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It's time for a long, hard mass debate over sex robots, experts conclude

Society has yet to – and perhaps never will – come to terms with creepy kid love dolls

By Thomas Claburn, 6 Jul 2017

Sex robots may reduce sex crimes, or make them more common. According to "Our Sexual Future With Robots," a report published Wednesday by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, it could go either way.

The title of the report describe sex robots as inevitable, but the text within has more questions than answers. About the only conclusion that emerges from the report is that men find the idea of sex robots more appealing than women, by about two to one.

Yet even this is open to question due to the small number of participants in cited surveys and the acknowledgement by Aimee van Wynsberghe, assistant professor of ethics and technology at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and Noel Sharkey, professor of AI and robotics at the UK'S University of Sheffield, that the phrasing of survey questions and lack of participant knowledge about sex robots may have skewed results.

The report attempts to summarize issues society will need to deal with as sex robots become more technologically feasible.

To be sure, we're not there yet. "Although no robot brothels have been opened yet, [Ian] Yeoman and [Michelle] Mars predict that the red light district in Amsterdam will have sex robot workers by 2050," the report states.

Sex robots thus look like they will reach some measure of acceptance around the same time that self-driving cars overtake human-driven vehicles. But where self-driving cars promise fewer traffic fatalities – something yet to be proven – sex robots don't offer obvious social benefits beyond stimulating the market for industrial disinfectants.

They may be harbingers of harm or therapeutic tools. A Japanese company called Trottla has been making "child look-alike sex dolls" for more than a decade. In 2013, according to the report, a Canadian man who ordered one was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography. The case is ongoing.

"For most of us, who are not sex criminals or trained therapists, there is an immediate visceral response and revulsion to the notion of child sex robots," the report says. "But there are a few who believe that they could help in therapeutic prevention to stop paedophiles offending or reoffending."

Less credible still is the mention of AI, the tech industry's magic pixie dust. Realdoll CEO Matt McMullen, interviewed for the paper, says, "AI is the key to all that we are working on. We hope to create an engaging experience with the AI alone, and from there the user can elect to connect the AI to either a robotic system or a VR system to interact with the real world and/or virtual worlds."

If you love chatting it up with Siri, this future's for you. ®

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