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Sex robots 'could be guilty of rape if their programming fails'
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Sex robots 'could be guilty of rape if their programming fails'

In an address scheduled for later this week at the 4th International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, Dr Levy will explain how these advances – which he expects to occur in the coming decade – will raise complex questions about consent and legality. While the first ‘true’ sex robots have just arrived on the market, in the shape of Matt McMullen’s Harmony’ and similar developments, he predicts a massive leap in the sophistication of sex robot technology. Romy Eskens, a researcher at Oxford and Stockholm universities, says these artificially intelligent devices: “… will be autonomous and interactive, with flesh-like skin, affective computing, highly developed sensory perception, refined language skills, the capacity to learn, and multiple pre-programmed personalities. “These sexbots of the near future will also display sentient behaviour, such as the experience of sexual pleasure…” She also predicts that these future sex robots will form “intimate sexual and emotional relationships with their users.”

Dr Levy anticipates that the robots “will be our equals or betters in many ways.” Which raises deep philosophical questions. Will it be seen as immoral to own a robot that is in many ways equal to a human? Does having sex with a robot constitute rape? He touches on the #MeToo movement, which over recent years has transformed the way we think about sexual consent. He points out that ‘male’ function sex robots will have access to a far wider range of information about consent than human males. But he also asks – if something goes wrong with that programming and a robot oversteps the agreed limits of sexual activity, who is responsible? The programmer or the owner?

He quotes the Legal Affairs Committee of the European parliament, which said in a 2016 report: “Damage caused by autonomous robots might also be traced back to user error. In such instances, either strict or fault-based liability may be imposed, depending on the circumstances.” As Dr Levy points out, this is uncomfortably close to victim-blaming: “This would seem to imply that, in some cases of inappropriate or illegal behaviour by a malebot seeking sex with a woman, the woman herself could be found to be liable. “To me this sounds too much like ‘She was asking for it’.”

He says that while we humans will have responsibilities to the robot, the robot should also have responsibilities towards its human sexual partner. Instead of sex robots like Matt McMullen’s ‘Harmony’ which could be said to be removing a layer of complexity in sexual relations, the next-gem sex robots predicted by Romy Eskens are about to make the world – and the bedroom – a much more complicated place. The proceedings of the Love and Sex with Robots conference are set to be published in “Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics”, edited by Professor Gregor Schöner from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.

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