Sex robots. Who isn’t fascinated by those? The tabloid press certainly is, with a host of stories appearing in recent weeks about a ‘sex robots festival’ due to take place in London this Christmas.
Naturally, we at Hot Octopuss wanted to find out more. So we tracked down Dr Kate Devlin, senior lecturer in computing and AI at Goldsmith’s University, who is actually organising the event – not a ‘festival’ but the International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots.
The festival will play host to academics from all over the world, from areas of study including robotics, artificial intelligence, philosophy and gender studies. They’ll gather to discuss the implications of love and sex with robots, working on the assumption that as this *will* happen one day, the potential ramifications should be considered sooner, rather than later. We asked Dr Devlin to tell us more…
HO: What initially drew you to sex applications of computing and AI?
KD: I was working in the areas of human-computer interaction (HCI) and artificial intelligence (AI), and a lengthy post-conference discussion in the pub brought up the topic of sex. And since I have more than a passing interest in sex (both academic and personal) the idea took hold. I also do a lot of work campaigning for equality in tech and I’m very motivated about supporting a feminist approach to technological development.
HO: How do you go about organising a conference on sex robots, and what are the key topics you’re hoping to cover?
KD: I got involved in the Love and Sex with Robots conference when I saw it had been banned in Malaysia and then again at City University here in London. My institution, Goldsmiths, University of London, didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked if we might host it here. There’s a reason our unofficial motto is “So fucking Goldsmiths”.
Although on first glance the subject of sex robots seems sensationalist and trivial, the conference covers a number of important topics: ethics and law, psychology, intelligent electronic sex hardware, philosophy, gender approaches. Sex is big business and the development of sex robots is going to happen whether we like it or not, so we need to be thinking about the implications now.
HO: The conference got a fair amount of controversy. Will you have robot security guards for this year’s event?
KD: Ha! The tabloids had a field day with the idea of the conference. I would like to make it very clear that despite their reports it is NOT a “festival” and we don’t show people how to have sex with a robot.
HO: Could you give some examples of things that sex robots could help with in terms of human relationships/lives?
KD: We’re already seeing Virtual Reality (VR) being used for therapeutic reasons and this could be extended to sex robots in areas such as sexual surrogacy, or treatments for sexual dysfunction. There are also arguments for and against using sex robots in situations such as paedophilia – for example, would this be a proxy that helps reduce real life abuse, or would it lead to abuse escalation?
HO: There are a lot of criticisms of sex robots on the grounds that they could ‘replace’ humans. Do you think this is likely, or are people panicking unnecessarily?
KD: For now, they are essentially a human-form sex toy – a mechanised sex doll. People have been using sex toys for millennia yet are still having great sex with each other. There’s a lot to be said for a human-human bond. That said, we see social changes from changes such as greatly increased accessibility to porn, in terms of attitudes to sexual practices.
In the future, as we move towards more life-like robots? Or a sentient machine? That’s the bit that needs research and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.
HO: What’s your favourite TV/Movie/Book that features robots?
KD: I love Chris Beckett’s The Holy Machine – a wonderfully imagined fundamentalist dystopia with a sex robot as a central character. It’s particularly resonant in an era of increasingly right-wing politics.
HO: If you could date a robot, which would it be?
KD: It would have to be Kryten from Red Dwarf, purely for the double polaroid. That said, Rachael from Bladerunner is a close second.
Sex robots: would you?
Naturally we at Hot Octopuss are fascinated by the intersection of technology and sex – not just sex robots but how advances in sex toy design can help bring people together. PULSE, for instance, was developed from medical technology that helped men with spinal cord injuries ejaculate, where previously they’d been unable to. And advances in virtual reality and teledildonics could facilitate sex over a distance, bringing you closer to people no matter where they are in the world. We’re looking forward to the International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots – and we can’t wait to see what interesting sex robots questions are raised over the two-day event.