Sexbots: Society's friend or foe?

A sexbot named Samantha broke down at a tech conference in Linz, Austria, last month. According to news reports, the bot was manhandled too much and had to be repaired.

The sexbot costs $4,000. One of Samantha’s creators, Arran Lee Squire, insisted that the bot is not a doll, but an advanced AI machine -- one that will moan on cue.

Experts argue that sexbots – robots designed to sexually interact with people – will become more common, much more lifelike and more advanced in the coming years. “The popularity of modern sex dolls is creating an increasingly competitive market,” according to the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, in a report released earlier this year. “With rapid developments in technology, the companies are hoping to corner a larger slice of the market by creating moving robotic sex dolls powered by speech recognition and chatbot conversations.”

Sex dolls are evolving to become sexbots as a burgeoning business. Someday, for example, a sexbot could be part of an elaborate virtual reality fantasy. There are already signs that VR is catching on in the adult film industry, so sexbots could be a next step.

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However, the Foundation for Responsible Robotics highlights the challenges that sexbots pose to society. Would intimacy with robots, for example, lead to social isolation? The report also examines whether the robots could be used as part of therapy for people experiencing social anxiety about sex.

According to a recent survey conducted by YouGov Omnibus, half of American adults – 49 percent, to be exact – believe having sex with robots will become common in the next 50 years.

Critics, however, warn that sexbots could worsen society’s ills. “On one side there are those who believe that expressing disordered or criminal sexual desires with a sex robot would satiate them to the point where they would not have the desire to harm fellow humans,” explained the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, in its report. “On the other side, many others believe that this would be an indulgence that could encourage and reinforce illicit sexual practices.”

“It may be that allowing people to live out their darkest fantasies with sex robots could have a pernicious effect on society and societal norms and create more danger for the vulnerable,” the report added.

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Henderson Cooper, a former Los Angeles police officer and former member of the CIA, says it’s foolish to think of sexbots as anything other than an adult toy.

“The suggestion that sexbots will reduce sex crimes simply cannot be supported by facts,” says Cooper. “No one knows where it could lead. Because someone selects a robot for their sexual fantasies and seeming satisfaction does not necessarily mean that it will address and offset their more dangerous or criminal sexual fantasies and urges.”

In an opinion piece in the New York Times earlier this year, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, described the notion that sexbots could reduce rape as deeply flawed. “It suggests that male violence against women is innate and inevitable, and can be only mitigated, not prevented,” she wrote. “This is not only insulting to a vast majority of men, but it also entirely shifts responsibility for dealing with these crimes onto their victims – women, and society at large – while creating impunity for perpetrators.”

“Rape is not an act of sexual passion. It is a violent crime,” she added. “We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab.”

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Cooper says that sexbots should be viewed within the broader context of society. “The idea that a sexbot would change the potential criminal impact of sex addiction and exploitation, and the many other forms of sex criminalization, is just not a reasonable and justifiable idea,” he told Fox News. “We need to seek answers to the issues that already exist, with solutions that reduce exploitation, crime and violence in the world of sex.”