The Ethics Of Creating Robots For Rape

Recently there have been a spate of articles on sex robots in the media, most recently last week by the Independent whereby Beth Timmins exposes how sex robots are being programmed to allow men to simulate rape.  And a few weeks back there was Haroon Siddique’s recent article “Sex robots promise ‘revolutionary’ service but also risks, says study” included a most ironic subtitle: “Androids could offer valuable help to the elderly and disabled but may lead to the increased objectification of women.”  Ironic simply because immediately following this title is a photo of silicone body parts.  More specifically, the simulacra of female body parts: the lower face, the vagina.  All this to be coupled with a robotic intelligence that turns this “life-size” figure into a companion which never says “no.”

Of all the latest technological trends that have been poised for success over the past twenty years, the sex robot is hardly new as women have throughout all of recent history been the muses for male fantasy and replication.  Delacroix was certainly not the first, nor were Rubens and Rodin the last in their infamous paintings of the female nude. The desire to capture the female body has shifted over time: from the symbolic representations of the artist to the very real underground lair in which dozens of women have been locked up for years by deranged males.   And now today, the human female is replaced with the robotic form which men can possess.

A cursory glance at the many articles which have come out over the past months on the subject of sex robots reveal that some people are embracing this as a necessary positive advancement.  Yet we must wonder if technology should be automatically posited as positive given the very real life consequences for simulating sexual exploitation.  And if so, who exactly benefits?

Siddique notes how these robotic engineers, self-described “geeks,” claim to be advancing society, without offering any empirical evidence of this.  And as the Independent reported last week, AI Professor Sharkey speculates: “Some people say it’s better they rape robots than rape real people. There are other people saying this would just encourage rapists more.”  Aside from there being no evidence show that it is “better” that males rape robots, there is also no evidence to show that this would not impact the lives of men, women, and children–and quite negatively so.

In other words, is the idea that because we can do it, it should be done?   Would the world be done away with racism or anti-semitism if robots were offered to the bigots of the planet to act out their aggressions upon this symbolic life force?  Why is it inevitably the female form which is deemed OK to violate, but never other categories of  bodies in the aim of “social repair”.

Siddique asks, “Among the people it is proposed could benefit from interaction with sex robots are elderly people in care homes, people of both sexes who have had a traumatic sexual experience and men who suffer from erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation.”  Note the word “people” throughout his article.  As someone who has written about economic hardship in the U.K. and short term loans, Siddique not only knows how to differentiate between class structures–rich and poor–but he also knows to distinguish between the sexes.  Yet Siddique demonstrates the inability to understand what is driving this market for sex dolls–not “people” but men.  And this fact is not incidental to the story of sex dolls or sexual exploitation of females.

The market of sex dolls is largely based on the physical replication of the bodies of teenage females, except that the copy reads “adult females”.  This fact alone raises many questions.  For starters, are these scientists are not aware of how such robots are brought to “life” within a world that is rife with inequality between the sexes?  While the engineers claim that these dolls have an age of consent, one must wonder how can a robotic replication of a young female “have” an “age of consent” in the first place.

While these inventors state that they would never create sex robots of children, we must ask if it is so disturbing to them that young girls are made into sexual surrogates for male desire, why is it not disturbing that these dolls as women might be damaging to very real and living females?

In a world where women’s rights are in steady decline, we have only to look towards Sheherazade  from The Thousand and One Nights whose words and body are captured within the framework of male desire. Imprisoned by King Shahriyar, Sheherazade must rely solely on her intelligence to free herself from her captor.  Today, this non-revolution of masturbatory tools for wealthy geeks means that not only will females be unable to speak out–be they robotic or real– but that their words are already cast within a pre-ordained programme of desire where the robot is always wanting to please and where the human female is denigrated for refusing to.

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