The sixth day of this campaign against sex robots is soon coming to an end, at least here in Sweden. During the last days, we have received loads of comments. Some people find it bizarre that sex robots exist at all, while others find it equally bizarre that we react against them.
One of the more insightful reactions are written by Kate Devlin, University of London, under the name In defence of sex machines. It criticises our campaign, specifically on the points of a ban of sex robots, but also gives support in our criticism of a narrative and the need of a discussion around ethics of gender and sex in robots.
I agree with most of what Devlin says and in many ways her analysis is exactly the sort of discussion I was hoping that this campaign would help to produce. As always, it all depends on exactly what we are discussing. If the term “sex robot” is read as anything from vibrators to gender aspects of any humanoid robot, our criticism certainly does not make sense. In an attempt to avoid this, we defined sex robots as to include machines in the form of women or children for use as sex objects, substitutes for human partners or prostitutes. As Devlin points out, the term could be understood in a more general way, but this is what we criticise.
I understand that our target of criticism is not made clearer by the frequent references to movies like Her and Ex Machina, which focus on robot/AI systems with deep intelligence or even consciousness, showing high degrees of compassion and empathy – properties that we certainly see much less of in real sex robots. Yes, robotis is a field in great development and maybe they can feel empathy one day, but I would argue that we are much better off leaving the robots out of the bedroom until they do.