The murky world of robot sex and consent (Wired UK)


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We’ve covered a number of sexbots
here at Wired, most notably Roxxxy made by True Companion. She has
three “inputs” and a pre-programmed personality — an embodied
Siri, if you will. For the ladies, there’s the male counterpart
Rocky, available in various versions of Barry Manilow.

While Rocky and Roxxxy might just be elaborate masturbatory
aids, there is a looming challenge relating to imbuing robots with
intelligence. Can a robot consent?

If a sexbot is merely a pleasure-producing machine with no
autonomy, then it is fairly uncomplicated. But if the sexbot has a
sophisticated AI with some semblance of autonomy and personhood,
then the conditions under which sex with the robot is permissible
become less clearly defined.

Personhood is widely understood as combining self-awareness,
agency and continuous consciousness. If an AI meets these criteria
— passing the Turing Test with flying colours — then we have to
start considering the possibility that robots should have rights.
Society is not obliged to treat beings without personhood, such as
animals, embryos and people in vegetative states as having a
fundamental right to exist in themselves. But if something meets
the criteria of personhood, then they should — according to many
legal experts — have rights to make sure they aren’t exploited or
abused.

If we grant robots rights, then we need to think about the legal
construct of consent. This view is espoused by a pornographic
producer called Jincey Lumpkin (you can watch her TED talk on the
topic here
). The key question is this: can an intelligent robot
that’s been programmed to have sex consent to the act? The notion
of informed consent suggests the ability to say no. If a robot has
been programmed to only say yes, then it raises the question that
having sex with such a robot constitutes rape and that owning one
is tantamount to slavery. It might, therefore, be less legally and
morally murky to limit the intelligence of an AI so that it doesn’t
meet the threshold of personhood.

Even more complex is the physical form of the robot. Imagine
it’s 2047. Alanna visits her friend Simon’s house for dinner. When
she visits the bathroom, she bumps into a walking, talking sex
robot. The intelligent humanoid machine has been designed to look
and talk exactly like Alanna. Should Alanna be alarmed? Can she sue
her friend for using her image without consent? It is already
possible to commission a version of the Roxxxy sex robot in the
form of a celebrity or porn star. And what if Simon’s robot was
designed to look like — or shape-shift into — a ten-year-old boy
or a dog. Should society accept this? Is he more or less likely to
want to have sex with a real ten-year-old or a dog if he has a
robotic companion in the same form?

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On the face of it, these are deeply troubling questions, and
ones that deserve the attention of roboticists, ethicists,
psychologists and lawyers. What we can be sure of is that the
oft-cited aphorism “sex is complicated” will have a deeper
significance in the future.

6 June 2014 | 3:36 pm – Source: wired.co.uk
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