Aethics: Sexy Robots

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

The BBC has an article up talking about a drive by a Kathleen Richardson (a robotics ethicist – yes, such a thing exists) to pre-emptively ban sexbots. If she gets her way, Cherry 2000 will never get to exist.

On the face of it, this seems silly, as silly as banning dildos or Fleshlights (or those rather creepy Real-dolls). What is a robot sex-doll other than a complicated dildo after all?

Richardson raises several concerns:

  1. That they are unnecessary.
  2. That they are undesirable.
  3. That they will reinforce traditional stereotypes of women.
  4. That they will encourage the idea that relationships need only be physical.
  5. That this will undermine relationships between real men and real women.

89e7dcd439aec524b2e23a5dcc97afabThere’s more, but it’s based around speculation on advances in artificial intelligence and so on. Let’s stick to what’s at the edge of feasible now. Physically realistic sex bots capable of limited interaction.

We know that there are already people who have ‘relationships’ with their inanimate sex-dolls, who fall in love with crude AI girlfriends on their handheld game systems. These are crude but they are representative of what we may see in the future. So are any of these concerns valid?

Are sex-bots unnecessary?

Many things are unnecessary, but desirable, so this is not necessarily a good argument in the first place. It’s not necessary to cook food, to have access to vehicles or to have a television, but these things bring comfort to our lives. Even if we take this argument at face value though, the situation in which we find ourselves may indeed make sex-bots necessary. There is a huge, building gender disparity in China with many more men than women. A powderkeg of frustrated male sexual desire that, with no outlet, may express itself in dangerous ways. Prison rape is a hideous problem in many countries, such as the US, also. Might access to sex-bots alleviate some of this? Might it not provide an outlet for sexual tension and might it not also – possible – contribute to a reduction in rape as some contend easier access to pornography has done? In that situation, sex-bots are not only desirable, but may be considered necessary.

1-robot-paintings-by-hajime-sorayamaAre sex-bots desirable?

Clearly they are. People are already buying all sorts of elaborate sex toys and customised sex dolls. There’s obviously a market for them amongst fantasists, those with social anxiety disorders and those with proclivities outside the norm. With men increasingly opting out of the dating and marriage options it seems that men and women alike may find a use for sex-bots as a masturbatory aid and source of relief while between relationships or while focussed on their careers. Whether you approve or not, there’s clearly a market for such things.

Will Sex-Bots reinforce Stereotypes of Women?

This is a hard one. People desire what they desire and the market tends to respond to what people want. I think many people have this relationship backwards, thinking the market tells people what they want. There are trends in desires which manifest in stereotypes but no two people have exactly the same tastes. The presumption seems to be, also, that only women would want sex-bots and only women need be concerned. Surely there would also be a market amongst women for sex-bots? Hung to their specified dimensions, armed with a six pack and the perfect amount of endurance. This doesn’t seem to me to be something that is only a concern for women, yet only women seem to be overtly concerned about the ‘competition’. People want what they want, if that’s uncomfortable perhaps it needs to be faced, but I think critics underestimate the value of a real, human relationship – or the role that sex-bots might play within relationships (an artificial, risk-free threesome for example).

RommieuniformWill they encourage ideas that relationships need only be physical?

Will a sexual relationship with a sex-bot be truly satisfying? Pornography and masturbation already offer physical relief and yet people still seek relationships. Why should this be any different with sex-bots? Until such bots are as good as people, and capable of relationships, I think there will still be a desire for more. Why shouldn’t some relationships be purely physical anyway? The BDSM scene has people who meet up, as friend, for play sessions. ‘Fuckbuddies’ is a thing. Hook up culture is a thing. We already have purely, or nearly purely, physical relationships and a sex-bot isn’t going to change that one way or another. Better to have sex with a nice clean sex-bot than to risk your health on one-night stands, no?

Will they undermine relationships between real men and women?

Possibly, but these already seem to be breaking if you look at the MGTOW and ‘Grazer’ movements in Japan and further afield. Despite mockery and derision they seem to be growing and marriages are now the minority in the UK and probably elsewhere. Can you undermine something that is already failing in modern society and should we necessarily mourn it? Might not sex-bots allow couples with mismatched desires to stay together, each having a robot lover they can turn to when their fleshly lover is no longer in the mood? Is that healthier than taking a flesh-and-blood lover or not? If you can’t compete with a sex-robot, should you be a relationship anyway?

