Key Question about Robot Sex – Can it be Consensual?

September 18, 2015

Robots seem to dredge up all our worst fears – if it’s not battle droids trying to kill us, it’s sex robots stealing our very hearts! And as you might expect, there is a high-profile organization already at work out there to save us. It’s the Campaign Against Sex Robots, and they say sex with robots is just bad.

Fallen persimmons in Kinuta Park - Aug. 17, 2013

Fallen persimmons in Kinuta Park – Aug. 17, 2013 (Enlarge)

OK, wait a minute – why would robot sex be any worse than any other sex? Sure, you’re not married to the robot, so it technically counts as fornication, but that’s nothing unique to robots. Also, you can’t have baby robots, right? So the goal of robot sex must be nothing more than pure pleasure, which some people might say is bad. But again, it’s not the robot’s fault in particular.

The unique thing about sex with robots is the question of whether it’s consensual. Yes, it’s bad to have sex with somebody when it’s not consensual. That would be rape, and we never want to excuse that kind of thing.

Now we get to the question of whether a robot can be “somebody.” I mean, if the robot is just an inanimate thing, then the sex doesn’t need to be consensual, right? You might just be using an electric dildo vibrator or something. That might even count in some people’s minds as a robot, but it doesn’t matter because nobody needs consent from a dildo.

So here’s the key point:

  1. If the robot isn’t a somebody, then you don’t need consent to have sex with it, but in that case it’s not AI. If it’s not AI, then why are we even talking about it?
  2. If the robot is a somebody, then you do need consent. Hey, maybe this is a kind of new version of the Turing test – if a robot can give mature, informed consent for sexual activity, then it counts as true AI. Otherwise not. How’s that?

Well, there’s also the question of why a true AI machine would ever want to have sex with a human being. See, we can program dumb robots to act like they want sex with you, but that’s not AI. That’s just a fancy dildo. Alternatively, we can build true AI machines with self-interest and minds of their own, but in that case the machine almost certainly would not be interested in sex with you. Shucks.

This is like a sad metaphor for why it’s so hard for human engineers to build true AI. It’s just as hard to build a machine mind as it is for geeky nerds to get laid.