realistic Japanese sex dolls
62-year-old Senji Nakajima shares a bed with his silicone sex doll Saori at his apartment on the outskirts of Tokyo Behrouz Mehri/AFP

Commercial sex robots with poor cybersecurity protection could soon be taken over by criminal hackers and potentially be used to kill, an Australian academic has claimed.

Dr Nick Patterson, a lecturer specialising in technology at the Deakin University in Melbourne, believes that web-connected sex robots are just as vulnerable to hacking as phones and tablets.

Cybercriminals, he warned, could therefore soon exploit security gaps in such devices by compromising arms, legs and "other attached tools" to cause harm.

"Often these robots can be upwards of 200 pounds, and very strong," he told The Daily Star. "Once a robot is hacked, the hacker has full control and can issue instructions to the robot.

"The last thing you want is for a hacker to have control over one of these robots.

"Once hacked they could absolutely be used to perform physical actions [and] cause damage."

He added: "Robots need an operating system to operate just like our phones, tablets and laptops.

"It's popular to have everything connected to the internet these days – phones, fridges, surveillance cameras, smart homes - robots are no different."

Modern dolls – often instilled with artificial intelligence (AI) – are based upon silicon "skin" and a skeleton which can be changed into a variety of positions.

Critics warn that there remains little legislation to effectively govern how they are used.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, the wider sex-tech market is now worth $30bn in total worldwide and that there are four major manufacturers of high-end sex doll products, ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 in price depending on customisations.

Now, as the popularity of sex robots spikes, debate is emerging about the ethical and moral concerns surrounding the technology-enhanced products.

A report published in July 2017 by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics found that up to two-thirds of men and approximately 30% of women were in favour of sexbots.

But it warned such devices could potentially be abused to enact sexual abuse and paedophilia.

The report acknowledged the issues around hacking and data privacy, especially in regard to online sex robots. It noted that "all internet and Bluetooth connected devices are vulnerable" to [hacking] and concluded: "There are no iron clad solutions to these problems".

"It may be 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," the report noted, also highlighting a lack of rules around dolls made to look like children.

Indeed, on 8 September this year, a former primary school governor in the UK was jailed for 16 months after importing child sex dolls. In the face of rising concerns, manufacturers claim their products actually save lives by helping people get past divorces and bereavements.