No Sex Please, We’re Robots

There was a time when technology would advance and launch debates over ethical concerns raised by the technology. Lately, however, it seems ethical debate is (I hope) in advance of the actual technology. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Case in point: A paper at Ethicomp 2015 from De Montfort University warns that having sex with robots may have negative effects on par with prostitution. You might think that this is an isolated academic concept, but apparently there is a conference titled The International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots. There’s even a 2008 book titled Love and Sex with Robots that is neither science fiction nor pornography.

Second case: Softbank has created a robot called [Pepper] that supposedly can understand human emotions. You know the license agreements you get with everything you buy that you don’t really read? Here’s a translation of part of the one that comes with [Pepper]: ” …owner must not perform any sexual act or other indecent behavior.

That’s right. If you perform a sexual act with your [Pepper], you’ve violated the license agreement. Honestly, despite rule 34, it is hard to imagine who wants a tryst with the 47 inch plastic robot (see the video below). Then again, people have been having some kind of sex with machinery since at least the 1700s.

However, this isn’t a debate about the pros and cons about having sex with robots. My guess is if you are going to, I’m not going to stop you and if you aren’t then you won’t even be a little curious. What I think is interesting is the parallel between this and the perennial question that occupies hackers mind’s: what can you stop me from doing with something I own?

There’s an old saying that if you can’t hack it (or open it, or fix it), then you don’t own it. While [Pepper] is not my type, if she is yours and you paid the price, maybe it should be your business. I can understand, perhaps, that Softbank may not want [Pepper] associated with pornography. After all, supposedly 1920’s pornography hurt sales of Hamilton Beach’s patented electric massage machine. But if a relaxing evening in private with [Pepper] is your idea of a good time, maybe that’s not really for Softbank or De Montfort University to say.

I have said before that things are easier to reason about logically if you take the sex out of them. Imagine if Microsoft’s license agreement forbid you from writing murder novels on machines running their software because, obviously, murder is wrong. That’s probably unenforceable and would be, in any event, kind of strange. What if Ford made you agree not to drive to fast food restaurants, because we all know fast food is bad for you?

If [Pepper’s] manufacturer prohibits me from reverse engineering its firmware (it might; I don’t know), I’ll bristle, but I’d get it. Especially if it prevents me from disseminating the reverse engineering. But if I own it, then how I use it for my own use ought to be my business.

Consider this: What will it look like for them to attempt to enforce their license and how will the courts will respond if they do?

In a larger sense, though, as designers of things we should think about ethics. Discussion and debate about it is healthy, but ultimately very few ethical situations don’t require some personal interpretation. Your ethics may prevent you, for example, from working on a weapon system. Clearly, not everyone agrees with that. While there are clear cut cases, I doubt that robosex is going to fall into that unambiguous category.

56 thoughts on “No Sex Please, We’re Robots

    1. Hit reply too early, best computer user NA.

      While not necessarily an agreeable point, I can appreciate why that stipulation is there. If there’s one thing people are guaranteed to throw money at, it’s anything that stands a chance of getting them some action. This means that there’s at least a chance (I would hesitate to call it a probability) that a significant portion of the early adopters would be pervs interested in it primarily for the sex aspect. This, in turn, is liable to create an implicit association between the robot and those who own them being…uh…robosexual. The “normals” would then be turned away from the idea of owning one themselves, due to the stigma of that association.

      The potential hit to the bottom line is a real concern. Whether or not it’s valid, I don’t know, but that clause in the user agreement doesn’t really surprise me.

    1. You jest, but as usual, Real Life was there before.

      Once upon a time (end-eighties, Germany) there was a vacuum cleaner model which had its fan very near the front end of the tube…

      I’ll leave the rest to the links, which are in German (that’ll make them less NSFW)

  1. I can’t really understand why sex is so special, and they didn’t also include torture (physical or psychological), showing it the photos of all your grandchildren, or other violent and unethical behaviors. I guess sex really is special to them.

  2. So let’s see…

    Women championing the use of vibrators with all the bravado of “I don’t need a man” and “you go grrrl!”

    Sperm banks.

    Someone mentions sexbots and suddenly that’s bad evil and wrong.

    Because women still depend on men. A women at 35, gravity starting to hit her, needs a nice chump to wife her up after she spent at least 15 years on the c*ck carousel.
    So OF COURSE the shaming starts now. So OF COURSE “we need a law!” starts now. What are the feminists afraid of? Wouldn’t they be happy?

    When in reality if a women won’t give you her best years, you are not obligated to be there for her worst.

    Sorry, society is not going to stop or prevent sexbots with such glaring double standards.

    Hopefully the sexbot showrooms are right across the street from the sperm banks. Cherry 2000 is prophetic, it appears.

    1. That’s a nice set of misogynist strawmen you’ve erected there. But there’s bad news for you; the only thing you’re achieving is showing how bitter and bigoted you are.

      1. Just two memorable quotes from that link that are so fit for Hackaday.

        “Men don’t compete for abstract pleasure”,

        “because men are just as happy beating a video game as they are solving the riddles of the universe”.

      2. How very unfair of all those “bitches” and “wenches” are to such a kind and personable fellow as you. Good that technology will one day let you show them and everyone else what is what when you can sit forever alone and wank off into a pit in your sexbot just as endless as the selfpity in your brain.

