New report explores the good, the bad, and the ugly about sex robots

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Sex robots may usher in a sexual revolution with both good and bad consequences for society, experts say. On the one hand, they may be used in care homes to keep the elderly company or to bridge the gap in long distance relationships — on the other, they may encourage unhealthy sexual relationships and lead to the further objectification of women. To mitigate these risks, the authors of a new report by the Foundation for Responsible Robots (FRR) call for a ban on certain sex robots and caution with others.

“There are absolutely some benefits to the technology but, like everything else, there is a balance,” Aimee van Wynsberghe, assistant professor in ethics and technology at the Technical University of Delft and FRR co-director, said in a statement. “You have to strike a balance between lack of regulation — so we have all different uses and personifications of children and women as sexual objects — or you have overregulation and you stifle the technology. You have to find the way to balance so you really can harness the good.”

Sex robots are still a niche market, more familiar from shows like Westworld and Humans than in real life, but there are a few companies already manufacturing love-making machines that sell for between $5,000 and $15,000.

As these robots become more commonplace, van Wynsberghe and Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield and FRR co-founder, warn that they could change the conception of sex within society, for better or worse.

“I can tell you that robots are certainly coming,” Sharkey said at a press event in London, according to The Telegraph. “The concern is that this is going on [and] nobody is talking about it.”

Some of the use cases for sex robots considered in the report include their use in brothels, as sexual companions for the lonely, and as therapy for rapists or pedophiles. Each of these cases is controversial.

The report quotes Patrick Lin, professor and robot ethicist at California Polytechnic, as saying, “Treating pedophiles with robot sex-children is both a dubious and repulsive idea … Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not.”

Sex robot advocates will meet later this year in London for the third Love and Sex With Robots conference, where no doubt many of these topics will be discussed.

The FRR has released its report on its website and welcomes comments from readers.