Sex robots would give us only what we think we want, and not what we truly desire | The Telegraph
ROWAN PELLING | 21 DECEMBER 2016 • 8:49PM
Nothing says Christmas like a conference called “Love and Sex with Robots”. While many spent the week contemplating the birth of a baby two millennia ago, Goldsmiths University played host to the second international congress on congress with machines. One of the team said drily that it was great to see such a large number of journalists at a specialist academic gathering.
I can’t have been the only person to have shifted guiltily in my lecture theatre seat. There’s no doubt the topics under discussion were fascinating for anyone familiar with Blade Runner, Westworld, Humans and even Austin Powers, where human attraction to robots is a key theme. A study cited by one of the speakers reported that around 40 per cent of men would happily purchase a sex robot given half a chance.
At this point an American colleague looked up TrueCompanion.com (“The World’s First Sex Robot”) on her mobile and showed me a 10-grand example of their wares, who bore a startling resemblance to Melania Trump. Then Emma Yann Zhang, a computer science PhD student, took to the floor to demonstrate her “Kissinger” device, which transmits simulated lip-on-lip pressure to loved ones via a mobile phone app. You rather wonder what the not-entirely-peacenik Henry K makes of his smooching namesake.
The conference nicked its name from tech whizz and international chess master David Levy’s 2007 best-selling book, Love and Sex with Robots. Levy said it was now a certainty that humans would be marrying automata (“enormously appealing partners for some people”) by 2050. Before you scoff, think of the emotions most of us regularly display towards our smartphones: panic, despair and a sense of hopelessness sweep over me if I’m parted from mine for more than an hour. In fact, it’s fair to say I’d rather lose my husband for a week than my iPhone. Add to this Levy’s assessment that, unlike tricky old humans, “Your robot will be protective, loving, trusting, truthful, persevering, respectful, uncomplaining, complimentary, pleasant to talk to and share your sense of your humour,” and you may start to see the appeal of a robot spouse.
Or, at least, I could very much understand the appeal to certain men – including those who waxed lyrical about robot brides at the conference. (Dr Kate Devlin, by contrast, who organised the conference, made it clear her preferred sexbot wouldn’t take human form – unless it could look like Peter Capaldi – and would be more of a sensory aid). The words “simpler” and “easier” cropped up a lot and it was hard to disagree that making love to a robot would prove far less demanding than courting a troublesome flesh-and-blood woman. Two of the key speakers at the conference told me afterwards that they would rather have sex with a robot than their ex-wives. And indeed the central joke of the recent movie Her is that a certain sort of divorced, nerdy male might well fall in love with a sultry-voiced operating system, rather than face rejection again.
Key to all this is the desire to be chosen. We want the elusive beloved to say of their own free will “Yes, it is you I want,” against all our previous expectation. This is the miracle most of us seek – not a pre-programmed machine. Indeed, when you consider the perverse and somewhat torturous nature of human longing, the best question (as posed by one woman at the conference) is: why would a robot want to marry a human?