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Ex Machina

Shock horror: experts say AI sex robots are a moral threat to society

Researchers want to ban sex robot companies from marketing them as replacements for real human relationships

In news that surprises absolutely no-one, US researchers have warned that the possibility of AI sex robots poses a serious psychological and moral threat to individuals and society.

According to researchers, the technology is escaping regulation from agencies because they’re too embarrassed to investigate it. Dr Christine Hendren of Duke University told BBC News that the “stakes were high”.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she said, concerningly: “Some robots are programmed to protest, to create a rape scenario. Some are designed to look like children. One developer of these in Japan is a self-confessed pedophile, who says that this device is a prophylactic against him ever hurting a real child.”

Kathleen Richardson, a professor of the ethics and culture of robots and AI at De Montfort University in Leicester, wants to ban sex robot companies from marketing them as replacements for actual, real human relationships, which is apparently a common thing in the industry.

Examples include Sergei Santos, the creator of one of the world’s most famous AI-equipped sex robots Samantha, who previously told Dazed: “I always say, if my wife left me, sexually I would have enough with the sex doll.” 

But Richardson argues: “A relationship with a girlfriend is based on intimacy, attachment, and reciprocity. These are things that can’t be replicated by machines. Are we going to move into a future where we keep normalising the idea of women as sex objects?”

“If someone has a problem with a relationship in their actual lives you deal with that with other people, not by normalising the idea that you can have a robot in your life and it can be as good as a person,” she added. “These companies are saying, ‘you don’t have a friendship? You don’t have a life partner? Don’t worry we can create a robot girlfriend for you’.”

It’s a topic explored by LA-based artist Tara Subkoff, whose 2019 exhibition Deepfake imagined a world where women have been replaced by sex robots. Read our interview here.