Robotic Prostitution, Parental Controls, Caprica & Sex in the Uncanny Valley

by on January 11, 2010 · 10 comments

If this robotic girlfriend—unveiled last weekend at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo and costing $7-9k—actually goes mainstream, I’ll bet it’s only a matter of time before we see some state lawmaker somewhere propose to ban the toys. The FCC well, no doubt, follow suit, by demanding the incorporation of parental control tools into the devices so Junior doesn’t have his way with Ms. Roxxxy (or her soon-to-be-released male counterpart, Rocky) while Mom and Dad are out at NASCAR the opera.

Laugh if you will, but if Moore’s Law holds true, such robots will become smarter, cheaper, and probably sexier as microchips continue to plummet in price and meaningful artificial intelligence becomes marketplace reality.  Move over, Roomba, Roxxxy has arrived—and she ain’t no Rosie the Robot Maid from The Jetsons! Telegraph reports that there’s a whole book about this:

In a 2007 book, “Love and Sex with Robots,” British chess player and artificial intelligence expert David Levy argues that robots will become significant sexual partners for humans, answering needs that other people are unable or unwilling to satisfy.

But the most interesting part of the telegraph article is creator Douglas Hines’s motivation:

Inspiration for the sex robot sprang from the September 11, 2001 attacks, he said, where a friend died and he vowed to store his personality forever.

This sounds an awful lot like the plot of Caprica, the new SyFi television series, a prequel set 58 years before the beginning of Battlestar Galactica, the cult phenomenon that even seduced hardened TV-refusenik like me. The show launches January 22, 2010, but the prequel came out late last year birth of the Cylons, who began as clunky, metallic-scanned robots but eventually evolve into humanoids indistinguishable from humans—and also bent on wiping out the human race. While Battlestar was set in space, Caprica is largely set in cyberspace, and depicts nightmarish realm of violence, sadism, drug use, and utterly unbridled sexuality in which teenagers run wild and ultimately produce very, very scary robots whose artificial intelligence is actually born in cyberspace.

The Uncanny ValleySo my serious prediction for 2010 is that, if this prequel is half as popular its sequel, it will drive discussions about online child safety heights of hysteria. And yes, in the next, say, 10 years, I think these discussions will increasingly span the rapidly disappearing line between virtual reality and virtual people like Roxxxy. In both cases, the closer we get to verisimilitude, the more people are going to freak out—the “Uncanny Valley” first described by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. And, rest assured, the same people who have tried to shut down Craigslist’s “Erotic services” category, will be sure to try to shut down “robotic prostitution.” I haven’t read it yet, but Adam Thierer reminds me that David Friedman discussed these issues in Chapter 20 (“All in Your Mind”) of his 2008 book Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World, including philosopher Robert Nozick’s “experience machine” concept from his masterpiece Anarchy, State & Utopia. (Tyler Cowen also discusses this in his new book, Create Your Own Economy).

H.L. Mencken once defined “Puritanism” as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” So perhaps “techno-Puritanism” could be defined as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having fun with the content, service, screen, device, toy, or mechanical orifice of their choosing.”

Don’t like it?  Don’t use it! (And yes, as these tools to become prevalent and easily accessible by children, expect that their manufacturers will build parental controls into, but of course, the ultimate parental control for an expensive device is the power of the purse—and, if Mom and Dad really do want to keep a “playmate” in the closet but away from Junior—a good-ol’ fashioned lock!)

Previous post:

Next post: