IN ANCIENT Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a talented sculptor fromCyprus. Since he had lost interest in women, he dedicated himself to his work. He soon created Galatea, a statue of a woman so beautiful and realistic that he instantly fell in love with her. He dressed the statue in fine clothing, put rings on her fingers, and talked to her every day. Unfortunately, yet understandably, the statue could never love him in return. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, took pity on the young man and gave life to the statue. Eventually, Pygmalion and Galatea, now a living human being, got married. The unusual love that blossomed between Pygmalion and Galatea enthralls the readers. Yet, even more interesting is the fact that falling in love with a man-made creation is not a science fiction anymore – the age of humans making love with robots is on its way.
Is it possible to fall in love with robots?
How can people fall in love with robots? Is it even possible? Before answering these questions, it is helpful to examinehow humans fall in love. Recent studies have concluded that romantic love is a continuation of the process of “attachment,” a psychological term used to describe emotionally close and important relationships that people have with each other. Introduced by the British developmental psychologist John Bowlby, attachment theory was founded on the need to explain the emotional bonds between mother and infant. To be specific, babies only a few weeks old show some signs of attachment initially to their mothers. Yet, as babies grow into children, the signs of attachment extend to certain objects such as blankets, rattles, and teddy bears. Differentitems become the focus of each child’s possessive attentiveness, and as the child develops into an adult, the object of focus generally changes to adult toys such as cars and computers.
Attachment to a material possession can develop into a stronger relationship as a result of the possession’s repeated use and the owner’s interaction with it. This phenomenon is known as “material possession attachment.” At first, a material possession is nothing more than a commodity that is purchased. Yet, as people spend time using and playing with a specific device, it might gradually become less and less of a commodity and more and more an essential part of life. For instance, once we buy a computer and start using it, the computer is no longer simply a computer, instead it becomes my computer. Several psychology researchers, including Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton, refer to this creation-of-meaning process as “psychic energy.” As the owner devotes more psychic energy into an object, more meaning is imbued within the object, and as the object grows more important to its owner, the attachment that the owner feels for the object becomes stronger.
As the commodity becomes personalized to its owner through repeated usage and interaction, it acquires an aura of uniqueness within the owner’s mind. David Levy, the author of the book Love and Sex with Robots explains this again by using the example of a computer. Consciously, the owner knows that his computer is more or less exactly the same as millions of other commodities in the world. However, subconsciously, the owner develops the notion that this particular computer, his computer, is unique, and that it is personal to him. This often makes it difficult for the owner to replace his computer even with an exact replica. Moreover, according to the paper “Possessions and the Extended Self,” Russel Belk suggests that the greater the control people exercise over an object, the more closely allied with that object they become.
Thus, because of the high level of use people make of computers and the interactive nature of that use, not to mention the great amount of control people exert over them, computers have the potential to hold special meaning for them. If people combine these with the potential to extend themselves through their possessions, it is not difficult to imagine that the computer—controlled, interactive, used, and possessed—could generate the level of attachment needed to engender a kind of love in them. As it has been proven that one’s capacity to experience romantic love depends on one’s attachment history, an attachment history that involves computers could provide a basis for the capacity to fall in love with robots.
Sex robots already available
It is inevitable to include sex with robots in the discussion when talking about love with robots, as these two notions—love and sex—are deeply related. While the idea of sex with robots is regarded by many people as eccentric, disgraceful, and even perverted, nearly half of men interviewed in one survey stated that they could see themselves buying a robot for the purpose of sexual interaction in the near future. According to an online survey conducted by Jessica M. Szczuka from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, 263 heterosexual males between the ages of 18 and 67 were shown two-minute videos of female humanoid robots and then were asked whether they would buy such a robot for themselves within the next five years. Surprisingly, 40.3% of participants repliedthat they would buy a sex robot. Yet, Szczuka admits that there were limitations to the study: the price of the robot was not mentioned and people willing to take the online survey may already hold a more positive view of robots than others.
In fact, robots designed for the purpose of satisfying one’s sexual desire are already available for purchase. Roxxxy, one of the few existing female sex robots, made its public debut at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas in 2010. Built by Douglas Hines through his company TrueCompanion, it has an appearance akin to alifelike store mannequin and is equipped with an artificial intelligence engine that allows it to learn the owner’s preferences. Furthermore, the deluxe model has five programmable personalities, including Young Yoko, described on the company's website as “oh so young and waiting for you to teach her,” and S&M Susan, “ready to provide your pain/pleasure fantasies.” Other features include touch sensors that give Roxxxy the ability to sense when it is being moved. Following Roxxxy, a male sex robot named Rocky was also released by TrueCompanion. According to the website, both of them are not limited to sexual uses but can carry on a conversation and express their love to the users. Currently, they are available to the public at a price of $9,995.