IMG_1840Conclusion

There seem, to me, to be no moral or ethical reasons to deny people the development or ownership of sex-bots. The cost seems minimal or unrelated and the benefits in terms of personal pleasure and societal safety and security seem obvious. The concern also seems very sexist, assuming that only men would want or purchase sex bots when – surely – there’s as much of a market amongst women for a ‘perfect’ lover? It seems to me that the development of such devices would be of benefit to the species as a whole, including, potentially, helping with controlled population reduction.

bsg_boxy_muffySpeculation

Let us take this concept to some uncomfortable extremes though and see how that affects how you would think about this.

A sex-bot need not look normal. We already see this is Real-Dolls with unrealistic proportions or based on fantasy characters – models have been made to resemble characters from games and comics, for example. Why stop there though?

What if a paedophile wanted a realistic sex-bot that resembled an underage child? Our instant reaction is disgust, of course, but would it not be better that they wreak their desires upon a robot than upon a real child and might not the sex-bot give them a way to expend their frustration without resorting to rape?

What if a sexual sadist or predator could have access to a sex-bot that does the things that turn them on? What if they could ‘kill’ their sex-bot every night, consequence free, and have it back the next day. Might that not prevent them from enacting those desires in real life?

What if the sex-bot wasn’t even human? What if it could be made to resemble a dog, a sheep, a tentacle monster from someone’s perverted hentai fantasies?

Should we allow such things?

If not, why not?

If so, why?

Even without AI, the advent of realistic (or realistic enough) sex-bots raises some questions on these topics and challenges our views of human sexuality. Do we interfere in this most private and intimate of areas or do we say it’s nobody’s business but theirs? Why and how do we decide?

Food for thought.

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Aethics: On Sex Work

eadycruikshanketchingbmSex work is always controversial, largely because anything to do with sex is always controversial. Within this term I am including pornographic actors, professional doms and submissives for hire, strippers, prostitutes, rent-boys, escorts and other related professions under the whole common cause of being shamed and blamed for various of society’s ills.

Currently the big conflict is the confusion between people’s concept that prostitution is synonymous with sex trafficking, and the impression of voluntary sex workers that they’re acting of their own accord. It is fair to say that there is a problem with sex trafficking issues, but it is unfair to think that everyone who sells sexual services is forced, coerced or otherwise wrangled into doing it. There are many women, and men, who are quite vocal on the topic and assert that they enjoy their work and have chosen to participate in it – for any number of reasons. There’s no good reason not to take them at their word.

What can a strictly rational approach tell us about sex work, its societal effects and what might be the best approach to it?

What are the Facts?

  • Statistics in this area are notoriously unreliable and incomplete and many of the studies undertaken are intended to be biased to confirm one point of view or another. As a grey/black trade getting hard data is going to be notoriously difficult. We must, then, proceed without the benefit of reliable statistics.
  • One study believes that there are, or were, some 80,000 street prostitutes, that is, those not working in a brothel or out of a flat/house. Whatever the number, these are the most vulnerable and exposed.
  • Prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, are vulnerable to rape and abuse from clients especially given how hard it can be to go to the police for help.
  • Sex trafficking does exist and is an horrific abuse of men, women and children.
  • Other forms of trafficking also exist and possibly/probably on a much larger scale than sex trafficking. Illegal workers are an issue in many countries, often little more than slave labour and controlled in a similar way to those who are trafficked for other reasons. Many of these workers end up hurt or even killed.
  • Voluntary prostitutes and other sex workers should be taken at their word when they say they are not coerced and/or that they enjoy their work.
  • A driving factor for many lower-end prostitutes is economic. You could frame this in the form of economic coercion, or you could see this as a way to make ends meet when no other is available. Sex industry work is also common amongst people in higher education, helping to pay fees while they work through college. Such economic factors also drive people to take less than ‘ideal’ jobs of all kinds just to make ends meet.
  • STDs are of concern and the clandestine and ephemeral nature of commercial sex contact provides a possibility for STDs to spread unknown.
  • The potential damage to existing relationships when someone pays for sex is a concern, albeit a moralistic one. Affairs are essentially the same thing, and may be more damaging being more emotional. On the other hand, access to commercial sex may enable relationships to continue despite sexual or physical problems in one partner, allow partners to explore their sexuality in different ways or to provide an outlet that prevents someone straying in a more significant manner.
  • Sex, physical relief, is a basic human need. Sexual contact promotes physical and mental health. Relationships are not viable for everyone and many people spend a lot of time outside relationships. There are people with various physical and mental issues that mean they cannot access the ‘singles scene’ and these people too have a need for physical intimacy. People who care for severely disabled partners also have needs and these can be served physically at a distance from intimacy.
  • Legality is variable and ill defined, depending on national and local laws. This makes for a confusing mish-mash that serves no-one and is often contradictory or inconsistent. For example, it being illegal to purchase (or ‘dispense’) sex for its own sake, but it being legal to do it in the production of pornography.

