In the next five years or so it will be possible to build lifelike robots. These robots will look, move, and feel like fellow humans — but, unless the technological singularitycomes early, these robots won’t be excellent conversationalists. According some recent research, though, they will make fantastic prostitutes.
If you’ve ever read a sci-fi novel or spent a little time thinking about the future, the concept of having sex with a robot probably doesn’t surprise you — I mean, it’s going to happen eventually, right? If you’re like me, though, you probably thought about having sex with a cyborg, an intelligent robot that is convincingly human — something like that hot blonde from Battlestar Galactica (pictured above), or Data from Star Trek — not some dumb sexbot.
Still, there’s a lot to be said for robostitutes. Instead of heading down to the local red light district and engaging in dangerous coitus with a prostitute that might be infested with a veritable smorgasbord of STDs, you could book a session with a sterilized-between-tricks prostibot. If you had enough money, you could of course just buy your own sexbot, and just haul her out of the cupboard when needed.
In one fell swoop, at least according to Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars (the authors of recent paper called “Robots, men and sex tourism.” [paywalled]), robots will cleanse the world of… well, almost every sex-related ill that plagues humanity. With robots that bend and flex and kowtow to our every desire, the sexual side of human trafficking — the billion dollar trade of moving (usually young) sex slaves around the world — will disappear. Sexual predators, instead of abducting victims, will be able to order a sexbot to spec; if they want a robot that looks like a young child, or a wrinkly geriatric, so be it.
Men and women, instead of cheating on their spouses, will be able to hook up with a robot (it’s the same as using a sex toy). Heck, once robots gain a little more intelligence, you could even go the whole hog and marry a robot instead of a fellow human being. Ostensibly these marriages would be for people who don’t want all of the intrinsic messiness of human relationships, but that isn’t to say that you couldn’t fall in love with a robot. Lovotics, the science of engineering human-robot love, is a topic that we’ve covered extensively. David Levy of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, another sex-with-robots researcher, predicts that human-robot marriage will be legalized as soon as 2050.
Is it really that simple, though?
For a start, sexbots are likely to be very expensive; Realdolls, the world-famous, lifelike silicone sex dolls (pictured right), start at $6,000. Adding motors and computers — animatronics — will likely drive that cost upwards of $20,000 (though, with increasing demand and improvements in technology, that price would come down). Even so, the depressing truth is that trafficked humans are cheaper and more plentiful.
There’s also the human element of sex. While one day it might be possible to create living, breathing, sweating, robots — skin-job cylons — they will never be truly human. These sexbots will almost certainly fall smack bang in the middle of the Uncanny Valley, and — unless you have a robot fetish — will be incredibly creepy as a result. I don’t want to turn this into something resembling a psychology midterm, but sexual desires (both healthy and otherwise) can be very specific. If a businessman really wants to sleep with a young Russian girl, and experience everything that goes along with that (the screams, the squirming, the illicit thrill, and so on), a sexbot just won’t cut it. The human face is capable of expressing a wide gamut of emotions — if you want to see fear, or shock, or awe in the eyes of your sexual partner, robots won’t do it for you.
These sticky issues aside, though, robot sex slaves are coming whether we like it or not. The sex industry is too lucrative, and research into robotics and AI shows shows no sign of slowing down. First there will be a robotic sex doll, with servos and “realistic” sound output, and then when human-level machine intelligence rolls around (~2030-2050), sentient, conversational prostibots will emerge. At this point, we might finally have robots that can satisfy even the most exacting needs of sexual deviants.
Of course, the irony is that sentient, lifelike robots are, well, human. The moment that a robot becomes self-aware, is it really OK to rape her (him? it?) It’s impossible to predict how sentient robots will be viewed in the eyes of the law — really, this is another kettle of fish entirely; one that I’ll definitely write about in the future — but I’m fairly certain that we won’t condone robot trafficking.
Ultimately, then, robostitutes are stuck between a rock and a hard place: Dumb variants are unlikely to ever claw their way out of the Uncanny Valley (or be cheap enough to replace human sex slaves); and sentient robots will be “blessed” with enough intelligence that you might as well make love to a human. The flip side, of course, is that sentient robots might actually make better partners than humans — they won’t age, they’ll probably be stronger than us, and they might even be more intelligent. But then again, why would a sentient robot ever marry a human? They would just marry each other. And have ubermensch progeny. And eventually take over the world.