Space Ramblings

Sex with Robots: When Futurism Goes Dumb and Dumber

Sometimes futurism is inspiring. Sometimes it teaches us that anything is possible. And sometimes it’s really really stupid.

“My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots,” artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience.

Levy recently completed his Ph.D. work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it.

At first, sex with robots might be considered geeky, “but once you have a story like ‘I had sex with a robot, and it was great!’ appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I’d expect many people to jump on the bandwagon,” Levy said.

First of all can whoever runs the University of Maastricht seriously do a reality check here. I know it’s Holland and all but there’s a difference between actual research and the sort of stuff people write up on Star Trek boards because they’re really bored. Levy’s PhD thesis falls into that category.

First of all, joking aside about Massachusetts, for marriage with robots to be legalized by 2050 that presumes that some time before this robots will be recognized as citizens with rights equivalent to human beings. That means either artificial intelligence by say the 2030’s or 2040’s at the latest… or legislators who have defined intelligence and the very notion of rights so far down that they’ll grant them to non-sapient machines. The second is far more plausible than the first, especially in Massachusetts or California. Hell they’ve got a robot governor already.

Secondly without artificial intelligence, robots are nothing more than toys or manual aids. Cosmo has plenty about manual aids in there already I’m sure, all part of the fun fearless female thing. But does anyone marry a manual aid? Maybe in France where you can also marry a corpse. Will there be sex with robots by 2050? Undoubtedly. If there’s anything the internet has shown us it’s that sex is big business and while maintenance, repetitive labor and housekeeping are major robotics applications, sex will undoubtedly not be far behind. But marriage is a partnership of mutual intelligences.

Not only has science fiction explored this idea, but 40 years ago, scientists noticed that students at times became unusually attracted to ELIZA, a computer program designed to ask questions and mimic a psychotherapist.

Sure and ducks become attracted to wire mothers. Lars and the Real Girl is headed to theaters now. But no one is marrying dolls or giving them citizenship. Human delusions notwithstanding.

In his thesis, “Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners,” Levy conjectures that robots will become so human-like in appearance, function and personality that many people will fall in love with them, have sex with them and even marry them.

“It may sound a little weird, but it isn’t,” Levy said. “Love and sex with robots are inevitable.”

Well there are people who today will marry horses and love them but that doesn’t make horse marriage legal or sane. There are people who fall in love with skyscrapers for pete’s sake. Yes there are. It’s an actual thing. There’s a vast difference between delusional behavior and sane behavior in relationships and between a larger social trend and individual eccentricities.

Presuming a lifelike robot, no doubt some men will develop feelings for it. Plenty of men today have strong feelings for their dogs and cars. And like them the robot will be an object. You can marry a robot if you choose or toss it off the roof. It doesn’t matter because it’s not really alive in the first place. That’s the distinction Levy is missing.

“One hundred years ago, interracial marriage and same-sex marriages were illegal in the United States. Interracial marriage has been legal now for 50 years, and same-sex marriage is legal in some parts of the states,” Levy said. “There has been this trend in marriage where each partner gets to make their own choice of who they want to be with.”

Can you have a big cup of shut the hell up here? There is a fundamental difference between marriage with people and inanimate objects. It’s degrading to African-Americans to compare them to machines. Who you want to be with is not about choosing an object but creating a partnership with a person. A thinking person. Are you getting this now, Levy?

“Massachusetts is more liberal than most other jurisdictions in the United States and has been at the forefront of same-sex marriage,” Levy said. “There’s also a lot of high-tech research there at places like MIT.”

Also if we put LSD in the drinking water, it might happen. Does Levy even understand the concept of marriage. His whole theory here suggests he doesn’t. A marriage occurs as a social contract. Robots cannot enter into social contracts. Marriage has social benefits and income benefits, it represents a division of labor and a legal agreement. Robots can’t do any of those things. Neither can tables.

Although roboticist Ronald Arkin at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta does not think human-robot marriages will be legal anywhere by 2050, “anything’s possible. And just because it’s not legal doesn’t mean people won’t try it,” he told LiveScience.

“Humans are very unusual creatures,” Arkin said. “If you ask me if every human will want to marry a robot, my answer is probably not. But will there be a subset of people? There are people ready right now to marry sex toys.”

And thankfully a ray of sanity emerges from Georgia. Who would have thought it?

The main benefit of human-robot marriage could be to make people who otherwise could not get married happier, “people who find it hard to form relationships, because they are extremely shy, or have psychological problems, or are just plain ugly or have unpleasant personalities,” Levy said. “Of course, such people who completely give up the idea of forming relationships with other people are going to be few and far between, but they will be out there.”

See Lars and the Real Girl. Or Norman Bates.

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  • Mike October 21, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    I agree that sex, or marriage with a robot is pretty dang stupid.
    what i disagree with is the point at which a robot stops being just a machine running a program and becomes an entity that can actually express concepts that it conceives of itself in a meaningful way, in the same method that humans can think, and react according to their own personal preferences and emotions. essentially, when does it stop making a difference whether or not you are human, and when does it start making a difference if you are self conscious?
    if robots (andriods) that are capable of self actualization are never made, and we only have robots that can mimic the behavior of humans in the manner in which they are programed, than, yes, its an idiototic idea to ever want to marry them.
    but, when does the pupil become the master? or rather, when is it that a mechanical device is not only just, but an actual form of intelligent life, that is indeed capable of all of the necessities of that definition?

    an interesting reference for those who enjoy the philosophical arguments in this post, would be the battlestar galactica remake series. of particular interest are the scenes involving athena and her husband (who i do not remember the name of).

  • O_Deus October 21, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    well I would argue that for a robot to be recognized as a unique being, it would have to transcend its programming and begin originating behaviors and concepts, rather than just reproducing them

    That is the point at which the pupil becomes the master, hopefully though robots will not be surpassing us anytime soon, as BSG shows that tends to end badly

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