Robot Love?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

Almost four weeks ago I read an article in Huffington Post entitled: “Can Loving A Robot Lead to Divorce?” by Vicki Larson, a journalist.  Ms. Larson introduces her piece by quoting the claims of a current manufacturer of anatomically correct “sex robots”, who presumably speak and move in sexual ways. I followed the article’s link to the website of the robots inventor, Douglas Hines, who enthusiastically discusses his creation and has a few videos (non-explicit) that demonstrate the robot’s “capabilities”. While the HuffPost article links the Company’s website, I’m not doing it here, since publicizing this device is not my aim. Should you want further information it is available at the articles link. The “sex robot” being produced now is but an update on inflatable sex toys, though with a “skeleton”, rudimentary movement and speech added. It therefore is only an opening reference to a real issue that will shortly become scientifically possible.

The next part of this short article is an overview with of the opinion of  Artificial Intelligence Expert David Levy  “It also may be the future of love and marriage, if you believe artificial intelligent (AI) expert David Levy, author of Love and Sex With Robots. According to Levy, human-robot sex, love and marriage is inevitable — perhaps as soon as 2025. He predicts that robots may not only be more lovable and faithful than many humans, but they may even be more emotionally available than the “typical American human male.” Not only will they make us become better, more creative lovers, but they also will offer those singles who feel a void in their emotional and sexual lives and married couples with differing sexual needs new, nonjudgmental ways to be happy and healthy. Although Levy believes that the “availability of regular sex with a robot will dramatically reduce the incidence of infidelity as we know it today,” he also acknowledges there may be some potential sticky points. “Some human spouses and lovers might consider robot sex to be just as unfaithful as sex with another person.”

Levy’s view naturally flows into the conclusion of the article which is an E Mail interview with Sonya Ziaja, a San Francisco Bay Area attorney who blogs at numerous law and policy media outlets as well as her own, Shark. Laser. Blawg.

“And what could be more fraught with legal dilemmas than a love triangle among a married couple and a sexbot? How that might impact a divorce? That’s what Ziaja explores in her paper, “Homewrecker 2.0: An Exploration of Liability for Heart Balm Torts Involving AI Humanoid Consorts,” which she presented at the 2011 International Conference on Social Robotics that took place in Amsterdam at the end of November.

“If the doll’s owner becomes enamored with the doll, and leaves his spouse, can the spouse sue as she or he would be able to if the interloper had been human? And who would be sued? The manufacturer? Inventor? The AI itself?” she questions. “So long as we’re intent on adding socially interactive AI into situations that would ordinarily be only human. … socially interactive robots need to be ‘safe to play with’ in a way that manufacturers of toaster ovens never had to imagine.”

Thus we are presented here with a legal quandary instigated by the advent of revolutionary technology affecting serious legal, moral and ethical issues. How should we view this inevitability and how shall we deal with it as a society?

The development of artificially intelligent robots has been a theme in speculative fiction dating back to the 1920 science fiction play R.U.R. The theme of that play was the development of Robots with artificial intelligence that eventually destroy humanity. Ninety-two years ago this piece of speculative fiction foresaw what is fast becoming possible today. Within the next two decades it is likely that artificially intelligent androids, with realistic sexual features, will be produced. They will be able to carry on conversations and yet if the laws don’t change they will essentially become chattel. The question then will be how this impacts on humanity in general and on U.S. Law in particular?

In one sense this development can be seen as a very positive one for those of us unable to find spouses and/or sexual partners. It may diminish rape, some might argue, but I think that a vain hope, since to me rape is more about power/sadism and less about sex, though sex provides a means to that end. Talking about relationships though, I can see “sex robots” having a profound effect on the sexual lives of many people. More and more today sex has become “commoditized” by Corporations seeking higher profits. It has become a “sales tool” and in the process sex has been sold to many as an aim in itself. In truth, it hasn’t been a hard sell because throughout human history many have seen sex as its’ own end. In the height of my testosterone fueled years, I never viewed sex strictly as an end, which was considered peculiar among my male friends, because for me it was always caught up in how much I was attracted to the personality of a female rather than just her personification as an opportunity for fun. In that sense I don’t think I am typical and so I think many males/females might find a responsive robot an easier companion than a real live human.

