Good news! You probably won’t be killed by a sex robot
After spending a fascinating two days at the International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, where academics discussed everything from robot design to the ethics of programming lovers, I was surprised to learn from Gizmodo that “sex robots may literally f**k us to death.”
How, I wondered, could these otherwise thoughtful researchers allow humanity to walk into such a dystopian nightmare?
Quite rightly, they won’t. That headline was in fact inspired by a discussion on the ethics of artificial intelligence by Prof. Oliver Bendel, who outlined some of the broad implications of creating machines which can “think” – including how we make sure robots make good moral decisions and don’t end up causing humans harm. Far from “warning” of the dangers of oversexed robots, Bendel was actually trying to ensure that they don’t “f**k us to death”. So while I might personally fantasise about the future headlines like “Woman, 102, Sexed To Death By Robot Boyfriend”, it’s unlikely that I’ll kick the bucket with such panache. Thanks to Bendel, and others who are exploring these questions as artificial intelligence develops, sex robots will likely have a built-in kill switch (or “kill the mood” switch) to prevent anyone from being trapped in a nightmare sex marathon with a never-tiring machine.
Reporting on events like the sex robots conference is notoriously tricky. On the one hand, sex robots are guaranteed to grab the attention of anyone looking for something to distract them from their otherwise robot-less lives, so an article is guaranteed to be a hit. On the other hand, academics are notoriously careful in what they say, so quite rightly you’re unlikely to find one who’ll actually screech warnings about imminent death at the hands (or genitals) of a love machine.
But no one wants to click a Twitter link that says “Academic Research Revealed To Be More Complicated Than We Can Cram Into 20 Words.” Hence Gizmodo’s terrifying headline, and other pieces which picked an interesting observation, then sold it to readers with something more juicy than the title in the conference schedule. The Register went with “Non-existent sex robots already burning holes in men’s pockets” in reference to a paper presented by Jessica Szczuka, in which men were quizzed about their possible intentions to buy a sex robot. The Daily Mail chose to highlight the data issues which arise from intimate connections with machines by telling us “Sex Robots Could Reveal Your Secret Perversions!”
They’re blunt tools, but they get people interested, and hopefully encourage people to read further into issues they might not previously have considered. For example, during her keynote talk, Dr Kate Devlin mentioned a robot which hit the headlines last year because it “looked like Scarlet Johansson”. She posed an ethical question for makers of realistic bots and dolls: how do you get permission from the person whose likeness you’re using? Alternatively: “Celebrities Could Sue Over Sex Robot Doppelgangers!”
Dr Devlin also questioned why research into care robots for elderly people doesn’t also include meeting their sexual needs (“Academic Demands Sex Toys For Pensioners”) and pointed out that while more established parts of the sex industry tend to be male-dominated, in the sex tech field pioneering women are leading the way (“Are Women The Future Of The Sex Industry?”).
Julie Wosk – professor of art history and author of “My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids and other artificial Eves” explored pop culture representations of sex robots, from Ex Machina’s Ava to Good Girl’s brothel-owned learning sex bot. Sex robots are most commonly female, beautiful and subservient, and Wosk pointed out that in pop culture they also have a tendency to rebel. Westworld, Humans, Ex Machina – all include strong, often terrifying, female robots who gain consciousness, and could be seen as a manifestation of society’s fears of women gaining power. Put a sub editor’s hat on and voila: “Is Feminism To Blame For Our Fear of Sex Robots?”
Dr Lynne Hall focused on user experience – while sex robots are often portrayed as humanoid, in fact a robot that pleasures you may be more akin to something you strap to your body while you watch porn. She went on to point out that porn made with one or more robotic actors has a number of interesting benefits such as a lower risk of STI transmission, and perhaps better performer safety, as robot actors replace potentially predatory porn actors (“Sex Robots Will Revolutionise Porn!”). David Levy, author of “Love and Sex with Robots”, gave a controversial keynote on the implications of robot consciousness when it comes to relationships: “Humans Will Marry Robots By 2050.”
In other presentations, designers and engineers showed off the real-life robots they had built. Cristina Portalès introduced us to ‘ROMOT’ – a robotic theatre which combines moving seats, smells, virtual reality and more to create a uniquely intense experience. But while the ROMOT team have no plans to turn it into a sex show, Cristina outlined how it could be used to enhance sexual experiences - using porn videos and sex scents to create a wholly X-rated experience. Or, if you prefer: ‘Immersive Sex Theatre Could Be The Future Of Swinging.’ Other designers showed off projects designed to increase human intimacy over a long distance – like ‘Kissinger’ (‘Remarkable Gadget Helps You Smooch A Lover Over The Internet’) and ‘Teletongue’ (‘With X-Rated Lollipop You Can Make Sweet Love At A Distance’).
You get the idea. If we had a classification system for science reporting, all these headlines would be flagged to let the user know that the actual story is far more complicated. But they’d also probably languish unclicked, meaning similar research is less likely to get covered in the future.
Towards the end of the conference one of the Q+A sessions moved into the area of science and tech communication. Inevitably, with so many journalists in the room, there was an uneasiness from some academics about the way in which the conference would be covered. As someone with a bee in my bonnet about the way sex is often reported in the mainstream media, I think this wariness is often justified. But while my initial reaction to Gizmodo’s headline was to roll my eyes, their presence – and that of other journalists – made the overall topic of robotic relationships and intimacy much more accessible to the public. There have been one or two swiftly-corrected inaccuracies, but the press presence means that what could otherwise have been a small conference just for academics has sparked debate around the world.
/ About us
Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.
The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies.
The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.
A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.
The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.
An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.
Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society
The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.
Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning bodily life. Such technologies will greatly enlarge the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make all kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.
Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence, expand human capabilities and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times. The final result at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.
This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive! Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.
Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots will become affordable and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however: humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover, prerequisites for a large-scale expansion into outer space will be created as well.
Key elements of the project in the future
• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of the project of "Immortality”.