I know at least some of you are thinking: I already feel like I am having sex with a robot. But new research predicts that we will be having sex with actual robots within five years and considers an exciting application of robotic technology – replacing sex workers with androids. The possibilities are fascinating. Affordable android sex workers could have the power to eliminate the trafficking of men and women from the sex trades. It could stop the exploitation of very young boys and girls in poor countries by sex tourists. It could stem the tide of sexually transmitted infections that currently flow from sex workers to their clients to those clients’ wives and other sexual partners.Android sex workers could be available in every mall, airport and hotel in the country. People would never have to experience being horny, in the same way that many people in the West have never had to experience what it feels like to be hungry.
I love science fiction. In fact, I am currently making my way through Philip Dick’s stories written in the 1950’s. One thing that reading old science fiction reveals to me is this: science fiction writers may be good at envisaging technological change but they are lousy at predicting social change.
For example, in Philip Dicks’s world, the men of the future (all of whom are smokers) are all off colonizing the moons, while all the women of the future are either subservient housewives or whores.
(Incidentally, in the last story I read of his there was only one woman who happens to be both a whore and an android. Spoiler alert – things do not end well for humanity in that scenario.)
This current paper isn’t really that different in that it assumes that futuristic sex markets (in 2050) are populated by men (only) who continue to fly around the world to buy sex in specialized markets like Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
There are three reasons, however, that people travel to buy sex on a foreign market that would no longer apply in futuristic android sex markets.
The first is that people are ashamed of their behavior and therefore remove themselves from their own community so that they can buy sex in the anonymity of a foreign market.
If sex with androids is “guilt-free,” as the authors claim, I am not sure why anyone would need to travel to a foreign market to buy it.
The second is that foreign sex markets provide cheaper services than their home markets in developed economies. This is particularly true in countries in which poverty ensures a perpetual supply of desperate men and women.
Android sex workers will presumably flow across borders far more easily than human sex workers, implying that the price of their services should be similar worldwide.
The final reason why people travel for sex is they demand services that domestic sex workers are unwilling to provide at any price level. Sex with children, for example, is difficult to buy in the developed world, as is sex that involves a great deal of violence.
Whether or not governments in the developed world would permit the development of pre-pubescent androids for the sex market is a topic that I suspect would generate a great deal of debate. If they did, however, the desire to travel specifically for that service would disappear.
There are broader economic implications for this development.
The most obvious is that entire economies that depend on sex tourism would be devastated. The authors of this paper argue that Amsterdam would flourish with a new android sex market. I obviously disagree with that conclusion. But beyond that there could potentially be a very painful period of adjustment for both poor nations that depend on sex tourism and for the poor in developed nations who depend on the income they receive from the sex trades.
Another implication is that android sex would change the dynamics within marriage. I personally don’t see wives happily waving their husbands good-bye as they head out to spend $10,000 on android sex (which is the 2050 price suggested in this paper) any more than I see husbands cheerfully sending their wives off to do the same thing.
But if they did, and sex with an android was acceptable within marriage, how might that change the way that couples negotiate? The authors of this paper argue that wives only have sex with their husbands in order to encourage them to help out around the house. Does access to android sex then mean that women have to go back to doing all the chores?
And how about marriage as an institution? Will Massachusetts be the first state to grant equal marriage rights to human-android couples?
I don’t doubt that technology will head in this direction. In fact, the sex trades might do for robotic technology what pornography has done for Internet technology – increase the profitability in such a way that new technologies arrive quickly.
The question is: Would you have sex with an android?
The authors write:
“If android lovers programmed to deliver are the gateway to the kind of mind blowing sex few people currently experience, it is likely that our attitudes to robot sex will change.”
I must be naïve because up until this moment, I didn’t even realize that we, as a society, had attitudes toward robot sex. It seems to me that lots of people, particularly women, have absolutely no problem having sex with electronics; even those that can’t take out the garbage in the morning.
Yeoman, Ian and Michelle Mars (May 2012). “Robots Men and Sex Tourism.” Futures Vol. 44: p.p. 365-371.