Love, Sex & Robots

I love technology in the same way I love weather — it’s liable to change every 5 minutes; sometimes it’s great and you’re really happy with it; sometimes it’s dramatic and exciting; and, sometimes it just totally pisses you off.  I love technology, but I’m by no stretch of the imagination, a techno-geek. I don’t keep up on what’s happening minute-by-minute. I won’t stand in line for 2 days to be the first one to own whatever Apple is launching on a particular day. And I’m not really into science fiction – even though the science fiction of today becomes the science fact of tomorrow.

For instance, I haven’t thought too much about robots. I just assumed they were 1960s science fiction things and that the closest we could really come to actual robots is owning robotic vacuum cleaners. That was so silly of me.

The other day, I read this article in the Globe & Mail and  I thought, “holy shit!” And then I looked up some more stuff.

Did you know that the Japanese are actually building robots — androids — that look exactly like humans? Like this guy.

One of them is the android and one of them is the guy who helped make him. I can’t tell the difference, can you? And this isn’t just a wax figure – this is a fully functioning robot. A robot that can walk and run, respond to questions, make decisions, help with household chores and who-knows-what-else.

The South Koreans (Samsung) are using robots to patrol their borders and say that there will be a robot in every home by 2020.

So, this Globe article asks, what’s going to happen when humans get attached to these robots and the robots get attached to humans. What if they fall in love with each other? These robots will look like humans. They will possess extreme intelligence, be self-aware, think and even be able to feel. Scientists are apparently foreseeing human-android romantic relationships as a distinct possibility.

Writing in the journal Computer Law and Security Review, Anna Russell of the University of San Diego asserts that the cyborg (humanoid robot) can no longer be regarded merely as a literary device in science-fiction stories. For all practical purposes, cyborgs exist. And it is inevitable that complicated legal issues will arise, she says, as soon as traditional human “love lines” are blurred, when humans become intimate with machines.

David Levy, President of the International Computer Games Association has written a book, Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships which does a fairly thorough examination of the whole concept of human-robot love and sex relations.

It was just 30 years ago that a madcap crazy nerd called Bill Gates was predicating a computer in every home and most people at the time thought that was a ridiculous fantasy.

The American Bar Association is already puzzling out all the legalities that are bound to arise from the assimilation of robots into our society – specifically liability issues surrounding the actions of robots.

The other day on her blog, Zoom  asked if we wanted to live long enough to witness aliens visiting earth. Most people said no. Now I want to ask if you want to be around to live among robots/androids/cyborgs and why?  What are we going to do about the whole robot-human dating paradigm? What if they go nuts and try to kill us all? (Like the robot soldier  back in 2007 in South Africa that went crazy, killed 9 people and injured 14 more?). Would you like to have a robot lover? The thought certainly makes the mind race with possibilities, doesn’t it?

And, if you haven’t seen him yet, please watch this video of Honda’s robot, ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). They’ve deliberately not given him any human features, but tell me this doesn’t still freak you out a little.

PS: This post is for a special boy who, I’m told,  really likes robots and who’s having a very special birthday this week. 


43 responses to “Love, Sex & Robots

  1. I’d rather meet some aliens from outer space than live in a world of robots. Maybe that’s because I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was only 7 – and H.A.L. wasn’t very nice. I do like phone robots though. I’d rather be asked questions by a phone robot and have to push a few buttons than have to talk to a pimply kid that’s being paid just over minumum wage.

  2. Isaac Asimov wrote some interesting stories based on the concept of human-robot interactions which are probably very realistic (I, Robot) but there have been other interesting stories which have been made into movies like “Bicentennial Man” and “Artificial Intelligence”.

    I find the concept freaky. We really need to examine, understand and anticipate the social and psychological impacts and problems of many of the technological advances of our time. For example, if everything was automated, would we become anti-social blobs of fat as depicted in the movie “Wall-E”?

  3. I liked the video. And I wouldn’t mind living with robots. The loaded question could be, “would you let your daughter marry one?”… and I’d have to honestly say it wouldn’t bother me. Relationships and emotions are complicated and simple at the same time. It’s difficult to pinpoint how they grow, but on the other end, if a robot is created that can think and feel, what’s the difference between us and them really?

  4. I want a robot that looks and talks like me.

    Then I’ll send it to work, and stay home 😉

    (The robot might actually get more accomplished, too. Very sad.)

  5. “Self aware” robots while an interesting fantasy are a very long way off.
    I can see advantages to having a lifelike robotic significant other over a flesh and blood significant other.
    In particular a “mute button”.

  6. I used to think the Jetson’s life might work for me….a robot to clean and cook. I could use the help. Now that I see the commercial and that creepy human twin robot I’m freaked out. Robots in every home by 2020? I guess we’d have to get rid of our VHS first….