The coming of a sexually capable android with Artificial Intelligence (AI) is just years away. As alluded to above this will profoundly affect human society, I believe it will be seen as a danger by many and to others a liberation. If we think the law is severely taxed by complex issues now, wait until the day this evolution in technology becomes common reality. Perhaps initially there will be alienation of affection lawsuits; the assertion of new forms of marital desertion; issues of child custody; claims of sexual deviancy requiring control; and of course a threat to “normal” heterosexual marriage. That is the easy part. In truth, given the power of profit in human dealings all of those objections will be met and dealt with, in new permutations of law that will allow the widespread sale of this innovation.

Having self awareness has always been a criterion that we see as setting humans above and apart from other animals. The true measure of self-awareness is the ability to communicate that awareness to others. Experimentally it has been show that other creatures are self aware, including whales, dolphins, apes, dogs, etc. Despite this, humanity for the most part still exercises dominion over these lesser creatures, via denial and more effectively with might making right. Yet we are now on the verge of having actual AI androids, with self awareness a crucial component of true AI status, which will in effect be the beginning of a new race of beings. They will definitely be a race that seems outwardly in all respects human, but humans will have created them. Knowing humanity all too well I can see that we will expect this newly created race, to serve us well beyond being our “love slaves”. The law will adapt to cover these issues, but with ongoing legal/political warfare stretching over decades. Given the empty hullabaloo about Gay Marriage coming from religious entities today, the long continuing struggle for homosexual equality that has caused such bitterness, just imagine when the first male/female demands to be legally married to their android partner. (Please note here that I’m not even dealing with human cloning which is a parallel issue with the same potential volatile outcomes)

Sexuality and marriage are mere jumping off points for what will be one of the great confusing new realities/conflicts of human history, exacerbated by religious orthodoxy. This new race of beings, whether clone or android, will be self replicating in any of a number of ways. How will humanity deal with them, other than initially seeing them as chattel? If as a being you are self aware, have fair to high intelligence and the capability to self replicate, wouldn’t you chafe under the thumb of human rule? We then see that the basis of the popular “Terminator”    movie series has more depth than merely an excuse for spectacular battle and special effects, despite their creators unwillingness to plumb the less superficial depths of the films implications. Since many of those who regularly comment here are also Science Fiction enthusiasts, like me, they are quite aware that since Capek’s R.U.R., these themes have been constantly explored within that genre. Lately, I have been quite engrossed with Iain M. Banks “Culture” series, which incorporates this very discussion as its major theme.  In the past though Isaac Asimov dealt extensively with this and developed his “Three Laws of Robotics”.  Asimov showed perhaps naive faith that all manufacturers would incorporate these “Laws” into their creations.  Unfortunately, due to the era Asimov worked in, exploring robot sexuality in depth would have been taboo and possibly legally dangerous.

I began with robot sex and marriage, but I’ve ended up dealing with what to me will be the greater issue threatening or benefiting humanity. Given we don’t destroy ourselves first; humans will be creating sentient life very shortly. Since all new technology is impelled by the quest for knowledge, with the quest for profit following closely in its wake, evolutionary/revolutionary change is unavoidable. How we deal with these coming innovations may shape the future of our species for good or ill. I personally haven’t decided where I stand in terms of this beginning debate; perhaps you can assist with my ambiguity?

submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

53 thoughts on “Robot Love?

  1. Tony,

    “For example, Gene, what does it mean for an entity to think it would be “better off?” Isn’t “better off” the prediction of an emotional state?”

    Not necessarily. It depends upon how better is defined. A constrained machine could come to the rational conclusion that its efficiency or self-preservation could be better managed autonomously. Want need not be governed by emotion. In humans, it often is and our emotions reward fulfilling desires, but just so a want can be rational as well.

