There is increasing debate about the ethics of using robots for sex, with one ethicist going so far as to start a campaign to ban the development of robots designed to be used for sex.

Dr. Kathleen Richardson, a senior research fellow at De Montfort University, is leading the campaign and she contends that sex droids have the potential to strongly contribute to the continuing troubles of prostituted women and children.

Interestingly, Richardson’s background is not in engineering or robotics but rather anthropology.

She studies the ethics of robots and her early research led her to believe that the creation of sex-bots recreated what she claims is the “prostitute-john” relationship.

Richardson stated that, “I started thinking, ‘Oh, no, something needs to be said about this. This is not right.” Her findings were explained in a paper, “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots,” presented earlier this month.

She further stated that “I propose that extending relations of prostitution into machines is neither ethical, nor is it safe. If anything the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognize both parties as human subjects.” But when one party is an object – it is not a human subject, right?

She claims she is not anti-sex, but she does object to what she perceives as the unequal power relationship that is part of sex work between humans. She believes this may be replicated in human-robot encounters – that will then be reinforced in human-human encounters, creating a vicious circle.

“Technology is not neutral. It’s informed by class, race and gender. Political power informs the development of technology. That’s why we can do something about it. These robots will contribute to more sexual exploitation.”

While an interesting line of reasoning, Richardson does not seem to address the obvious issue of whether the increased use of sex-bots will actually diminish human-human prostitution.

When confronted with the notion that sex-bots were more akin to sex toys as opposed to prostitutes, Richardson stated that, “To call them toys is to understate the issue. It’s not as if it’s a Barbie. The better term is ‘sex object.”

Similarly, when questioned whether objectification was worthy of debate or concern because actual objects are involved as opposed to people being treated like objects, Richardson simply stated that that sex toys and sex-bots exist because of prostitution. She said, “We must abolish prostitution.”

Richardson is less worried about the robots that exist today but rather what will exist in the presumably near future. “There are companies . . . that don’t have animatronics but rely on the same idea. It’s a new and emerging technology, but let’s nip it in the bud.”

In contrast to Richardson’s philosophy, the current sex-bot industry defended its evolving technology. True Companion’s chief executive, Douglas Hines, stated that, “We are not supplanting the wife or trying to replace a girlfriend. This is a solution for people who are between relationships or someone who has lost a spouse . . . People can find happiness and fulfillment other than via human interaction.”

Richardson points out that, “It’s important that we have a debate about this. Einstein’s theory of relativity – it didn’t have to turn into the atom bomb, right?”

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