  7. Somewhere along my long and winding path of web crawling I read about a condition where real flesh and blood human beings fall in love with inanimate objects such as bridges, sculptures, and subway trains. Thus I expect falling in love with a robot would be very easy, especially if it looks like a human being.
    It takes a wide variety of people to make a society, an even stranger collection make up a global community.

  8. Dr. Monkey – What about android-human or cyborb-human or android-cyborg??

    Geewits – I think I’d rather live with robots than aliens. Robots are just machines – I’ve lived with machines a long time. Aliens are just too alien. Ha.

    LGS – Yes! Our creativity often gets way ahead of us. All the great things they predicted when computers first made an appearance – how they were going to save us so much time and we’d have way more liesure time (the 4-day work week). No one ever anticipated how much more work computers would generate or that they would lead to obesity in our children. So probably the robot future would be more like Wall-E…unless we had robot lovers. They’re bound to keep us super-active.

    Christine – The video was amazing. I don’t think robots could procreate could they? So if you marry a robot you wouldn’t be able to have kids together. Of course people can still have IVF. I don’t know if I’d be happy about my daughter marrying a robot. I guess I’d have to meet him and see.

    Brett – I guess that’s the general idea. They do all the stuff you don’t want to do.

    Lebowski – Are you sure they’re a long way off? Because from what I’ve read it’s not that much of a fantasy. We’ll see, I guess. And yes, I can see why your spouse would want a mute button for you.

    MM – Don’t get rid of the VHS…let the robot do it. 2020 doesn’t seem that far off, does it? A cleaning robot would be great. Also a robot that would go to work in my place like Brett suggested. I think I can handle everything else myself.

    OCDriver2010 – Indeed. They already have those Real Girl dolls and lots of men are having pretty intense relationships with those and they’re completely inanimate.

  9. My ex is a science fiction writer. He LOVES android/human love affairs, and he forsees a time when it becomes a fetish that borders on a sexual dysfunction.

    I can’t tell you how many times I was forced to watch Cherry 2000.

    Personally I’d fall in love with an android I didn’t need to cook for, share a bathroom with, and who I could email my honey do list to and see it get done! He or she wouldn’t need a face or be anatomically correct for me to have my heart go pitter pat!

  10. I think I’d go for robots over aliens.

    But I keep thinking of the ethical side of it. As these robots evolve to become ever more “human” what place do they have in society? Do they have rights? Are they our slaves or our equals? Do we end up with a civil rights movement à la 60s US?

    The film Blade Runner comes to mind…

  11. I remember reading an old Ray Bradbury story. You pay a fee to a company, who makes a duplicate robot of a person you hate. And then you get to murder them.

    But the robots are so much like the real thing, that the Law decides that it’s the same as killing the real person.

    So the hero of the story ends up in jail for killing a duplicate of his nagging abusive wife. So in the end, she wins.

  12. I can’t believe no one has mentioned those iconic movies of the 70s, “Westworld” and “The Stepford Wives”! Maybe it was the fashions… shiver. Or Yul Brynner.

  13. If you married a robot would they let themselves go after the ceremony?

    Would they ask if their butt looked fat in their pants?
    And if you said yes would they punch you to a pulp with their metal hands?

    Would they get headaches when you wanted sex?

    Would you have to buy them heart shaped boxes of bolts for Valentines Day?

    WD40 on Mother’s day?

    Science has a lot of questions to deal with before robots become popular..

  14. Mudmama – Your ex’s vision of human-robot love isn’t very pleasant. I reckon, like you that it will be more of a deep appreciation of them looking after us and protecting us and always being there. How could you not fall in love with such devotion?

    Friar – Yes, I would assume robots have higher standards that those we subject humans to. As to Ray Bradbury – seems like a waste of a perfectly good robot to just kill them. It would make more sense to kill the original nasty person and then keep the robot version to do your bidding.

    Jazz- Exactly. This is what the legal minds and ethicists are grappling with. Will robots get to vote? Be held responsible for bad things they do? We wouldn’t be able to enslave them for long as they’d be smarter than us.

    Julia – I think there are tons of these movies. They did a remake of Stepford Wives, didn’t they? With updated fashions?

    Glen – I’d want to know how you deal with the aging thing if you marry a robot. You’d keep getting older, but he’d stay the same – unless he came with a kit so you could pull out his hair, add wrinkles, sag the plastic-flesh. There are indeed a lot of questions that need answering before we plunge headlong into robot love.

  15. All I know is that I can agree to human robot love as long as it is between members of the opposite sex. Anything else would just be wrong and the MM would have to proclaim laws against it and perhaps even have tea parties.