What can I conclude?
The truth is that we have long known what the best approach to the ‘problem’ of sex work is. The problem is not that we have no idea what to do about this, but that it is politically unpopular. This is the same issue facing drug legislation and even much broader problems such as crime. As such the issue is one of educating the general public and reaching a critical mass of voters, rather than simply knowing what to do.

The current harmful sides of prostitution – the presumed risk of STDs, the hotly contested degree of trafficking, money going to criminal organisations etc – are minimised or eliminated by bringing sex work (of all kinds) out of shadiness and darkness and into some sort of legal and regulatory basis. Trafficking would be undermined, licensed premises and sex workers could have to fulfil certain criteria for licensing, medical aid and free contraception could be targeted and provided where most required.

The only real reason, that stands to scrutiny, that anyone might be against full legalisation and legitimisation is ‘moral’, which is a rather slippery and subjective way to go about making any sort of policy. With it fully legalised people would be free to partake and participate, or not, as they wished.

Ultimately it does no real harm that people do not bring upon themselves. It provides many goods. Could contribute tax revenue, aid social mobility and despite all that what people do with their own bodies should be up to them (provided that it causes no real harm). People sell their bodies and talents in innumerable other ways without the same judgement or comment (manual labour) and there seems to be no reason that stands to critical examination to disallow people from buying or selling sex.

With pornography, including ‘extreme’ pornography, so long as everyone involved is consenting I see no reason to censor it or make it illegal. With strip clubs, lapdancing and so forth it seems peculiar to me to fixate upon the paid-for nakedness when alcohol is on sale. Clearly we’re willing to accept the unquestionable societal ills of booze in exchange for the comfort and business it brings with responsible use.

Full legalisation and responsible regulation of any and all of these professions will remove the involvement of the criminal element and create a safer environment for both customers and sex workers. It’s a complete no-brainer.

Subjective Morality

What are morals? Are they relative values? Are they subjective or are they objective? Where do we get them from?

Morals are (sometimes) codified criteria by which we decide what is good and bad, right and wrong.

Morals are relative because they vary from culture to culture, time period to time period and are also situational. An Aztec would have considered it a good thing to be sacrificed and to have their heart cut out. Slavery was considered morally acceptable up until mid-way through the 19th century, and isn’t today. We would be more lenient with someone with someone who stole a loaf of bread to feed their starving family over someone who stole diamonds purely for personal gain.

Even these are relative, there are bound to be people who disagree with me even on these.

Are they subjective or objective? Given that they’re relative as we’ve already established and given that people’s opinions and reactions differ it is obvious that they are subjective. Even if we reduce it down to the level of ‘what’s good for humans?’ in the way Sam Harris has tried to, or in the way utilitarian or epicurean systems have tried to, that’s still only applicable to humans (or given the evidence from other primates, some of them too). If a snake, a lion or any other creature with a different evolutionary history was intelligent enough to codify a moral system then we would expect their conception of right and wrong to be very different indeed.

Where do we get them from? The evidence would suggest evolutionary psychology being where. Instincts and behaviours can be passed on biologically as well as socially. We see that in the behaviours of all manner of creatures, many of which are quite complex and cannot reasonably be considered to have been passed on culturally. We also see natural variation on morality within humans, though we only recognise its negative extremes (sociopathy/psychopathy). Genetics are a reasonable predictor of where someone will fall in allegiance to political parties. Most of human contention in politics and in personal relationships seems to be about this tension between selfishness and altruism, though even selfishness is excused as an appeal to naturalism (Randian Objectivism, trickle-down economics, the invisible hand of the market).

I think of morality as existing in three layers (foundation at the bottom):

Individual: Our own moral decisions from experiences, thought etc. A personal code of ethics.
Nurture: The moral codes and behaviours instilled in us by our culture, parents and education.
Nature: Our inherited, evolutionary moral sense.

