Dr. Kate Devlin: In defense of Sex Robots

kate devlin Tedx
Dr. Kate Devlin takes the stage at TEDxWarwick in defense of sex robots and related technology, and predicts positive outcomes for society.

Taking the opposing view of feminist anti-sex robot crusader, Kathleen Richardson, whose TEDx talk we showed in our last post, Dr. Kate Devlin takes the stage at TEDxWarwick in defense of sex robots and related technology.

Devlin is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work in the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) investigate how people interact with and react to technologies, focusing on cognition, sex, gender and sexuality.

Watch her deliver her talk in the video above. Here’s an excerpt to give you an idea of the subject matter:

We’re a long way from the TV shows of Westworld or humans. So I want to think about what other forms that sex robots could take. What’s the point in pursuing this human angle? What about all the technology we have that allows us to explore things? What about different textures, different shapes different movements? These days we’ve got smart fabrics, we’ve got e-textiles that respond to touch. So we could make a cuddly robot, we can make a sensual one that can be stroked and could stroke us back. A lot of us are wearing technology that can track our bodies, things like health trackers that can measure our heartbeat or our skin responses. You can buy off-the-shelf equipment that reads your brainwaves.

What if we took that data that we get from those trackers and we fed it into some form of sex technology so that we have something very individual that would respond to our needs? Can we abstract these sex robots the way we abstract sex toys and can we make something that’s really beautiful and malleable and unique? It’s one of the benefits. Because I don’t think it’s just this dystopian vision of a solitary man addicted to his robot girlfriend. We know that sex has a really wide range of well-being measures associated with it now. Not everyone wants to have sex but there are people who do and who aren’t able to. There are sexual surrogates who are people working with clients and sex therapists who will engage with these clients actually to work on physiological and psychological issues that the clients have. Perhaps that’s a place where our technology could be applied. There’s a sex tech company in the UK they make what they term a guybrator, and it’s a sex toy that allows men with spinal cord injuries to reach orgasm. It can also be used for erectile dysfunction. And the really nice thing about that tech is it can be used by anyone. And this is a great thing about accessible technology if you make your technology accessible, everybody in society can benefit from it.

We’ve got an aging population in the developed world–the English longitudinal study of aging has shown that people are having sex in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. And yet we have a care crisis and people end up going into care homes and nursing homes where sex becomes way down the list of priorities in their life, but maybe they want that. Maybe we can provide technology that lets them have an active sex life. Sex robots could be used therapeutically to treat sex offenders. There’s been a study at the University of Montreal to use virtual reality to rehabilitate sex offenders.

But before you think I’m too naive and optimistic I do recognize there are problems around this–it’s not uncomplicated. … But I have a degree of optimism. We’re living in a technological age. We can’t avoid it. We’re human in a world that’s increasingly full of machines. Artificial intelligence is integrating seamlessly into our lives, so seamlessly that we don’t even notice it. Perhaps our robotic counterparts are the key to happiness if we ship them in the right way. Maybe it’s time to literally embrace the robots.

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