Academics want sex robots capable of withdrawing consent. Even our fantasies aren’t safe from the virtue police

Suggesting sex bots can be used to “help nudge users towards virtuous (or vicious) behavior,” university researchers Anco Peeters and Pim Haselager have called for the robots designed solely to fulfill human fantasies to come with built-in safeguards to ensure those fantasies don’t exceed the bounds of social decency. Let your imagination run wild – within limits, of course.

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Consent culture” has long since lost touch with reality. Forcing first-year college students to sit through a “consent course” to learn something as obvious as “no means no” suggests admissions staff don’t trust themselves not to pick a herd of rapists – it’s equivalent to making students sit through a film on proper toilet hygiene. Must the virtue police impose their infantilization of the bedroom even on people’s interaction with glorified computerized sex toys?

The pair admit that merely programming a sex robot to give or not give verbal consent hardly addresses the totality of the phenomenon – humans can be pressured into sex, or too intoxicated to understand what’s going on, both scenarios that would be difficult if not impossible to replicate with AI. Yet they still suggest “compassion cultivating sex robots” could be used to teach sex ed to teenagers – as if “programming” young people to expect a predictable series of behaviors from their sexual partners isn’t setting them up for disappointment, even shock when faced with the real thing.

The fear that acting out “vicious” sexual fantasies with an inanimate object will encourage humans to act them out in real life overlooks the fact that porn has been there, done that – and provided a far more disturbed view of sexuality than a robot ever could. Yet the ubiquity of porn hasn’t transformed humanity into rapists, despite grotesque and sometimes downright disturbing content.

Pearl-clutching over the thought of people acting out rape fantasies with robots ignores the fact that they already have the rape fantasy. If people are really such slaves to their imaginations, how have they refrained from acting that fantasy out on humans before the robot came along?

If anything, the opportunity to act out their forbidden fantasy with a hot hunk of silicon makes it less likely a person will go looking for someone to rape in real life. And being turned down by a sex robot might push that person over the edge, leading them to seek revenge among the living. Who wouldn’t throw their phone across the room if, asking Siri for directions, she refused to provide them? Sex robots – like any other AI-enabled device – are built to obey.

This urge to police what is essentially an act of high tech masturbation – for all their advanced programming, a sex robot is just a thing – is characteristic of a growing trend toward elite distrust of the mass imagination. The same puritanical urge to make sure no one thinks they’re raping a robot wants to take violent films off the big screen, lest some viewer decide to pick up a gun. It assumes people are incapable of understanding and obeying social norms even with respect to something so obviously wrong as rape and murder – and that they would never conceive of committing such acts without fictional stimuli. Such an urge simultaneously demonizes and dismisses the imagination.

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Programming sex robots to give and withdraw consent in order to stamp out the “normalization” of rape is a slippery slope that ends with the virtue police probing the population’s sexual fantasies, sifting through the thoughts recorded by an individual’s Neuralink (or Facebook thought-reading implant) in order to render those fantasies squeaky-clean and politically correct. And that future – one in which authorities have veto power over the imagination – is something no one should consent to.

By Helen Buyniski, RT

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