The higher ones on the chart can override those lower on the chart.

For example, our instinct might be to provide care for someone in need. Our received notions of morality might override this by telling us that someone got themselves into trouble or somehow deserves what is happening to them. Our individual, personal sense of ethics might override this by leading us to make exceptions for friends or people we think are ‘the deserving poor’.

What hope, then, of finding any kind of universal morality?

Well, none.

There is hope of finding a human moral system, or multiple human moral systems that work though. There will be some things that are natural and universal to humans but there may be multiple ways of getting to them. The idea of ‘least harm’ and ‘most gain’ is a good guide, as is accurate information upon which to make decisions. Any moral system must have room to flex, to deal with situations, exceptions to bend and change with new information.

Utilitarianism and epicureanism are an obvious place to start as they measure relatively objective factors. We can test things and judge their results. Thereby finding our way to things that work, much in the same way we might seek to find a new design of wing. Of course, we cannot turn this into dogma, we would need to constantly reassess, explore and test as we would in any other field.

There’s hope, but the old way of thinking needs to be torn down first. Intellect needs to overcome ideology, faith and black and white thinking.

Aethics: Male Reproductive Rights

soaps-eastenders-4700-5Women’s reproductive rights are, quite rightly, a major issue. Autonomy over one’s own body, sexuality and reproduction is incredibly important and attempts to restrict or ban abortion are an infringement on human rights. Those who are against abortion typically cite irrational reasons – religion – for opposing it while rationalists, almost always, support a woman’s right to choose.

But what about a man’s reproductive rights?

Specifically, I’m talking about parental rights and responsibilities.

If a woman gets pregnant she has several choices.

  1. Abortion.
  2. Giving the child up for adoption.
  3. Parenthood.

The man has absolutely no say whatsoever in the matter and whatever decision the woman makes he is saddled with.

Obviously there are biological concerns here. Only women can carry children – at the moment. There is no way to safely transfer a pregnancy to a surrogate and even then similar issues can come to apply. Any attempt at applying fairness and gender equality must here, as anywhere else, bow to the demands of nature.

Ethically we cannot demand a woman carry to term a child that she does not want.
Ethically we cannot force a woman to have an abortion she does not want.

The man involved cannot, therefore, be afforded the privilege of dictating what a woman does with her own body and the potential human being inside her. We can only, then, extend a man’s reproductive rights outside of the sphere of directly affecting a woman’s body. As such a man can only be afforded reproductive freedom in one way.

A legalistic abortion.

In the event of an unwanted pregnancy the man would have the option to give up all rights and responsibilities to the child. He would have no visitation rights, no involvement and no financial burden. This is not a new idea, dating back to 1998, and it is one that has been picked up on by Father’s and Men’s Human rights groups. It’s even been – tentatively – tested in court (Dubay Vs Wells). It didn’t go to the Supreme Court and the excuse for not upholding it was concern for the child, the same language used to defend constrictions on abortion.

As things stand this is the only way to even slightly redress the balance when it comes to reproductive autonomy between the genders. Yes, the withdrawal of support will increase pressure on the woman and may influence her eventual choice but there remains a choice, whereas the man has no choice whatsoever at present. If the child is born, against his wishes, he’s on the hook for 18+ years supporting a child that he never wanted to and in all likelihood a woman he didn’t intend to support. The negative impact on him is considerable and has even driven men to suicide.

It is not a perfect solution, but then nor is the current situation. There are issues and problems, but then there always are. These would need to be discussed (Who will pay to look after the child? When is the cut-off date? What if the pregnancy is kept secret or isn’t realised? What if the man changes his mind or the child wants to know who they are?) The starting point, however, and one that is necessary is that rights between men and women should be as equal as possible and this is the only way to pursue that just end.

What has been disturbing, when discussing this idea, is the arguments coming from women – and men – who are very pro women’s rights and abortion in this context, but are steadfastly against extending even an abridged version of those rights to men. Women, even progressive, feminist women, seem shocked and appalled by the idea that a man should not be forced to look after an unwanted child. Many of the arguments given against the idea echo the kind of shaming tactics used by the religious right against abortion. Arguments that one should simply abstain from sex if you don’t want a child and so forth.

This is a shame and a stark example of where feminism diverges from egalitarianism, prioritising women’s rights over those of their male counterparts. It’s also an example of where we are forced to admit the biological differences between the genders and how they might have bearing on ethics, law and equality.