I'll be 96. But how old will my robot be?

I don't talk about sex as much as I should.

For someone who'd probably be lumped in with the "hedonist" group because of my opinions, I'm surprisingly square. To the extent that I appear hedonistic, it's mostly because I defend hedonists. Occasionally I'll get into sexual issues, but my approach is usually rather clinical.

But I'd better get on the ball, because before you know it, sex with robots will be the rage, and unless I change with the times, I'll still be asking heated rhetorical questions about why people care what people do with each other in the privacy of their bedroom.

It's happening sooner than you think. By 2050, it'll be a done deal and the hot bots will be putting out:

If you're younger than 35, you'll probably live long enough to put David Levy's prediction to the test. Levy says that by 2050 we'll be creating robots so lifelike, so imbued with human-seeming intelligence and emotions, as to be nearly indistinguishable from real people. And we'll have sex with these robots. Some of us will even marry them. And it will all be good.

Levy lays out his vision of a Brave New Carnal World in Love and Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, which, despite its extended riffs on sex toys through the ages, is a snigger-free book. Levy's no Al Goldstein. Rather he's a 62-year-old British chess master turned artificial-intelligence expert persuaded that robot sex can brighten the lives of many, many unhappy people. "Great sex on tap for everyone, 24/7,'' he writes on the final page of the book. What's not to like?

I'll tell you what's not to like.

In 2050 I'll be 96!

Far from wanting a sex robot, at that age (if I'm alive) I'd most likely want a nurse robot. To give me backrubs, roll me over, push my wheelchair, and fetch hot water bottles. Hardly 24/7 sex.

Of course, there'll probably be drugs I could take to make me want to have sex with my robot nurse as well as physically capable.

But at that age, I might ask "Why?"

This is not to say that I oppose sex with robots in any way, shape, or form. (Hmmm, do I mean that literally?)

I can see the moralists getting just as bent out of shape over sex with robots as they do over sex with humans, though. They already get bent out of shape with virtual pornography, even though it isn't human, so why not robots?

Besides, how are we to determine the age of these robots?

Appearance?

Does that mean I'd be a dirty old man if my robot looks 16?

I won't care. ("Just roll me over and gimme that shot!")

In any case, I better defend sex with robots now, because I know I'll never get any.

MORE: I know this is all theory, but I'm wondering whether it might be possible for us to actually become the sex robots and have sex remotely with their partners. Like, I control your robot, and you control mine. More interactive than a mere machine, and there'd still be the human element. Nah, that's no good, because someone at the controls might be charged with rape. Or he or she might be raped by someone else's robot.

Probably not a good idea to give someone remote control over "your" robot. Why, think about what else might happen.

I guess I should be glad I don't read science fiction, because some twisted writer has probably thought this out in incredible detail.

(I need my denial like everybody else.)

MORE: Tall Dave says he doesn't see the big deal, as "women have been using vibrators for decades" but sees a problem for men along the following lines:

The problem for men is that physcially simulating what gives us pleasure is much more difficult. Besides the vexing issue of fabricating something similar enough to a woman's sexual orifices, for men visual stimuli is very important and it's very hard to make an object that looks and moves enough like a woman to fool our hindbrain without triggering trigger the "hey that's creepy not sexy" response. We have exquisitely sensitive and detailed specifications for what a healthy, fertile woman needs to look like to provoke a sexual response, and beyond that to signal our status-monitoring centers that we are indeed nailing a hottie.

So, yes, there will be sexbots that look like 16-year-old cheerleaders, once the technology is there, and they will make life a lot better for men. Women will not like it, because it will upset the paradigm of sex being a scarce resource that men want more than women, giving women a certain power over men. I expect there will be efforts to outlaw realistic sexbots, but ultimately it will happen somewhere.

I think he's right. This also raises the question of whether robots can truly be considered to have "sexual preferences." While humans attach the greatest moral importance to such notions, to a robot it's simply a question of following the program or obeying orders. No real "choice" is involved, nor is anything innate (although I suppose if they're "made that way" it could be argued that they were "born that way.") Can robots even be thought of as "male" and "female" (much less "gay" or "straight")? If so, why? Suppose a used robot were purchased and "reprogrammed" according to the desires of its new owner. Will there be groups of zealots on one side to deem it immoral (against "Natural Law") for a robot to go one way, with a corresponding "Ex Gay Robot Watch" movement on the other? Who gets to be in charge of robot morality?

posted by Eric on 01.17.08 at 02:46 PM










Comments

Uh, a little late to the party, this internet meme is. My wife already has sex with a robot. And it is a simple, cheap one. There are much more elaborate machines and robots to be had right now.

Is it human like? No. Does it get the job done? Yes. Put it into a Real Doll, and not much more work is left...

Donut   ·  January 17, 2008 4:30 PM

I don't see the big deal. Women have been using vibrators for decades.

