Idea City hosted a debate on sex robots, and invited David Levy to take the pro site of the argument. He is the author of the groundbreaking book, Sex and Love with Robots. Kathleen Richardson, founder of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, takes the counter position.
The video at the top of the story is Levy’s argument. At the bottom of this article is the video of Richardson’s argument. There is also a back-and-forth debate that occurred after both made their case, but we don’t have the video of that.
We’ve pieced together a rough transcript of the relevant portion of David Levy’s segment and included it here:
The last time I was here at Idea City was eight years ago when Moses invited me to come and talk about my recently published book Love and Sex with Robots. The talk, like the book, was crafted to explain why I was totally convinced that by the year 2050 people would not only be having sex with robots, but people would be falling in love with them, in some cases even marrying them. But largely eight years ago my words fell on deaf ears–I would guess that maybe 10% of the audience at most left my talk believing what I said and thinking that I my vision of the future was a correct one. But since then, there’s been a huge amount of publicity devoted to the subject, and it’s not just a tiny percent of the population who find it interesting and plausible.
The media publicity given to the subjects has grown steadily and at the moment hardly a week goes by when I’m not contacted by either a print media, an online media or some radio or TV station that wants to interview me on the subject. So interest is definitely growing. And while all the publicity about sex robots is growing, there’s also a growth in interest in some of the moral ethical and legal questions concerning robots. In general, for example, many people are concerned about the question of whether there should be rules to govern the use of robots on the battlefield, and there are a number of people, particularly legally-minded people, who worry about what should happen when robots do wrong. Who should take the blame? And there are some people, like next speaker, Kathleen Richardson, who dispute the morality of having sex with robots. Kathleen is strongly against the idea and together with Eric Billing she launched last year the Campaign Against Sex Robots a campaign with a mission of raising awareness about how sex robots are “potentially harmful and will contribute to inequalities in society.” I’m here today to defend sex robots against Kathleen’s onslaught. My talk, as you can see, is called In Defense of Sex Robots.
What am I defending against? I’m defending against the Campaign Against Sex Robots that Kathleen started last year. For her campaign she wrote a position paper with many arguments based on things I said in my book Love and Sex with Robots. In particular, she takes me to task over some of the things I say in my chapter on prostitution, why people pay for sex. And today’s talk is my rebuttal to what Kathleen said. In the media, as I said, there’s been a huge increase. General science magazine articles in places like Scientific American, Wired, MIT Technology Review, academic journals, dozens and dozens of academic journals believe it or not are writing about love and sex with robots. More academic journals, and more academic journals. And then they’ve been movies, and some of you will doubtless have seen some of these movies, Lars and The Real Girl, Her, Guys and Dolls and others. There’s so much media interest because there’s so much interest from the population in general. There’s so much public interest.
Now Kathleen, as I say, takes me to task about some things in my chapter on prostitution and she sort of says that the future I see is based on the relationship and the exchanges that take place in the prostitution industry. But I use prostitution as just one example of an existing type of sex relationship. What’s interesting about prostitution is that surveys as to why people use the services of prostitutes indicate, surveys carried out by research psychologists, indicate that the most common reason why people use the services of prostitutes is variety. They like having a variety in their sexual partners, they like having variety and the sexual experiences they can enjoy with those partners. And most of the top few reasons given why people use the services of prostitutes could also apply equally to the use of robots, sex robots, because people who buy sex robots, or hire sex robots, will be able to enjoy a wide variety–they can have tall robots, short robots, fat robots, thin robots, robots with big boobs and small boobs, blonde and brunette robot–whatever variety they want and also whatever experience sexual experiences they want because robots are we deliver all of them. Kathleen also disagrees with me when I say that sex robots will reduce prostitution. To me it seems self-evident: if someone’s having sex with a robot they’re not having sex with a prostitute, so I see no reason why sex robots can’t, obviously, be said to reduce prostitution.
Another point that Kathleen makes is that there’s been no correlation found between the availability of artificial sex substitutes, such as vibrators and blow-up dolls, and the demand for the services of prostitutes. Well the reason there’s been no correlation found is they simply haven’t been any studies on the subject so they couldn’t have been any correlation found. And Kathleen takes me to task a bit and says that I use prostitution as my model for human-robot sexual relationships. It’s not my model. What I do with my use of prostitution, what I discuss of prostitution, is show that many of the reasons that people use the services of prostitutes are the same as reasons why people will use the services of sex robots. And also, the people who use the services of prostitutes know that they’re having sex with someone that has no care for them, someone who doesn’t love them, someone who doesn’t have any empathy for them, someone who is only interested in how big is their wallet. And that will be the same with people having sex with robots. They will know that robots don’t genuinely love them, that they have no empathy for them. And I see no reason why people shouldn’t enjoy sex with robots just as much as they do with prostitutes.
Another point that I make in my book is that people who have sex with robots will not have any qualms about the robots presumed lack of affection for them. And as artificial intelligence is developed further, robots will develop more human-like personalities and more human-like characteristics. And when that happens the robots will actually appear to have empathy for the humans and so that will make the relationship more like a human-Human sexual relationship. The lack of empathy that sex workers enjoy with their clients is something that Kathleen Richardson raises. But if you think about the number of sexual encounters that take place in the world every single day, many of those are sexual encounters where there is no empathy between the partners but the partners don’t feel a lack of enjoyment because of the lack of empathy.
The next point of rebuttal is that Richardson writes about the development of sex robots not being confined to adult females because adult males also have a potential market for homosexual males. But then adult male sex robots are also a potential market for adult heterosexual females. Many women pay for sex and that tendency is on the rise, so I think when male sex robots are available we’ll find many, many women using them. Richardson writes that sex with robots is neither ethical nor is it safe, but sexual mores and the ethics of sex have changed hugely in the last hundred or fifty years. Sexual practices that were illegal or considered immoral years ago are now almost [unintelligible] in the bedroom these days. For example oral sex which until a few years ago was illegal in some American states.
So my conclusion is that Kathleen’s use of my book Love and Sex with Robots in her position paper misunderstands and misinterprets much of what I’ve written. And finally, haven’t we already reached the point when consenting adults can do with other consenting adults whatever they like in the bedroom and if they can, why not do it with consenting robots as well.
Now listen to Kathleen Richardson’s side of the debate.