As artificial intelligence has continued to make strides in various sectors and industries, including the competitive sex market, experts say sex robots could usher in a "revolution". However, a new report on the growing market by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics raised concerns that the use of these bots could encourage objectification, sexual abuse and paedophilia.
Noel Sharkey, professor of AI and robots at Sheffield University and one of the authors behind the report said it is still difficult to predict the impact of the different types of sex robots on society in the years ahead.
The report, titled "Our Sexual Future with Robots", said rapid advancements in robotics and the sex market have already led to the creation of modern pleasure robots that feature AI software for communication, offer a range of mobility features including 50 automated sexual positions among other capabilities. Most sport silicon skin, articulated metal skeletons and customisable features such as sex, eyes, hair and personality.
The report detailed four sex robot manufacturers whose products range in price from $5,000 (£3,870) to $15,000 in price. However, these firms said they aim to make the bots more affordable.
"Will these robotic dolls be niche? Or will they change societal norms and become widespread?" Sharkey said at a news briefing. "How would (sex with a robot) equate to a truly human intimate relationship?"
The report also found that up to two thirds of men and around 30% of women were in favour of using pleasure bots.
The report presented a summary of various issues surrounding its impact on society and opinions from academics, members of the sex industry and the public.
Some of the issues outlined in the report included the potential for "meaningful" human-robot relationships, the impact of sex robots on perceptions of gender and whether they could prove useful in reducing sexual crimes.
Dr Aimee van Wynsberghe, FRR co-director and assistant professor in ethics and technology at the Technical University, said these bots do carry benefits for society such as sexual therapy and treatment for conditions such as social anxiety, erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. People with disabilities and the elderly could also potentially benefit from interaction with the new technology, the report said.
However, "like everything else, there is a balance", Wynsberghe said.
"If we are talking about individuals who are not only disabled but have been traumatised, in some ways this could be a beneficial instrument, if you will, to help them in their [sexual] healing process", he explained, the Guardian reports. "You have to strike a balance between lack of regulation – so we have all different uses and personifications of children and women as sexual objects – or you have overregulation and you stifle the technology.
"You have to find the way to balance so you really can harness the good."
In terms of sex robots' ability to prevent sex crimes, the report found "major disagreement" on the issue.
"On one side there are those who believe that expressing disordered or criminal sexual desires with a sex robot would satiate them to the point where they would not have the desire to harm fellow humans," the report reads. "On the other side, many others believe that this would be an indulgence that could encourage and reinforce illicit sexual practices. This may work for a few but it is a very dangerous path to tread."
It added that allowing people to "live out their darkest fantasies with sex robots could have a pernicious effect on society and societal norms and create more danger for the vulnerable."
According to a 2016 Nesta FutureFest survey of 1002 UK adults, 17% of respondents admitted that they would go on a date with a robot. About 26% said they would do so for a robot that looked exactly like a human.
"Robots cannot feel love and tenderness or form emotional bonds," the report reads, noting that scholars say sex robots will "do nothing" for society's moral growth. "The best robots could do is 'fake it'".