It sounds like bleak science-fiction; a side note in some grim, Dystopian novel. But robotics experts at a “robot ethics panel” held in Berkeley, University of California, earlier this year suggested that “child sex robots” could be a viable option in the rehabilitation of pedophiles in the future.
“Child-like robots could be used for pedophiles the way methadone is used to treat drug addicts,” Ron Arkin of Georgia Tech’s Mobile Robot Lab told his audience, according to Forbes magazine. “There are no presumptions that this will assuredly yield positive results – I only believe it is worth investigating in a controlled way to possibly provide better protection to society from recidivism in sex offenders. If we can save some children, I think it’s a worthwhile project,” he went on to say.
He added that he fears if the possibility of these specialised robots is not researched clinically, a future “black market” could rise up offering child sex bots for sale.
Elsewhere the writer Ben Way, author of the fascinating book Jobocalypse: The End of Human Jobs and How Robots will Replace Them, has said “child sex robots” are definitely on their way sooner or later. “There is no doubt that child sex bots will become available, and the distinction between an adult sex bot and a child sex bot is (going to be) impossible to police,” the author recently told The Daily Mail.
That view is not as sensationalist as it appears at first; while advanced robotics could serve manifold purposes in the world, there’s no question that many minds will immediately wonder how it might cater to people’s sexual desires and preferences.
After all, the Internet itself is one of the great accomplishments of tech and science – a miracle, in fact, facilitating so much in so many areas of interest and functionality – but it’s No.1 usage is still pornography (including, unfortunately, that troubling subset of child pornography). Robotics will face the same problem; and it’s not just about ‘users’ own sexual preferences or desires, but about the business-savvy minds and ‘enablers’ who’ll have no scruples about feeding those desires/preferences, just as some people do on the web already.
The “black market’ Mr Arkin refers to would seem like an inevitability.
Obviously there are all kinds of ethical and moral elements to this subject. Comparing sexual offenses against children to drug addiction is questionable in itself on the surface of it; but it takes the view that the sexual urges that drive acts of pedophilia are an uncontrollable addiction and not a conscious choice.
On the one hand that might be seen to readdress the crime as something more clinical and psychological and less the monstrous, unfathomable act that most subjective, emotive coverage of the subject portrays it as. If pedophilia is a serious psychological or biological matter and not simply a choice ‘perversion’, then the pitchfork wielding, angry village mob approach to child sex offenders probably isn’t overly productive; and the sober, clinical approach to the matter – ‘sex robots’ included – would seem reasonable.
Sexual acts with a non-sentient robot presumably wouldn’t be regarded a crime – would presumably not even be considered a real ‘act’ – even if the underlying psychology of sexual desire towards children would still be considered a perversion. In theory, what is regarded as an immoral desire would be satisfied with an entirely legal action.
This assumes, however, that child sex offenses might be incurable in the psychological sense and that a ‘replacement drug’ might be the best solution; which is, of course, a rather grim view.
But most would argue of course that the safeguarding of child victims would take priority over the ‘curing’ of the offenders; and that if the use of highly life-like robots could have a meaningful impact on reducing future real-life crimes against children, then it would warrant consideration.
In general a less emotive, sensationalist and a more logical, sober approach to such matters might be more likely to lead to progress of some kind or another.
This being said, it’s hard to imagine this ‘solution’ having any impact on, for example, organised child-trafficking and child abuse networks – of which there are many, often involving very powerful, wealthy perpetrators.
Not to get too deep into this, as it’s an uncomfortable subject, but there is something else that comes to mind too, though I’m probably getting too far ahead of things here; but what happens one day if another common feature of futuristic science-fiction comes to pass – specifically that robots become regarded as ‘sentient’; become regarded as individual beings in their own right?
Wouldn’t the production of ‘child sex robots’ for the sole purposes of pleasuring would-be sex offenders become in itself another moral quagmire? Robots and slavery is of course a common theme in SF and visions of the future, but sex slavery in particular would open up whole new ethical concerns for the future.
If all this sounds like over-imaginative Dystopian drivel or like the premise of an even bleaker sequel to Blade Runner, bear in mind this is something being discussed and researched at an academic level.
In fact, it was only recently a museum in Japan launched a sensational display of incredibly life-like androids/robots, including a construct that looked like an adult Japanese woman and a “robot newsreader” in the form of a female child.
Within most of our lifetimes we will probably witness the arrival of humanoid robots on a broader scale; and some of these issues, previously the concern only of science-fiction writers, will become real-world concerns…