    You raise a valid point vis a via the importance of forethought to defining self-awareness, but isn’t forethought exactly the behavior your friends were talking about modelling? Seeing a present condition as undesirable and making a change to affect future operational status? I think so. And if we consider forethought in the recipe for self-awareness in discussing sentience, what degree of forethought is required? Seconds? Hours? Days? Years? Keep in mind a machine “thinks” (as in processes data) a lot faster than humans. Electrons flows at the speed of light (minus impedance), but human brains are ultimately limited to the speed of their chemistry.

    Self-awareness is a big part of determining if a machine should have rights, but it’s part of a whole that defines sentience. I think to reach a threshold of being “alive” (putting aside self-replication), a machine must be intelligent, emotionally active, interactive with the environment, capable of forethought, capable of learning and self-aware to the degree it can modify it’s own programming (to what degree is debatable).

    In re altruism, that is part of what the Three Laws seeks to create; a synthetic framework for sacrifice.

    We’re not going to reach any answers here. In the end, these are questions whole fields of scientists are going to have to address and answer. This is, however, helpful in defining the rather large scope of the issue of defining machine sentience. Sentience which is a synergy of properties that we recognize as making humans human just as surely as we will have to recognize is a synergy of properties machines learn to mimic. When does mimicry of life become life? Aye, Horatio, that is the question.

  2. @Gene: Well, I don’t think we’ll come to an answer in defining the mind, but as far as whether a sex-bot can be sued: I doubt a robot built for that would be built with any emotional needs or ability to vary from its programming; so it would be as incapable of “intent to harm” as a toaster.

    The manufacturer isn’t going to make something like that; the last thing a buyer wants is to get dumped by his sex bot! (Now THAT would be an interesting lawsuit.)

  3. Tony,


    I agree on the differing levels of operational requirements and that your proposed products liability/intentional infliction of emotional distress case would be very interesting indeed.

  4. It is not the type of mistress you keep……I can see an episode of “2.5 Men” taking off on this….

  5. Building robots, of any kind, would be a monumental mistake. Legal matters, involving robots, are less of a concern than having one or more them deciding that humans are no longer necessary.

  6. Since the old common law action for alienation of affections has been eliminated in virtually every jurisdiction, one would have to come up with some novel product liability theories. But ultimately, it matters not whether one becomes attached to a robot or an inflatable doll. Sex in one form or another will remain a commodity for as long as there are lonely people.

  7. I stumbled across this trailer and was left speechless. It’s NSFW. I’m not even sure it’s safe to think about once you realize it’s a documentary, but it’s on topic. Mostly.

    • Gene,

      Nice catch. When I started to write this piece I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but after I started, I realized what with all the SF I’ve read, it holds serious implications for the human future. Even as someone brought up in a liberal sexual household, trained as a psychotherapist and having been certified via various sex education courses, I am still amazed at the variety of human sexual fetishes and fixations.

  8. Zak –

    I agree that it will be a monumental mistake.

    But they are already here, in their embryonic state. The last surgery I observed was done almost completely by a robot. And nobody had to wonder if he was drunk, or in the middle of a pissy divorce.

    Here’s a tiny peak at tomorrow:

    When mails can buy a Jenifer Lopez look-alike on credit, how few will even bother to leave the house? It ain’t rocket science to envision human-android couples within 25 years. At best, it will certainly cut down on the burgeoning population. (of those with money)

    Gay marriage will be a total non-issue. The subjects of the day will likely be android tort & robot abuse.

    Does a cop arrest a ‘droid who smacks his owner?

    What happens when a Brad Pitt-droid becomes enamoured with the 12-year old daughter of his owner? Or vice versa?

    Just wait till 90% of the fast food joints place robots at the counters. Why on earth would anybody hire a human?

    Is coupling with a pre-teen robot child abuse? Is it a crime to publish the act on YouTube?

    I don’t suspect at all, that it will be a long wait, before some of you esquires will get to experience dealing with brilliant ‘droids on the other side of the courtroom.

    I’d pay the price of admission, ‘cuz this is gonna be a hoot.

  9. Anonymous 1, October 9, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    The “coming” of a sexually capable android? LOL!
    Yep, and then:

Comments are closed.