  16. People treat their roombas like pets and there are already men all over the world in committed relationships with Realdolls (Lars and the Real Girl is actually a pretty interesting movie on the topic, but there’s some good documentaries on the subject too).
    As soon as they start making sex robots, they will find buyers who want them.

    But I think we’re a long ways away from accepting robots as self-aware beings with the same rights as people. I imagine things will be more like how droids are treated in Star Wars – sentient robots that are bought and sold as shiny metal slaves

  17. Dave1949 – Well, of course. That goes without saying. Same sex robot love – the very idea!!

    Grouchy – I’m not taking bets, but I think you’re right…if you’re talking about the one on the right-hand side.

    Allison – Yes! I mentioned Real Girls in a previous comment. I have no doubt that men would be lining up to have robot lovers. I’m pretty sure there would even be women lining up for robot lovers. I think we could only treat them like shiny metal slaves for so long before people started to protest. If enough people fall in love with their robots they’re going to start demanding rights for them. And the robots might demand some rights of their own. It would be so much fun to look back on this post years from now when there are actually robots in every home just to see how crazy we were.

    Geewits – Aha! How do you know that? There are several Royal Oaks around the city. They don’t have much of a beer selection however. And I’m sure there are other pubs with fireplaces, too, but like I mentioned, they have weird rules here. The really hot Easter weekend we went to a pub because they have a great patio and they didn’t have their patio open because they “never open their patio until the end of May”. But…but…it’s patio weather now?? Likewise, I think with the fireplaces. After a certain pre-scheduled date, they won’t turn them on anymore. Here’s a link for a place that probably has the best beer selection in the city. Check out their beer menu:

  18. I wonder how much Honda had to pay to Stephen Harper to appear in this video?
    Sorry – couldn’t resist.
    As for robots, meh. I’m waiting for the flying cars.

  19. Hi Xup, thanks for the shout-out, even if it does make me more vulnerable to identity theft, at least it puts it on the electronic record that I love robots.

    This could save my life when the robots rebel and exterminate their human oppressors. (Like Brett who plans to send his robot to replace him at work.)

  20. I am just completely stuck on this human-robot sex thing. I mean, can a robot get excited and get a hard-on and all that? I say hooray to that!

    I really don’t know why I say hooray to that; I just feel like I should.

    And lastly, I had not heard any of this. As Mistah would say, I’m always the last to know.

  21. Trashy – Aw come on…that robot was cute and whimsical. Why do you want to go and diss him like that?

    Grouchy – Ok. I don’t understand what you just said.

    David Scrimshaw – I was very careful not to mention a specific day or which birthday it is, so it would take people a long time to get the right combination in order to steal your identity. And it’s a well-known fact, that identity thieves are lazy, so they probably won’t bother. I only hope the robots come before the aliens do, otherwise a lot of us here are going to be in big trouble.

    Ellie – I didn’t know either, don’t worry. Did Mistah know?

  22. I’m old fashioned, I treat my dog like a roomba – we call “woofba!” and she comes and licks up the floor under the diningroom table. She’s also programmed to follow small children hoovering up the crumbs that they shed. All that and her paws smell like popcorn, and she keeps my feet warm at the end of the bed.

  23. If economic growth and technological development, I expect sex robots to be common in developed countries within fifty years.

    It will be interesting to see what effect that will have on human relationships. It is easy to see how some people might become dangerously obsessed and disconnected, but it might be quite beneficial to others, overall.

  24. Mudmama – Interesting. If I didn’t have to spend some portion of my day handling poop, I might get me one of them woofbas.

    Lebowski – Yes. Perhaps. I’m sure there are other ways to shut you up when necessary.

    Darrell – That’s hilarious. I have the same question as one of the commenters – Does it have a reservoir and/or is it anatomically correct?

    Milan – They could easily take the place of human prostitutes, for instance. Then it would be less morally objectionable (to those who morally object to it) decriminalize prostitution perhaps. As to how they will affect human relationships, I think robots would be more inclined to form relationships with other robots than with humans even if humans want to have relationships with robots – only because right now it looks like there will be an uneven power balance for a long time (e.g. – robots will be created to serve us, not to be our equals)

  25. I very much doubt we will see robots that are in any way self aware in our lifetimes. Probably nowhere near as intelligent as dogs or octopodes.

    That said, they will likely be programmed to be convincing in impersonating humans in specific activities.

    As for human prostitution, I don’t see any problems with it, provided nobody is being coerced. Indeed, people who have chosen it as a profession might be justifiably offended to hear that robots might take their place.

  26. re: Dave1949’s comment:
    Guy goes to psychiatrist:
    “Doc every night I dream about having sex with a horse.”
    “Is the horse a mare or a stallion?”
    “MARE of course! What do you think I am, a PERVERT?”

