Scientists from the Foundation For Responsible Robotics have released a report asking society to consider a possible future where humans have sex with robots, and have outlined some things that society needs to do to prepare for that future.
The report, led by Professor Noel Sharkey, said that society needs to consider the impact of the different types of sex robots, and called specifically for a ban on sex robots that are designed to look like children.
"We do need policymakers to look at it and the general public to decide what is acceptable and permissible," he said of the report. "We need to think as a society what we want to do about it."
The report says that finding out how many sex robots are currently in circulation is difficult, as the companies who make them do not release the numbers. However, a quick Internet search confirms that there are plenty of varieties of robots already on the market, as well as this (slightly horrifying) concept doll currently trying to raise money on Kickstarter.
There are also robots out there with silicone skin, with one company, Abyss Creations, due to release a doll with artificial intelligence later this year. The doll, named Harmony, will be able to move its head and eyes, and speaks via an app.
Knowing that the market for robots is already taking off, Noel Sharkey's report looked at how the robots might be "employed" in the future. And it's pretty bleak.
The report suggested that robots could be used as prostitutes, working in brothels (much like in Westworld), as sexual companions for the lonely and the elderly, as well as a sexual therapy tool for rapists and/or pedophiles.
The report also looks at whether sex robots would help to reduce crime.
"On one side there are those who believe that expressing disordered or criminal sexual desires with a sex robot would satiate them to the point where they would not have the desire to harm fellow humans," the report says. "On the other side, many others believe that this would be an indulgence that could encourage and reinforce illicit sexual practices."
"This may work for a few but it is a very dangerous path to tread. It may be that allowing people to live out their darkest fantasies with sex robots could have a pernicious effect on society and societal norms and create more danger for the vulnerable."
Unfortunately, it might be a question that society has to answer a lot sooner rather than later. A company in Japan already creates a sex doll designed to resemble a child, the BBC reports. A court in Canada is currently trying to determine whether owning such a robot is legal, after a man from Newfoundland ordered one that was intercepted at a Canadian airport. The man was charged with possessing child pornography but has pleaded not guilty.
On balance, the report seems to take a stand against allowing such robots to become permissible by society, quoting the director of the ethics and emerging sciences at California Polytechnic State University.
“Treating pedophiles with robot sex-children is both a dubious and repulsive idea," said Patrick Lin. "Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not.”
The report also raised concerns that humans would learn the wrong kind of lessons about consent when interacting with sex robots that they can access whenever they want, and suggested that in order to counterbalance that we would need to teach people to seek consent from robots.
"If robots don't have rights, then they don't require consent for us to treat them in a certain way, whether it's kicking them or having sex with them," they quote in the report.
"But again, we could still be obligated to seek consent, even if they don't have rights. If it's important to society that we teach people that sex requires consent, then it's not absurd to build in those norms in human-robot interaction. We're socially conditioning people to act in better ways. So, consent here isn't about the robot per se, but it's about what our action says to society."