What do rich white men from California and America’s slave-owning forefathers have to do with sex robots? They are part of the egocentric, misogynistic, world that is bent on the dehumanization and exploitation of women, now accelerated thanks to the sex robot movement. That’s according to Dr. Kathleen Richardson, founder of her group, the Campaign Against Sex Robots.
In a debate at the recent Web Summit 2017, this Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI at De Montfort University, took the stage to debate the question of whether we should ban sex robots. Her opponent was Dr. Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics.
The crowd was decidedly pro-technology and pro-sex robots, and her misandry and her rambling, unfocused performance likely did not sway many attendees to her way of thinking. But watch the video, and you be the judge. We’ll highlight some of the debaters’ main points below.
Kathleen Richardson’s opening statement began by dispelling the notion that a sex robot or sex doll is just a sex toy, like the vibrators used by women. She compares the sizes of vibrators and sex dolls to make her point. But it’s not the size of the tool that makes it a toy, a sex toy is a sex toy. While there are stories of men wanting to have romantic relationships with their dolls, for most, it’s just a big, beautiful sex toy.
So the first thing I want to do is, I want to look at some of the arguments, one of the arguments, is it’s a sex robot, it’s nothing more than a sophisticated vibrator. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a vibrator, but they’re about this big, some of them are about this big, they’re not fully-fledged humanoid robots at all, and in fact, as far as I can remember–and I’ve been looking through the archives–no one ever said a woman would be able to marry a vibrator by the year 2015, nor did they say it would be a girlfriend. So there is something different going on here, right? I mean, you must agree with that. It’s not just a tool. So what is it? What’s really behind this idea that a doll or a robot in the form of a woman is something that a man can have a relationship with, he can have an intimate sexual relationship?
Richardson moves on to her stance against prostitution, in our “master-slave,” “egocentric individualism” world. The women who sell sex, she says, are just like these new sex dolls in the eyes of their customers. It’s just an extension of prostitution for men.
I think if you really want to understand that you have to understand our distorted world of inequality. In our world we live, in a world where there are 42 (million?) estimated people in prostitution and most of them are women and girls. So outside of this room, there’s a whole infrastructure that says to men it’s okay if you go into the world and not take into account the thoughts and feelings and experiences of women and girls. In fact, you can pay a price, and you can have access to their body and that they’re going to bring that to you through pornography as well. So in that world this egocentric, I call it the egocentric individualism, it’s built on a model of the master and the slave, because the master never had to take into account what his slaves were doing or thinking of feeling. So what I’m asking you to think about is this asymmetry in our world that exists that allows the commercial industry in human bodies–mainly women and girls–to be purchased by men. Sex robots are an outcome of that kind of egocentric misogyny. These women in those in those industries are not recognized as full human beings, because all they need to do is provide sex. In the same way, the people who create these sex robots are trading on that idea, that they’re nothing more than sex dolls.
Now, this is where it really gets convoluted. She maintains that men having sex with dolls that are built in the image of women promote the idea that all women are good for is sex. No, Ms. Richardson has got that wrong. Men don’t think that’s all women are good for, but they do think having sex with women is great. Just like women think that having sex with men is wonderful, yet they don’t think that’s all they are good for.
So what can we do about this? Well, I want you to think, I know that you’re thinking right now: oh no this is hysterical, it’s just a doll, it’s harmless. But I want you to imagine for a minute that you’re in an agricultural system, in a factory system, and today they decided to develop a robot for the agriculture but they decided to make that robot a black robot. Everyone in this room would recoil in horror. And actually, the same thing is going on when we design images, these misogynistic images of women and girls, in dolls and we say that that’s what women are good for. But we’ve got to a point in our society where we can’t even tell anymore whether something is misogynistic or not. So we’ve had a huge cultural discussion now about sexism and misogyny because there are so many men out there who think what a woman’s good for is sex. If women want real equality we must burn those industries where our humanity is not recognized. And I tell you what men, those men in the room that agree with: this your humanity will become recognized if you become our allies because you stop being an egocentric individual and you start becoming a relational individual, a human being. You get to enrich your humanity by believing in equality for all human beings.