  27. If you fall in love with your Robot and the Robot falls in love with you…you both may have a screw loose. Wait…if they come out one that looks like Kate Winslet…I take this all back…because… would be Kate Winslet and who wouldn’t …

  28. Milan – One thing I’ve discovered about technology is that no matter how hard us regular folk try to figure out what may or may not be available in the future, our imaginations are limited when it comes to stuff like this and we’re always awed by what they come out with. When I was a kid there was lots of talk about a future where we would be able to see the people we were talking to on the phone. There was so much speculation around that one, but we didn’t really come close to imagining Skype. The fax machine was also a mysterious puzzle when we first heard about it. I’m pretty sure it will be the same with robots. People in 50 years will be reading stupid things we said about robots in 2010 and laugh at us.

    Lebowski – Indeed.

    Cedar – I think you’ll be able to order your robot to look like anything or anyone you want. Even if they weren’t “fully-functioning” it would still be fun to have a hottie around the house to do your every bidding.

  29. It is very easy to imagine self-aware robots. People have been doing it for ages. Lots of other things that are easy to imagine have also proved impossible in practice: interstellar or faster than light travel, computers that can accurately recognize speech, etc.

    One thing that is exceptionally difficult (impossible so far) is making a machine that is genuinely intelligent and self-aware.

    The machines that beat chess champions are just brute force beasts based around simple algorithms. They have no creativity or understanding.

    Psychology is nowhere near comprehending the nature of consciousness, and roboticists and computer scientists are even farther from replicating it.

    Of course, making a sex robot that provides a reasonable facsimile of human behaviour is an infinitely simpler undertaking.

  30. Milan – That’s sort of what I meant. We can imagine all sorts of stuff, but it’s not usually how things turn out. Not that science always goes beyond what we imagine; often it just goes into a totally different direction. In the 1960s people actually believed that in 2000 we’d be living a Jetson’s lifestyle with hovercrafts and machines that made food for us at the press of a button (the microwave comes close) and settlements on the moon and other crazy stuff. But it never occured to us that we could have computers that fit in the palm of our hands or that we would have any use for something like that. The internet was never dreamed of by us lay-folk. Even simple stuff like DVDs was beyond our imaginations. Anyway, it’s good to know that the sex robots are possible.

  31. re: Milan on sex robots

    I agree the technology now exists to make a human sex robot. What I find most fascinating is the demand for such a product. In my estimation it is another piece of evidence toward the proof something has gone terribly wrong within humanity.

    From another point of view: there exist drugs which would render the entire population of earth blissfully happy. Anyone with the interest could spend the rest of their lives blissed out. No need to invest in sex robots, video games, or any other of a large number of diversions, adopted in the daily quest for happiness, would be unnecessary.

    Yet somehow it would not be considered acceptable to allow the population to self medicate their state of bliss. Instead there are industries dedicated to providing a wide variety of substitutes for healthy social interaction. The invention of sex robots will increase the number of standard deviations between well balanced healthy people and people at the extreme edge of our society.

  32. From another point of view: there exist drugs which would render the entire population of earth blissfully happy.

    This really isn’t true. There are plenty of drugs that will make people euphoric for a while. But the more days in a row you take them for, the less effect they have. Eventually, all they do is eliminate cravings. They don’t make you euphoric at all.

    Indeed, we don’t even have any terribly good anti-depressants. Those that exist all have problematic side effects.

    Nothing like ‘soma’ from Brave New World exists, or seems to be on the cusp of development.

  33. As for sex robots, I don’t think they would necessarily make people more deviant. It seems plausible that they would allow people to address their interests and fantasies in a way that is safe and harmless.

    Of course, people are capable of abusing almost anything.

  34. Hey Milan,
    I don’t have any experience with non prescription drugs, and very limited experience with prescription drugs, however I have been rendered pharmacologically carefree on a couple of occasions, thus my comments regarding bliss. I admit the practical details of staying that way are beyond my knowledge.

    My point : even if “we” had the capability, society would not accept the concept of large numbers of people being perpetually stoned. Thus it seems strange the same society is ready and willing to accept a wide variety of substitute activities designed to keep people happy without producing any other value.

    When it comes to seeking enjoyment, people seem more and more interested in sitting alone with a computer (in various forms) than going out into the real world, getting some healthy exercise and interacting with other people. From what I have been reading over the past year, more and more research is revealing the cure for much of what ails members of our society is produced by poor eating habits, poor exercise habits and a lack of quality social interaction.

  35. Oops: I need to correct the mangled text in previous message:

    The cure for much of what ails members of our society is produced by improving eating habits, exercise habits and increasing the frequency of good social interactions.

  36. cloning/copying humans is a little scary for me, i like the idea of a robot to do housework and stuff but i think they should stand out as separate (like the video you linked) as a clear boundary to avoid all the side stuff that’ll come along.