A computer researcher from Goldsmiths University of London has spoken out against a new campaign to ban sex robots. Dr Kate Devlin suggests that the subject is far more complex than the campaigners suggest.
Dr Kate Devlin (Department of Computing) argues that while society has enough problems with gender stereotypes, embedded sexism, misogyny, and sexual objectification, an actual ban on developing sexual robots is "shortsighted and quite - pardon the pun - undesirable".
A new campaign, initiated and led by Dr Kathleen Richardson from De Montfort University and Dr Erik Billing, states: “We believe in the benefits of robots and technologies to our society and human cultures, but want to ensure that robotics develops ethically and that we do not reproduce inequalities with their development that could further reinforce disturbing human lived experiences.”
Dr Devlin says: "Existing research into sex and robots centres on a superficial exploration of human attachment, popularised by films such as Her and Ex Machina: a male-dominated approach of machine-as-sex-machine, usually without consideration of gender parity. Groundbreaking work in the field by David Levy built on the early research on teledildonics and describes the increasing likelihood of a society that will welcome sex robots. Kathleen Richardson’s stance is clearly in opposition to Levy who, she says, 'identifies prostitution/ sex work as a model that can be imported into human-robot relations'.
"Here I agree with Richardson, to an extent. That is the current narrative but it’s a narrative that can - and should - change. I absolutely agree that it’s an area that requires, as Richardson states, 'a discussion about the ethics of gender and sex in robotics'.
"That discussion is long overdue. In the gendering of robots, and the sexualised-personification of machines, digital sexual identity is too often presumed, but to date little considered."
Dr Devlin argues: "The scope for sex robots goes far beyond Richardson’s definition of them as 'machines in the form of women or children for use as sex objects, substitutes for human partners or prostitutes'. Yes, we impose our beliefs on these machines: we anthropomorphise and we bring our biases with us. But robotics also allows us to explore issues without the trappings of being a human. A machine is a blank slate offering us the chance to reframe our ideas about sex, sexuality and gender."
"To campaign against development is shortsighted. Instead of calling for an outright ban, why not use the topic as a base from which to explore new ideas of inclusivity, legality and social change?"
"Fear of a branch of AI that is in its infancy is a reason to shape it - not to ban it. Yes, there is a place for ethics in robotics. And, like sex between humans, talking about it can make it better."