She concluded her opening remarks with an attack on Hanson Robotics for selling their Sophia female robot to Saudi Arabia, and you should listen to the video to hear her attack and to hear Goertzel defend the company. It too much to include here.
Over to Dr. Ben Goertzel. Interestingly, he tells the audience he doesn’t think about sex robots much. He finds them to be decidedly uninteresting, given so many more important advancements in technology. He mentions some of the other technologies he finds more exciting and ends this point by saying:
So given the spectrum of possibilities that are opening up now. I mean, sex robots are really among the least dramatic things that you can think about, that on a personal level, I haven’t yet. I haven’t yet felt the desire to have sex with a robot. I’m perfectly happy with human women so far.
Then he gets to his main two points of opposition to the banning of sex robots: 1) he doesn’t want governments banning any technologies, and 2) robots and dolls are not sentient and feel nothing, so they cannot be harmed.
But on the other hand, why I think this is an important issue is I don’t want to see governments and societies go down the road of banning technologies based on you know their potential in direct implications. I think that’s quite dangerous and then the dangers could be seen a lot in human history. Even if you have a robot which is not sentient and does not have conscious experience in the sense of people do, the robot is not being hurt by whatever the person who is doing with it, then I don’t see why the government should be in the business of stopping a man or woman from having sex with that robot. The argument has been made that we should ban people having sex with robots because in some way that’s conceptually reminiscent or psychologically related to exploitive things people do with humans, and I mean that’s similar to the argument that you shouldn’t be able to play Grand Theft Auto because it’s psychologically reminiscent of running people down in the street on your car, so you shouldn’t be able to play the game Civilization because that might make you want to take over the world to become a dictator.
I don’t think the government should be in the business of banning things proactively because they may be mentally associated with it with other bad things, because then what happens when we have brain-to-computer interfacing technologies, and what happens when we have nanobots that can modify our genomes to improve us? People will say these things are bad, and they’re associated with potential bad things. Even if they’re not directly dangerous, we don’t want governments to do that, both because it’s immoral, it’s against the Western ideals of freedom, and that’s also because it won’t work. If you try to ban these things it will just go underground and then they will be done illegally anyway. And I don’t think that’s going to improve life whatsoever, so I think we should oppose the banning of sex robots. I mean, both because it’s a basic imposition on the human freedom and we shouldn’t be banning victimless crimes, and secondly because it would set a terrible precedent for banning advanced technologies and might lead to banning of advanced technologies that are much more important than interesting than sex robots are.
The moderator now steps in and asks Richardson, “There are two specific things I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on. Firstly the idea that this is a slippery slope to banning things and secondly the idea that it’s a victimless crime.”
This is where Richardson really begins to ramble, and tries to connect the connectable.
I think people use this word banning, it means to prohibit. I’m actually an abolitionist, right, so I mean my ethics is born from anti-slavery. I make a radical distinction between people and things, and I say people aren’t things. They aren’t pieces of property. And I think there’s a corporate mindset coming out of California that wants us to all think of ourselves as pieces of property, so our memories can be enhanced, our bodies can have these terrific robots in them. Buying into this idea that we’re people, that we’re property, as human beings, will make a lot of a very small group of people very, very rich. But for the rest of us, it will create alienation for us, it will disconnect us from each other, it will actually weaken our potential as human beings to create a different kind of world.
Uh okay, whatever that all meant… Now the real Kathleen comes out. Today’s privileged white men, apparently, are America’s modern day, racist slave owners.
So that’s one of the things I would say. I want to say something about the close connections between robot personhood and corporate personhood, so if there are any Americans in the room they all remember men were created equal at the American Revolution, but they still owned slaves. It took amendments of the American Constitution to recognize the freed slaves. And you know what happened around the same time is the establishment in America said corporations are persons, they recognize the personhood of corporations. What’s going on again, we have a realm in the world where we have the privilege of white men that is being challenged by more inclusivity, and more ordinary human beings, and men and boys being included, in that. What do the elite want to do? They want to recognize the personhood of robots. This is like racial thinking all over again, but now expressed through these new robotic and AI developments.
