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"Sex with Robots" could ruin human relationships

By Paige Dominguez
On March 14, 2011

Wikipedia's definition of a sex doll is "a type of sex toy in the size and shape of a sexual partner for aid in masturbation." A simple enough concept to grasp— that is until you replace the word "doll" with "robot." Instead of imagining a cheap inanimate blow up doll, think more along the lines of a high-tech computer you can have sexual intercourse with.

John Sullins, assistant professor of philosophy who has been teaching at Sonoma State University for six years, traveled to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo on March 4 to give a lecture titled "The Ethics of Robots and Sex."

In his talk, Sullins shed some light on the ethical dilemmas many sex doll enthusiasts seem to overlook when advocating the robots. He explained the thought processes behind the engineers that actually create the life-like mechanical dolls. In order to make a sex robot that sells successfully, the engineers prey on human's psychological weaknesses.

"Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize things in their environment, like naming their car, for instance. People have a compelling need to make connections with things in their lives," said Sullins in an interview before his lecture.

Engineers have the ability to access these psychological weaknesses when they build a computer that takes the shape of a visually pleasing and attractive mate that can say emotionally moving things, like "I love you," during physically intimate moments.

At the 2010 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., Roxxxy, the life sized robot girlfriend, was revealed. What makes this particular model of sex doll different is that she's a robot who can carry on a limited conversation and has characteristics that are programmed by the owner based on his or her personal preferences.

One of the first American mainstream sex robots, she has a number of personalities that the owner can choose from, varying from "Frigid Farrah" to "Wild Wendy." Roxxxy, equipped with an artificial circulatory system designed for cooling and heating the doll to body temperature, also responds to human touch.

The message Sullins tries to convey revolves around how the potential psychological outcomes of this form of advanced technology pose certain threats to the way society functions as a whole. If it is possible for the users of these dolls to form strong connections with a machine with such low capabilities, what's next for the future? Loving and intimate relations with an animated machine could eventually replace human relationships.

Sullins also touched on an opposing view. In his book "Love and Sex with Robots," Author David Levy presents the positive influences sex robots can have on society.

According to Sullins, Levy believes that these types of robots will not only be able to end pedophilia and prostitution, but that they also will serve as the antidote to unsuccessful dating for people that don't have healthy sex lives. Though Levy enlightens his readers with the benefits that sex dolls can provide humans, Sullins still believes that they will ultimately cause social isolation.

While engineers can make a machine that is sexually satisfying, many feel skeptical about the fact that they are attempting to create an emotionally satisfying robot as well.

Sullins said that in philosophy classes, they discuss a concept called "the erotic," which can be described as a loving and meaningful relationship that transports the lovers to a philosophically higher place; the relationship helps them become better people.

"Plato argues that in life, humans should not just try to obtain sexual gratification, but they should try to attain the erotic," said Sullins. Junior Grant Pearce, who took one of Sullins's philosophy classes over intersession, said, "If in the future, engineers built a machine where the human in the relationship could achieve the erotic because the machine was so technologically advanced, how would that effect the person's ability to maintain romantic and real relationships with other people?

The concept of this kind of mechanically engineered love has the ability to raise a person's expectations with humans, making it virtually impossible for them to achieve happiness with a living partner.

Sullins teaches numerous classes ranging from Computer Ethics to Philosophy Fantasy and the Lord of the Rings. In all of his classes, he discusses the subject of robotics due to the fact that he feels "robotics are just now beginning to find a real place in our society and there are many new career opportunities for those who want to get involved." 

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