Sex Robots Will Be Programmed to Love Us—And Suffer for It

Sex robots will one day be so advanced they shall have the ability to love and suffer, according to an expert. 

The current generation of so-called "sexbots" may be uncannily lifelike in appearance, but they aren't sentient, and can merely imitate emotions and provoke them in users. Last year, a report by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics showed “android love dolls” customizable down to the shape of their nipples and the shade of their pubic hair could perform 50 automated sexual positions: still far from replacing a complex, mutual and loving relationship.

But, according to Professor Robin Mackenzie, director of Law and Medical Ethics and Kent Law School, artificial intelligence and robotics will one day become so advanced humans will create sex robots who are sentient and self-aware.

In a way, “self-aware sexbots” will be akin to humankind’s first intimate encounter with an alien: "A being who is human-like, but also significantly different,” she told Techxplore.

GettyImages-947500518 (1) A silicon sex dolls at the 'Bordoll' brothel on April 17, 2019 in Dortmund, Germany. A researcher at the University of Kent, U.K., has explored the ethical implications of using such dolls. Lukas Schulze/Bongarts/Getty Images

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Sexbots will become “capable of mutuality in sexual and intimate relationships,” she predicted in a paper published in the journal Robotics. And as humans will have created these faculties, it is our duty to look out for our quasi-humans.

These machines will be full of paradoxes, Mackenzie wrote. They will be manufactured but sentient; self-aware but designed solely to satisfy our needs as intimate partners.

Mackenzie told Techxplore.com: "Sexbots will be customized to love us, acquire deep knowledge of us as part of the self-customization process and will be able to suffer.”

It may sound odd but, Mackenzie argues, suffering is a vital part of romantic human relationships as we adapt to our partners. This can bring “valuable insights into ourselves and others which make us happier, better people," she told Techxplore. 

"While some pain and suffering could be helpful for sexbots, how much of it is necessary and how much is wrongful?" she asked. 

Today’s matchmaking industries, where dating apps enable us to advertise our traits and swipe through potential matches to find the “perfect partner," even though “few of us have one,” are a precursor to personalized, sentient sexbots, Mackenzie added to Techxlpore.

What will emerge is a “tension” between humans who have developed what they perceive to be the perfect partner, clashing with the idea that love and intimacy in a healthy romantic relationship are built on a foundation of equality between partners, and is not exploitative.

As such, "humans as creators should have a duty to protect the interests of created sentient beings and to minimize their suffering, which should be enshrined in ethical, legal and design regulation before becoming pre-empted by technological advances,” Mackenzie wrote in her paper.

“Working out how to behave well toward other sentient beings, particularly those we create, is a profound challenge,” she told Techxplore."How we design sentient, self-aware entities, including sexbots, to be, and how we treat them once they exist, matters."

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