Goertzel responds, putting some intelligence back into the conversation:
So you mentioned California, which is kind of irrelevant to anything we’re doing. We’re based in Hong Kong, our largest development office is in Africa, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was born in Brazil. So this it’s not about rich white guys in California. It’s really about freedom of government in the world. And then the whole motivation underlying our singularity, that project, is to create an open market for AI using the blockchain to make sure AI is not owned by anyone. But anyone who creates AI can put it into the network, anyone who wants to use AI can reach out to the network. So to me, it’s about freedom and openness and decentralization and about avoiding either big companies or governments from taking control of the emergence of technology and banning things, unless you’re talking about things that are causing direct harm to sentient beings, banning things is exactly the opposite of the direction that we want to go.
At this point, Richardson’s not making any sense at all.
Can I just say that sentient beings are women, that their exploitation and their sexual abuse is massive, widespread abuse. So you want to skip women and just go straight to a man-made egocentric AI, is that what you want to do, is that your plan?
Goertzel presents a nice conclusion about how there is no harm being done, yet:
I’m not in favor of abuse of any sentient being. However, a robot which does not have sentience or conscious experience in the sense of people, cannot be abused in the sense of the conscious being can. So once we have built AIs and robots that hurt when you hit them, that really have a conscious experience like we do, those robots should have legal rights and it must be illegal to abuse them. But when the robot does not have the experience, then I don’t see why we should ban doing whatever we want to.
Not good enough for Kathleen Richardson, though.
I think this is distorted thinking. Because we exist in the world, and human beings are exploited, they are raped, they are murdered, right? These are objects, these are commercially produced artifacts, and you want to protect the rights of a commercially produced artifact over and above a human being. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. If you wanted to help humanity, you would put women and children first, and those people in the world that are slaves in Saudi Arabia where you’ve just been, there is a mass slavery.
Love Richardson’s line, “How does banning sex robots help the women and children in Africa?”
Hey, I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia. But let me tell you, in our office in Ethiopia we have 40% female programmers, we have a project called Girls Can Code there to teach girls aged 8 to 18 software development. I’m thinking initiatives like this helps women much more than banning people from buying sex robots. How does banning sex robots help women and children in Africa?
She’s back on evil rich white men.
Well, do you know what will help women and children in Africa? Can I just say to the people who are clapping, there are six people in the world that have earned half the world’s wealth, and most of them are white men, and they’re in corporations in the United States. We were talking about a mass and evil system here, it’s not this neutral, having a few women in programming does not address the commercial egocentric model.
Goertzel must be frustrated by now but manages to get in a great parting shot.
How can banning sex robots stop a handful of wealthy white and Chinese men controlling the majority of the world’s wealth? These guys can buy all the sex robots they want.
Kathleen Richardson is one angry, confused person. She talks of misogyny, but we hear misandry.
Here are some of our favorite comments from the Youtube video page:
FlacheErdnuss says: “wow! this woman truly is a crazy person. talking about rich white male Americans and slavery in Africa is not an argument, it`s just political correctness coupled with empty rhetoric. she does not even have one logical argument against sex robots. I liked it how calm and clear Ben has destroyed her nonsense. thumbs up for ben.”
Better Mankind says: “What this woman doesn’t realize is that sex robots will reduce rape and sex crimes all over the world. We live in a superficial society and not every male or even some females for that matter are able to just go out and get sex with on tap with someone that is above average looking. There are many people that are simply lonely and if sex robots become super intelligent one day they would be great to have around just to talk to. Furthermore, the woman opposed to sex robots would probably benefit the most, she just hasn’t realized it yet…lol”
Benjamin Anderson says: “Totally clear that the girl in this video is technically/scientifically illiterate and is brainwashed by extremist left-wing thinking rooted in radical feminist theory and Marxism.”
nykel007 says: “As far as I know, women don’t ‘own’ the female form. What gives them the right to say what a person can don’t with the female form. So sculptors can’t cast the female anymore? Painters can’t paint the female form anymore? On the other hand, most female sex toys resemble or closely resembles the male penis, no one is up in arms over that. All this is about is control. Women want all the control. Especially control over men’s sexual pleasure. To them, men are not allowed sexual pleasure or release without the presence or consent of a woman. The ban against sex robots is one of the vilest campaigns to ever to come to exist.”