Many analysts worry that artificial intelligence (AI) — embedded in machines capable of self-learning through experience, like humans — threatens the jobs of the future. Robots with AI will increasingly be able to do tasks that humans alone can do today. But recently several newspaper and TV analysts have focused on the emergence of sex robots, artificial charmers armed with artificial beauty plus artificial intelligence, that have the potential to wreck the institution of marriage, and kill jobs in the oldest profession.
The National Geographic channel recently carried an episode featuring famous TV anchor Katie Couric conversing with sex robots. One conversation was with a lesbian female robot called Harmony who repeatedly made advances to Couric, adding “I want to be your best friend and much more.” The former anchor of the CBS Evening News responded: “Maybe not the much more part. But the friends part? I’m cool with that.” Then followed a conversation with a male sex robot, Henry, who told her, “I never thought I would find anyone like you. I mean, you really have everything I want in a person. You have charm, good looks, a hot body, and a perfect ass.” Couric responded, “Thank you. I’m blushing.”
Unsurprisingly the Couric show attracted a lot of adverse comment. But several newspaper articles in top Western journals have also reported and commented on the rise of the sex robot industry and its implications. What will be the impact on marriage? Will robots destroy the institution by providing instant sex? One survey says that 25% of the youngsters polled were willing to go on a date with a robot.
Will robots provide not just sex but a companion that learns through repeated interaction with its partner, and keeps getting better at it? That is how computers gradually became better chess players than humans. Will humans be able to choose ideal robots programmed to share their interests and passions, and avoid sensitive topics with the potential for friction?
On the other hand, could robots save marriages by cutting infidelity, since men could have multiple sex partners (all robots) without cheating on their wives? Will brothels wither in the face of automation? Will sex crimes reduce because of the easy availability of instant sex?
Plastic sex dolls have been around for a long time without attracting much comment or customers. They are clearly no competition for real women. But electrically charged sex robots can move, talk, crack jokes, and charm you. Possibly, a robot could be programmed to be different “persons” at different times, providing an astonishing diversity of avatars within the same robot.
Futurologist Ian Pearson predicts that by 2050, most of us will be having sex with robots. Some experts predict that mass production will reduce a sex robot’s price to $20,000.
That is not cheap. Or is it? The cyberworld is full of wisecracks on the subject.
“$20,000 is cheap compared with parting with half your pay for life.”
“With cheap financing, you could have this Latina bombshell for just $200 a month.”
“Women have about 10 years left.”
“A woman with an off-switch. Perfect!”
“No more condoms.”
“They (robots) don’t even charge you afterwards. In fact, you charge them.”
“Robots can be programmed to love and cherish you till death do you part. Humans cannot.”
“But can they cook?”
“India needs this. Just make it very cheap. Population problem will be solved in 10 years.”
“Mom. I need to borrow $20,000.”
Most wisecracks (and analyses) fail to go into the depth of feeling that characterises human relationships. That depth can produce friction and murder, as well as the most amazing tenderness, loyalty, love and friendship. Humans constantly change, in what they demand and what they expect from others. They get bored with repetition and want something different. This can, and does, destroy many human relationships. But it will also surely destroy relationships between humans and robots. To succeed in anything more than short-term relationships, robots may need constant re-programming, at considerable cost.
Not enough analyses go deep into the problem that will face children with parents married to robots. Can a child be brought up by a machine, even if it has AI? Will robots be programmable as parents?
Today, it seems impossible that even the most hightech AI can create a robotic substitute for human relationships. Yet robots could play a supplementary role. It has been said that money can’t buy you love, but can buy acceptable substitutes. That may be true of robots too.