Bioethics Blogs

Sex and death among the robots: when should we campaign to ban robots?

Today, I noticed two news stories: BBC future reported about the Korean work on killer robots (autonomous gun turrets that can identify, track and attack) and BBC news reported on the formation of a campaign to ban sex robots, clearly mirrored on the existing campaign to stop killer robots.

Much of the robot discourse is of course just airing hopes and fears about the future, projected onto futuristic devices. But robots are also real things increasingly used for real applications, potentially posing actual threats and affecting social norms. When does it make sense to start a campaign to stop the development of robots that do X?

I have earlier posted on this blog about the ethics of military robots. Christof Heyns said: “Machines lack morality and mortality, and should as a result not have life and death powers over humans.” While I think this oversimplifies things, there are deeply troubling problems with proportionality, just war, diffusion of responsibility, and whether military interventions might become more attractive if there are no body bags and the army is guaranteed to be loyal to the political rulers.

The Campaign Against Sex Robots is based on the view that having sex robots objectifies women and children (for some reason not men), that the sex robot discourse is based on a prostitution analogy that regards the (human) prostitute as a thing to be used, that sex robots will reduce human empathy and reinforce power relations of inequality and violence, and that sex robots will not reduce sexual exploitation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.