Sunday, October 14, 2007

I now pronounce you Wife and Life Enhancement Device...

Just saw this news story that made my stomach turn:

Sex and marriage with robots? It could happen

This "news" story is about a Ph.D. candidate (who else) in the Netherlands who does "work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it". His thesis is called
"Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners".

The story goes on as the researcher tries to convincingly argue that there is nothing wrong with these "intimate relationships". But how does a programmable machine give "consent" to sex or marriage? Robots do whatever they are programmed to. Artificial intelligence aside, in this generation we haven't created human-like machines that have independent will and volition. So, if you are going to consider a robot a "person" (and so far marriage and the majority of sex is between two adult people), unless a machine can say "no", isn't that rape?

This kind of thinking depersonalizes sex and intimate relationships and what is additionally appalling is that the researcher suggests that robot sex/marriage will decrease prostitution. Well, what is the creation of a robot that exists just for the purpose of easing one person's sexual urges? If you are going to consider a robot a "person" who can engage in a relationship, isn't this just an even more warped form of prostitution? I mean, this guy suggests that it is preferable to have sex with a thing, an object one can control, than an actual person with genuine and spontaneous feelings as well as their own needs. Sex and marriage are just about fulfilling one person's desires and treating the other party as a means to an end...if that is not prostitution, I'm not sure what is.

This isn't even just submission this is slavery. And what is most disturbing is that the Charles Choi, the reporter who wrote this piece, just gives the scholar free rein to make his argument without even bringing up the possibility that there is something wrong with this picture. He only questions whether society will "accept" a robot as a sexual/marriage partner not the effect this could have upon what we consider healthy human relationships. Society will accept a wide variety of things but that doesn't make them good. It is pretty spineless reporting to not even counter this controversial suggestion with the possibility that this proposal might not be the best thing for humanity and just encourages a self-centered narcissism.

Something is seriously wrong with a person when they can only intimately relate to objects and not other people. Along with that comes a lack of empathy and when people lack empathy (seeing life from another person's view), the downfall of humanity is not far behind. A lack of empathy is a common psychological diagnosis when doctors look at persistent antisocial behavior.

I'm not being speciescentric. It's just that in sex and marriage, robots are like children and animals in that they can not legally or morally consent to an act here. And if a robot could say, "No, thanks, I don't feel like sex right now", I think the entire motivation to have a sex robot slave would disappear.

By the way, I can rag on Ph.D. candidates because I am one myself and have been surrounded by other Ph.D. candidates for more years than I'm willing to admit. I'm not surprised a doctoral candidate came up with this theory (many lack basic social skills) but I'm astonished that a thesis committee would grant him a degree. I mean, this student gets his degree on October 11th and on October 12th there is a news story about his thesis? C'mon, he must have sent out his press release when he scheduled his defense and they held the story until he passed his defense. Not surprisingly low quality standards for Internet journalism but I hope if this story gets circulated in the respected media, I hope they will raise some questions and not just be a public forum for this man's warped views on healthy relationships.

The best thing about my friends is that they can tell me when I'm full of myself. They call me when I'm being self-centered, judgmental, insensitive. And I listen to them because they ARE my friends and they don't want me to look like or be an ass. I can't imagine some computer programmer is going to program a robot that will give it's "owner" a second look and say, "I think you're full of shit. And by the way, I'm going home with Ramon." When that day comes, maybe I'll rethink my stance on human-robot relationships.