Meanwhile, research and development in the sex robot industry continues. In 2014, Japan’s sex doll—a type of sex toy in the size and shape of a sexual partner for aid in masturbation—company, Orient Industry announced that it has developed skin that is basically indistinguishable from a real human’s skin. Moreover, many experts predict that sex robots will eventually be equipped with an almost real-time capability to respond to touch. Some even proposed the idea of sex robots that imitate humans’ biochemical signaling system, making it possible for them to release pheromones corresponding to arousal and love at the appropriate times.
While roboticists are skeptical about the possibility of creating emotionally intelligent humanoids that could actually feel love toward humans and empathize with their feelings, Lee Jysoo (Supercomputing director, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)) insists that efforts are progressing to invent robots that can recognize and respond to humans’ feelings. Referred to as “affective computing,” this technology uses physiological signals such as facial expressions, voices, and gestures to figure out emotions. Thanks to the new era of big data, it is now possible to access pictures of numerousfacial expressions that are essential for training computers to perceive people’s feelings. For example, companies such as Emotient and Affectiva have placed 100,000 photos of people looking happy and 1,000,000 photos of people looking unhappy into computers to help cue the machines on how to recognize “happiness.” This way, robots can be programmed to understand and react to emotions and also articulate expressions of love to their users, but still it is difficult, maybe even impossible to ascertain whether this is genuinely love.
Controversies over the use of sex robots
David Levy, a businessman noted for his involvement with computer chess and artificial intelligence, states several reasons why sex robots should be provided in his book Love and Sex with Robots. First of all, robotically assisted sexual therapy can be provided for those with physical or emotional deficiencies that make finding a human partner extremely difficult. Also, for those who are not interested in a full loving relationship and want nothing more than a passing sexual encounter, a robotic prostitute can be a solution. He adds that this option might end the troubling human sex industry by alleviating the public health problem of sexually transmitted diseases and also by replacing objectified human beings with actual objects that presumably have no rights to worry about. Furthermore, according to Levy, users of this technology might be able to experience a more perfect love through its use. Just imagine a robot that perfectly matches your ideal type and is programmed to love you; it will always whisper sweet nothings in your ears and display fascination towards you whatever you do. Nicolas Aujula, a behavior therapist, adds that sex robots can also provide a safe and discreet solution for exploring sexual fantasies.
However, some argue that widespread use of humanoid sex robots could have a detrimental effect on society. Dr. Kathleen Richardson, a senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom, along with Swedish cognitive scientist Dr. Erik Billing, have been leading a campaign against sex robots since Roxxxy’s emergence. The campaign website states, “Robots are a product of human consciousness and creativity, so it is evident that human power relationships are reflected in the production, design and proposed uses of these robots. As a result, we oppose any efforts to develop robots that will contribute to gender inequalities in society.” Richardson argues that the development of sex robots will further objectify women, and she disagrees that sex robots will decrease sexual exploitation and violence in prostitution; on the contrary, she fears that the use of sex robots will reinforce the viewthat women are inferior. She also worries about the loss of human empathy that can only be developed in a mutual personal relationship, as the convenience of using sex robots could deter some individuals from pursuing human-to-human intimacy.
In response to the campaign against sex robots, Hines, the inventor of Roxxxy, told the BBC “We are not supplanting the wife or trying to replace a girlfriend. This is a solution for people who are between relationships or someone who has lost a spouse,” and added “The physical act of sex will only be a small part of the time you spend with a sex robot - the majority of time will be spent socializing and interacting.” However, apart from this, many ethical questions pertaining to this issue have yet to be answered: Should there be an age limit for obtaining sex robots? Is it rude for friends to share a sex robot? Do sex robots have the right to say “no” to certain extreme requests?
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Today the idea of someone loving a robot and having sex with it may seem strange or even totally wrong. Yet over history, opinions of what are morally acceptable actions and what are not have changed constantly. There may be no reason to think that our attitude to loving a machine that operates through artificial intelligence will be any different. Along with the rapid development of technology, it is time to embrace the upcoming changes in human-robot relationships and prepare for love, sex, and even marriage with robots.