with robots.
Why Pick Sexbots over Humans?
“The advantage of sex robots is that they don’t raise the same kind of legal or ethical issues as human sex workers do,” Danaher told Future of Sex.
People wouldn’t need to fear criminal punishment for having sex with a robot, whereas human prostitution is illegal in many places around the world.
Issues of exploitation and trafficking could also be avoided, Danaher said. That’s granted the degree of artificial intelligence in robots doesn’t become sophisticated enough to give them artificial “personhood.”
If sex robots are properly cleaned after each use, there could be a lower risk of catching a sexually transmitted disease or infection.
Robots specifically designed for sex could also be superior lovers than a flesh and blood human. Perhaps they’d be better suited to catering to a client’s whims and fetishes.
Still, another important thought to consider, according to Danaher, is what drives people to desire sex with human prostitutes in the first place. These factors would need to carry over to robots for them to be the top pick.
For example, research shows some people who buy sex still want the same personal connection linked to sexual relationships. Some sex workers will act out this fantasy.
Though for robots, Danaher’s not so sure the right technology will arrive anytime soon.
Why Human Sex Workers May Be the Future
“There is some tantalizing evidence to suggest that people do develop kinds of attachment (to robots), but I don’t think it’s anywhere near the kinds of reciprocal interaction that you would get with humans,” Danaher said.
He points to the work of Julie Carpenter, a research fellow at California Polytechnic State University who specializes in human and robot relationships. She interviewed 23 U.S. soldiers whose bomb disposal robots had been blown up.
After learning their mechanical helpers had been destroyed, some cried and even held funerals.
Danaher doesn’t rule out the possibility of people forming humanlike bonds with machines. However, he thinks this connection is closer to the affection held for a beloved pet.
And even if technology improves to such a degree that humanoids and people are nearly identical, he adds that it’s possible simply knowing an object isn’t human is enough to garner distaste for it.
Yet, Danaher admits his belief people will prefer human sex may be shortsighted.
“One of the potential problems with my paper is that I’m comparing robotic sex to human sex, and I’m saying robotic sex will succeed or fail depending on how close a facsimile or replication of human sex it is,” he said.
“But at least among some futurists and transhumanists, they are enamored with the idea of something that transcends human sexuality, that is even better and an even more intense experience.”
Do you think robots will take over prostitution?
Image source: Eva Rinaldi
* The article has been updated to clarify Julie Carpenter's affiliation with California Polytechnic State University