The problem for men is that physcially simulating what gives us pleasure is much more difficult. Besides the vexing issue of fabricating something similar enough to a woman's sexual orifices, for men visual stimuli is very important and it's very hard to make an object that looks and moves enough like a woman to fool our hindbrain without triggering trigger the "hey that's creepy not sexy" response. We have exquisitely sensitive and detailed specifications for what a healthy, fertile woman needs to look like to provoke a sexual response, and beyond that to signal our status-monitoring centers that we are indeed nailing a hottie.

So, yes, there will be sexbots that look like 16-year-old cheerleaders, once the technology is there, and they will make life a lot better for men. Women will not like it, because it will upset the paradigm of sex being a scarce resource that men want more than women, giving women a certain power over men. I expect there will be efforts to outlaw realistic sexbots, but ultimately it will happen somewhere.

TallDave   ·  January 17, 2008 5:24 PM
urthshu   ·  January 17, 2008 5:56 PM

In Scotland, you can be put on a sex offenders register for having sex behind closed doors with a bicycle.

I fear the precedent for banning the unnature union of human and robot is already in place.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/26/nsex126.xml

Nick   ·  January 17, 2008 7:07 PM

I really enjoy reading your blog, it always has great insight. But I am very frustrated with the media’s lack of questions to the presidential candidates about global warming.

The Daily Green just put an article out talking about how the presidential candidates are not being asked where they stand on the issue of the climate change - this is surprising to me considering its such a MAJOR concern to people. I just saw a poll on www.EarthLab.com that says people care a lot what their next leader thinks about global warming (after you take it they show you the results). Does anyone know of another poll or other results about this subject?

If not, go to http://www.earthlab.com/life.aspx and take their poll to see which way the results go. This is a pretty legit website; they are endorsed by Al Gore and the alliance for climate protection and they have a carbon footprint calculator. No matter which political party you vote for this is an important issue for our environment, our economy and for homeland security.

alex   ·  January 17, 2008 8:05 PM

As a female, I think sex with a properly programmed robot would be just fine. Could beat a vibrator in all areas. Why all this emphasis on what men want?

Donna B.   ·  January 17, 2008 8:51 PM

Alex -

I'm a believer in anthropogenic global warming. However - it isn't a recent thing. Instead, it dates back to the dawn of agriculture. Look up Ruddiman's paper on anthropogenic global warming. Ice core studies show that if it weren't for global warming, we'd be just about at the bottom of a cold cycle now.

How cold would that be? Think polar bears chasing penguins on the beach at Panama cold. Think brass monkey ball-dropping cold. Think about a glaciated, uninhabitable Canada cold, with major glaciers across most of the US.

Think humanity reduced to a few hundred thousand hunter-gatherer cold. Think flint-headed spear as the height of technology cold.

Now, my friend - I've got a question for you that I've NEVER seen any global warming enthusiast answer.

What should the thermostat be set at? What's the global temperature, regardless of natural or unnatural swings, supposed to be maintained at? And for some extra points - how are we supposed to get the world temperature to that idyllic point, and maintain it there? And what would the repercussions be to humanity at large?

Take your 'global warming, AlGore Approved' cut&paste ad for your poll and stick it in the freezer.

Now, back to the actual response to the post.

As far as robot sex goes... I'm... ambivalent. I can see threesomes - man, robot, and woman, and everyone having a humpin' good time for a while. But you know, I think after a while good old human-human sex would win out. There's virtual reality - and then there's REAL reality. Sweat, smell, pheremones, unpredictability, spontaneous responses...

The robot may end up with the bicycle. THAT shouldn't be against the law!

J.

JLawson   ·  January 17, 2008 9:01 PM

Does anyone see that robot sex could conceivably mean the end of human reproduction (why mate with a real person if a robot is much more available and/or exciting).

Joe Lammers   ·  January 17, 2008 9:13 PM

Does anyone see that robot sex could conceivably mean the end of human reproduction...

Yup. That's why the Space Pope sez: Don't date robots!

(Search YouTube for "I Dated a Robot" from Futurama.)

Eric Wilner   ·  January 17, 2008 10:28 PM

It is ironic that on a thread about human-like robots, we have "alex", an obvious but quite well designed Gore-bot spam post. It looks like we will have robot opinionators well before anything fun.

Nick   ·  January 18, 2008 4:40 AM

I'm dubious that robots will completely replace Significant Others. For one thing, if they can't say no, or choose their sexual partners, they can't gratify your ego by preferring *you*. Nor can you boast to your buddies about your Orgasmatron 3000 when they can go to the local Orgasmatron store and get the exact same model. As others have pointed out, vibrators have existed for years yet I haven't noticed vast herds of nookie-less men roaming around.

Robot #57   ·  January 18, 2008 11:32 AM

Robot sex partners (for men, anyway) will simply be much fancier, much more expensive blow-up dolls. Plus, those of us who are interested in our partners loving us will not be satisfied by robots, because a robot will not be able to love you. (To be honest, I am immensely skeptical that anything even approaching a robot with human-type reactions will be available in 50 years.) Basically, it will amount to expensive masturbation.

John S.   ·  January 19, 2008 6:31 PM

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