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One of the world’s most famous sex robots can now revoke her consent

Samantha the sex robot enters a dummy mode if she is too tired or turned off by an overly-aggressive partner

It’s the kind of upgrade that could be a notable first in the world of robotics — namely, the world of sex robots. One of the world’s most famous sex robots, Samantha, was given an upgrade by her creator, Dr. Sergi Santos, that would allow her to revoke her consent in a sexual encounter for a variety of reasons. It’s an upgrade that, to some, might feel like common sense, but regardless, is both revolutionary and has the potential to set a new standard for the programming of sex robots, whose presence has been increasing in recent years. 

The upgrade, dubbed “dummy” mode by Santos, was part of a presentation given at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle, England. According to Santos, the “dummy” mode can be activated if Samantha believes she is being touched in an aggressive way or is being touched disrespectfully. She can also go into “dummy” mode if she becomes bored with her partner. And, to truly drive home the fact that this upgrade is driven by the notion of consent, Samantha has the ability to say “No” if she wants to. It should be noted that although she can verbally revoke consent and enter this specialised mode, she is unable to physically fight back or disengage.

The use and prominence of sex robots has been on the rise in recent years. With advances being made in the creation and deployment of artificial intelligence, there has been a notable uptick in the purchase of sex robots for personal use. One company, Abyss Creations/RealDolls stated that, as of 2017, they were selling around 600 dolls worldwide annually and that 95% of the dolls were female.

The use of sex robots is gaining commercial ground, too. 2017 was also the year Barcelona became the home to the world's first-ever brothel that offered four different sex robots, known as Lumi Dolls, for their clients. According to a report from HuffPost, the brothel allowed customers booking a session to make clothing requests and specify positions they wanted the Lumi Doll to be in. Ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Moscow followed in Barcelona's footsteps and opened the country's first brothel with sex robot workers.

An upgrade like Samantha’s only makes this conversation around owning and using a sex robot more complex. Allowing her to give or revoke her consent is a first (and some would argue it's a win for teaching consent), but with Samantha reportedly unable to fight back if her partner doesn't listen to her, one has to wonder how big a step forward the upgrade is, and whether this will only serve to complicate the use of sex robots in the future.

For more, read writer Megan Nolan on why sex robots are unlikely to ever replace humans in the bedroom.