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Cold and Unfeeling: The moral issues of Sex Robots

In February this year, Canadian police in Newfoundland intercepted a package from Japan at an airport. The package was labeled "Foam Rubber dummy for massage purposes" and was shipped from the company “Harumi Designs”. The company currently sits on a Canadian watchlist, hence why the package was intercepted. It's intended recipient received their package from police, and was then promptly arrested and charged with possession of child pornography. The reason for all this? The box contained an unassembled sex doll, designed to look like a pre-pubescent girl, along with a variety of clothing and accessories for said doll. The buyer's court case could set a legal precedent for how the law treats humanoid sex toys, and perhaps even, sex robots.

Sex robots, once the domain only of dark science fiction, have been real for a few years, enough that a burgeoning industry is emerging in the world of sex toys. Sex Dolls have seemingly existed since ancient Greece with the myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue that was later brought to life by Aphrodite. Now dozens of engineers and artists are working to do the same thing, swapping carved ivory for poured silicon and posable metal skeletons. Apparently there are now ones that can “talk”, albeit from a list of canned responses, and have “personalities” And that is where the problematic nature of these dolls truly lies. What does it mean when a customer can program a robot to say “no”, but then ignore them completely?

Such is the case with the Roxxxy TrueCompanion. TrueCompanion, a New Jersey based sex robot manufacturer, produces a variety of “personalities” for each model. One such personality is named “Frigid Farrah” and is programmed to verbally resist and protest any advances made by the user. Understandably, this has angered many Feminists, along with the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (or FRR). Feminists argue that these robots do not combat rape, but instead encourage the behaviour. In a recent article in The New York Times titled “The Trouble with Sex Robots” Laura Bates, a Feminist critic, argues “Rape is not an act of sexual passion. It is a violent crime. We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab.”

The research behind whether or not these sorts of simulacrum do anything to combat or encourage deviant behaviour is largely inconclusive. It has been argued that products like the Roxxxy or Harumi Design Dolls could act as a way for potential sex criminals to keep their desires in check by living them out with an inanimate object. As the FRR argues in their report “Our Sexual Future with Robots” “ robot machinery operated by on-board computers cannot grant consent or be raped any more than a soap dish can be raped.” But Feminist critics, and some members of the FRR, believe that the fact that these robots are machines and thus lack any form of sentience, coupled with the fact that a user doesn't need to seek consent, could make a user feel as though they simply don't need to seek consent when dealing with actual people, though this level of desensitisation is highly unlikely.

What is perhaps most important is that this new market is kept from going underground. The only way to keep these manufacturers from entering deeply morally questionable territory is to keep them under the control of law and legislation. And to that end, cases like the one in Newfoundland are being used to rein in the industry in a country by country basis. The FRR is completely against the manufacture of child-like robots and has called for a total ban on production and sale. They feel that these robots should be treated under laws similar to those which already legislate pornography.

Sex Robots are now real, and they aren't going away any time soon. It is important that this market does not grow and evolve in a way that would be detrimental to society. And the best way to do that is through proper legislation. And the laws should be set soon, before the cost of manufacture decreases enough to make them truly mass market.

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