It won't be much longer before we start using personal robots to fulfil our erotic desires. But what if these sexbots will be used to mimic illegal sexual activities, such as pedophilia? The answer is surprisingly complicated.
This troubling issue was raised at a robot ethics panel at Berkeley late last week. During the discussion, Georgia Tech's Mobile Robot Lab director Ron Arkin asked such questions as, "[How] will we deal with robot intimacy? Will we consider it beastiality? Could we use it to treat sex offenders?"
When the issue of child sexbots came up, Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill asked how society would deal ethically and legally with a hypothetical company that starts producing child sex-robots to satisfy deviant sexual desires. She reports:
Arkin said that while he doesn't approve of child sex bots for recreational use, he'd like to see them used for research purposes. "Child-like robots could be used for pedophiles the way methadone is used to treat drug addicts," said Arkin. He said research should be done to test the effectiveness of such a treatment. "There are no presumptions that this will assuredly yield positive results – I only believe it is worth investigating in a controlled way to possibly provide better protection to society from recidivism in sex offenders," he said. "If we can save some children, I think it's a worthwhile project."
He added that he did worry about the possible creation of a black market that would offer the robots outside of a clinical setting. This isn't the first time Arkin has broached the indelicate subject. After he made a comment about it in the press years ago, he says he got a call from a clinician who works with sex offenders who wanted to do the research. However, prepubescent sex bots don't exist yet (at least that we know about). There are bot-like babies: People in the "reborner movement" buy incredibly human-looking baby dolls for as much as $4,000 — sometimes outfitted with heartbeats and chests that rise and fall — though they want the babies to protect and nurture, not to exploit sexually. If an entrepreneur started up KidSexBots-R-Us, would it be legal?
Interestingly, and as Hill's article points out, there's a very close legal connection to the prospect of child sexbots and child porn. Last year, for example, a Canadian man was charged with child pornography for ordering a 4-foot, 2-inch school-uniform-wearing sex doll made of "foam-like material."
Another important issue is that of consequences. At what point, if any, is anyone actually being harmed? Yes, there's a definite "yuck factor" aspect to such a socially deviant act, but a sex doll or mindless robot cannot experience harm or an indignity. In that sense, a child sexbot could be seen a kind of "outlet".
But even this is not completely satisfactory; the mutilation of a corpse is illegal in many jurisdictions. Intentions — and the upholding of social values — matters. What's more, engaging in such behaviors could work to diminish a person's respect for minors, while also potentially inspiring pedophiles to perform sexual acts on real children.
Read Hill's entire article at Forbes.
Image: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.