From the Stepford Wives to Jude Law's "Gigolo Joe" in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, pop culture has some interesting portrayals of intimacy between humans and robots. But are sex robots just the stuff of science fiction, or could they become part of our reality?
According to Tufts University computer scientist Matthias Scheutz, they already are.
At the International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction on Wednesday, Scheutz presented research on people's attitudes toward sex robots.
According to a 100-person poll conducted via online service Amazon Mechanical Turk, most agree that sex with a robot is more like masturbating with a sex toy than having sex with a person. However, people disagree on which uses of sex robots are appropriate.
Though it might seem like sex-bots should just be for personal pleasure, the study presented a few ways they can be used for social good. One possibility is to provide them to sex offenders to prevent them from targeting people. On a seven-point scale from inappropriate to appropriate (with one meaning "completely inappropriate" and 7 meaning "completely appropriate"), women considered this a 3.7, while men deemed it a 4.88.
Women and men both agreed it would be appropriate to use sex robots for education about sexual harassment. People also considered sex robots a good alternative for anyone with disabilities who can't otherwise find a partner, and answered that they'd prefer people turn to sex robots rather than hire sex workers.
These issues aren't just hypothetical, Scheutz told NTRSCTN in a statement. He said sex robots already exist, and they'll only continue to become "more human and life-like in their appearance, movements, and physical properties."
In Japan and South Korea, “escort” services rent out sex robots for overnight use, according to a paper by artificial intelligence expert David Levy. And several companies like RealDoll—which creates customized "dolls" based on real people—sell extremely lifelike sex robots online.
Computer scientist Adrian David Cheok even told Newsweek in 2014 that it will be "perfectly normal for people to have sex with robots" one day—a possibility that concerns Scheutz.
"There is a danger that people might be inclined to seek more than just sex from the robot, e.g., intimacy and companionship," Scheutz said. "And that could lead to unidirectional emotional bonds with machines that the machines cannot reciprocate and could affect the ways people interact with other people."
He added, "This danger is not limited to sex robots, but applies to social robots in general."
Unrequited love with a sex robot may sound like the plot of a sci-fi flick, but it may soon become a real problem.