With the recent unveiling of Roxxxy the sex “robot”, it got me thinking about this sticky subject. In an early December 2009 poll (by IEET) asking, “If you had a personal robot that could do only one thing, which ability would you prefer it to have?” the results were the following:
The majority of respondents were pretty evenly divided between housecleaning robots and robot sex slaves. Mike Treder then goes on to say:
“At some point within the next few decades, it seems likely that technology will allow the creation of humanoid robots so lifelike it may be hard to tell them apart from real flesh and blood humans.”
There’s just one problem with this statement: it really doesn’t seem very likely at all. Remember, we’re not talking about just intelligence here. We’re talking about humanoid robots that could pass for a human body as well as mind, and mechatronics do not exhibit the same exponential growth seen in information technology. If you look at what is being done in the field of realistic robots, you’ll see what amounts to sophisticated animatronics with latex skin. There is nothing about them that could pass for a real flesh and blood human when in close proximity, which (the last time I checked) the sex act requires. Everything below the break is depressingly safe-for-work.
And so we come to TrueCompanion’s sex robot Roxxxy, a perfect example of why sex robots simply aren’t practical. Calling it a sex robot as opposed to a sex doll suggests that Roxxxy will take on an active role in the sex act, but it cannot move. The company’s dubious claims include the following: Roxxxy is anatomically consistent with a human (highly contestable); she can hear you, speak to you, feel your touch, and carry on a conversation (with all the sophistication of an ATM machine, no doubt); comes preloaded with 5 separate personalities (I’ll spare you the embarrassing list); and last but not least she can orgasm (simulated orgasms maybe, but that’s not much of a marketing tagline).
I’m not going to cut TrueCompanion any slack just because Roxxxy is being marketed as the first sex robot. Simply put, this is a sex doll with a few buzz words in its advertising that managed to grab headlines at CES 2010, but a sex robot it is most certainly not. And there’s nothing in the state-of-the-art that suggests we’ll be climbing out of the uncanny valley any time soon.
If we suppose for a moment that we could build such a robot, there’s still the issue of intelligence. Even if you don’t put much stock into what Ray Kurzweil has been saying about the subject, you’ll probably agree that we will have the computing capacity necessary to simulate the human brain at some point in the future. So let’s imagine that neuro-science has advanced to a point where the human brain can be scanned, copied, backed-up, and simulated like any other form of data.
I’m reminded of a couple examples from Masamune Shirow’s popular sci-fi graphic novel Ghost in the Shell (one of which served as the basis for the 2nd film adaptation, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence). Shirow argues that copies of consciousness will retain the same human rights as the original, since it is virtually identical to the genuine article (with all of its capacity for suffering) while a less sophisticated a.i. would not have any rights. Shirow shows a harmless (but still socially repugnant) form of sex robots when Kusanagi calls upon the help of an old hacker friend:
These robots possess enough intelligence and personality to serve in their role as sex slaves, but aren’t considered persons by any standard. They’re essentially toys, and so are referred to as such. In another case, Kusanagi is investigating humanoid sex robots that are going berserk and killing their owners. In this example, Shirow posits that brain simulations could be used and abused by companies selling sex robots. The company selling the models going haywire has been saving money by illegally copying the minds of young girls (kidnapped and held against their will) and implanting them into their “products” instead of developing sophisticated artificial intelligence.
This has the side benefit of appearing as though the company is on the cutting edge of a.i. development – the customers are happy, and sales are good. Unfortunately, the desire for better and better simulations in robots could lead to the rampant abuse and suffering of what amount to human “souls”. And where exactly does one draw the line in the gray area between fully artificial but totally convincing a.i. and real people? If you can’t tell the difference, does one exist simply because of the material make-up of the parts?
And lest we forget Futurama’s dire warning about the end of civilization: Don’t date robots!