Love & Sex with Robots – The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships by
With my interest in all things technological, robotic and science-fiction-like I could hardly not read this book. I did however decide to read it purely at home rather than put up with the funny looks on the commuter bus or the inevitable sarcastic comments from the people I work with.
Whilst not exactly breaking a great deal of new ground the author does manage to bring things out in the open that maybe, up until now, have been lurking in the shadows for quite a while. Humanity has a definite tendency to use its inventiveness to enhance pleasure in all its forms. Sex is certainly one of those areas which has benefited (you could say) from the advances in technology – indeed a significant portion of this book is given over to discussions of the march of science and technology into the bedroom. No doubt as robots become more human-like and more intelligent/emotional they will be used as progressively more sophisticated sex toys by both men and women. On the emotional side I’m fairly certain that some people at least will form emotional attachments to their robotic lovers in the same way that many people form attachments to other objects such as cars. The author even argues that, with machines sophisticated enough to ‘read’ their human controllers and modify themselves accordingly, people could actually fall in love with this perfect partner substitute. I think that it’s certainly possible that such a thing could happen though I doubt it would be as widespread as the author suggests. Where I went into full scoffing mode (complete with belly laugh) was where he suggested that, by 2050 no less, people would eventually end up married to their robot partners and that this marriage contract would be ratified and accepted by the state apparatus. This I think is highly unlikely for several very good reasons.
For one thing I think he is very optimistic concerning the technological barriers that need to be surpassed before such a thing could happen. I still think we are much more than 30 years away from human level AI. I also don’t think that the economic drivers are there to push the technology forward at the speed required for this to take place in that timeframe. But the problems are much deeper than that. The author sites the examples of mixed race marriage (now an unremarkable commonplace) and gay marriage (likely to become unremarkable soon) as a way of looking at the future of human-robot relationships, moving from unthinkable, to fought over, to tolerated , to accepted, to seen as unworthy of comment. Of course there is one huge difference the author seems to forget: no matter how sophisticated the robot becomes they are still essentially machines – tools. In order to get married they need to do something that, at least at present, only humans and only certain types of humans can do – freely consent to do so. In order for a robot to be allowed to legally marry a human it must be considered in the eyes of the law as someone who can freely consent – in other words be an autonomous sentient being with free will. In order for that to happen the progress in AI would need to be staggering indeed!
Added to this the author regularly says that as robots are infinitely programmable their owners would be able to manipulate their software to produce any kind of sexual experience they wished to have. What he seemed to forget (or not understand in the first place) was that it would be highly immoral, and probably illegal, to attempt any kind of radical reprogramming on a sentient robot! It would be tantamount to brainwashing your partner (or would-be partner) until they loved you which these days is rather frowned upon in polite society.