    2. “””
      So OF COURSE the shaming starts now. So OF COURSE “we need a law!” starts now. What are the feminists afraid of? Wouldn’t they be happy?
      Well. I suppose the Ultimate Feminist Terror is that Men could go out and pay extra for a sex-bot that also cooks and cleans? This means that women have no leverage over the “Neanderthals”, who want to veg in front of the telly and drink beer – they can go right ahead with that – entirely without the nagging!

      And one would think: Why would any liberated, independent, “strong” woman give one single crap about some loser douche bag – never mind being married to the bastard?

      This is so because: Many so-called Feminists are closet Puritans. These people are never happy – being happy is sinful. As long as someone, somewhere, could maybe enjoy themselves there is still Work to be done. “Improving” even the worst slob is A Project for these women, the very futility of the task (they believe) will eventually lead to some heavenly reward.

      Affordable sex-bots will remove the “keeping the slob functional”-“opportunity” for female sacrifice and suffering – leaving many of the “suppressed” females free to pursue their own interests.

      Thus feminism will need to redefine itself – hence the wailing because *any* ideology that claims to “explain the world and life as we know it” considers itself complete and perfect; therefore it will not change. And as long as it can force the world to adapt its thinking, it will fight tooth and nail.

      1. Hearing what you think feminism is and isn’t, and what feminists really think is fascinating, from an anthropological perspective. But kind of irrelevant to how the real world actually works.

  3. What a stunningly Puritanical view of prostitution. A hyper-simplified view of it is taken, such that the logical comparison is correct by construction.

    This is chest-beating, disguised an ethics paper.

    > you’ve violated the license agreement

    Then the license agreement is most like unconscionable, as many EULA’s actually are. It just needs to be challenged in court.

    SmartBod gets a rousing celebration of progressive enthusiasm, and things like the Auto-Blow 2 are still seen as being part of a shady, shameful fringe. The same is now happened for sexbots.

      1. its*

        And sure, provided you weren’t pushed to the brink, like for instance have a dumb piece of technology ‘talk’ to you when you have an issue you consider a serious thing.

        Imagine you want some service from say Bank of America because they charged you for some service while you don’t even have an account there or some such nonsense they tend to do, and so you call them and you get an automated reply system instead of a human, furious you go to one of their branches only to be confronted by a ‘robot’ which is just an automated reply in physical form. So what do you do? If you ave any care for society and justice you kick the thing into a pile of ruble I would say.
        So it’s all dependent on the situation.

        1. You’re still not entitled to damage their property, no matter how irritated you are with them. Irritation is never (while maybe sometimes it should be) valid cause for vandalism.

          1. @Whatnot
            So…he’s German because he doesn’t like victim-blaming?? If you think being mad justifies destroying other people’s property you’re basically a child.

          2. Pah! Shoving some of their property up someones ass is indeed the only certain way to get attention these days. Especially when dealing with mobile service providers and banks.

            Businesses don’t like it? Well, Tough! It’s just the customers they are ripping off and then ignoring making de-regulation work for them.

  4. Pepper + RealDoll = friday night…

    …so sue me. After buying a pepper AND a real doll its not like I’ll have that much left for them to take.

    I can see the jailhouse conversation now…
    “Hey buddy- what are you in for?”

  5. Ah, a nice dose of the politics of the editors at Hackaday, would be nice if you instead could focus on actual hacks instead of trying to push your political agenda.

    Sure, sometimes there has been good neutral political stories here, for example those about the coming lack of bandwidth, why did you feel you needed to push this agenda but not that one?

  6. I didn’t read or see the middle text, and wondered who the hell is “pepper”. It has no ….. and no …s so it is an it. I highly dislike gender at all in computer interfaces or hardware. What ever it is, if it can’t procreate it is just an it.
    A year or two ago I heard that a new law in Britain gave equal rights to robots, it wasn’t a joke.
    Bot claims rape?

  7. What do ethics have to do with sex robot? The lack of consent?
    No, those robot don’t objectify women. Neither do dildos. But apparently the press is outraged at the idea of a sex robot because “muh misogyny”.
    My fleshlight doesn’ objectify anyone. Realdolls don’t, dildos don’t. Now leave my (future) robots alone!

  8. From this brief video, it seems that the Pepper has a sort of cloud shared intelligence, kind of like Apple’s Siri. I suppose one would have to see how the program worked, but perhaps they fear one Pepper learning, and dissemenating, to other Peppers something that the other Pepper operators would find highly offensive (i.e. of a sexual nature, being a major hot button issue, especially if Peppers were deployed publically).

    1. I do understand that this article is about EULAs that overstep common sense bounds, and typically with my purchased items I will do as I see fit, EULA permitted or not. The idea is to consider the spirit of a law (or rule, whatever) as opposed to just the wording, even if lawyers and poticians don’t see it that way.

    2. Any.Thing.At.All – Is bound to be “highly offensive” to someone, somewhere, probably looking forward to be offended.

      This idea of some ones “right to not be offended” is literally flat-earth territory. Medieval levels of stupidity, enacting and enforcing laws purely based on subjective emotions that cannot be generalised or indeed proved to exist. I find it *really hard to stomach* watching formerly civilised society stoops to that level of retard.

  9. Let me sum up that paper :

    There is a correlation between the availability of pornography and male sex toys and prostitution, therefore sex robots would also increase prostitution. The whole thing is specious start to finish.

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