It takes a bold (and possibly foolish) person to stick up for sex robots these days. We've heard so much bad stuff about them it's a wonder they haven't yet been banned. Some people warn us that they are going to replace human women. Others say they encourage men to be sexually violent. They could even – as security experts warned recently – be programmed to kill you.
But have our robotic companions been given too tough a time? I think so.
Sex robots of the future
At the moment, the technology used in sex robots is basic. The market-ready sexbots are nothing like real humans, contrary to the fears of many.
They contain very simple processors which enable them to 'hear' input, then offer a limited selection of responses. The idea that a sex robot could pass the Turing test is highly theoretical. And with a price tag running to tens of thousands of dollars, the only thing they appear to threaten is your wallet.
Yet sex robots fascinate us and the truly interesting questions don't relate to what they can do now, but what they might do in the future.
Sex robots for the vulnerable
When we talk about robotics and human interaction, it's often in a medical context. One of the most famous caring robots – PARO – is a cuddly seal-shaped companion that has been proven to alleviate suffering in dementia patients.
Robotic carers could help to make life easier for widowed people, or others in vulnerable situations who lack interaction. There would be physical benefits too because loneliness precipitates a number of other health conditions and reduces life expectancy.
It would be interesting to research whether sex robots could be used in a similar way. Sex is never just about orgasm or physical sensation – it is often a boost to mental and physical health. Couple this with improved artificial intelligence and it is clear a sex robot could be a vital companion rather than just a sexual partner.
Sex robot therapists
Although the sex robots currently on the market are almost exclusively designed to look like slim women, there is nothing to stop manufacturers developing more diverse models. They don't have to be 'women' either. In fact, they don't even have to be 'humans'.
What if there were a sex robot that looked more like a body suit, worn by the user? Something like this would also have enormous benefit for people with physical disabilities. There will also be people who simply can't – or don't want to – have sex with other humans. This may be because of conditions such as agoraphobia or as a result of trauma.
Sex robots could provide sexual pleasure without distress and could even be used to help people overcome issues around sex. Sex surrogates are currently employed to do this. For the foreseeable future their jobs are safe, but it's easy imagine them being replaced by sex robots of the future that have therapeutic skills.
In defence of sex robots
Critics are too quick to criticise technological advances – especially when they relate to sex. But technology isn't good or bad: it's neutral. The power is in the hands of manufacturers to create something more than just a sex doll with a voice box. We can make sex robots that can improve lives and society.
Sex robots aren't good or bad. They're a reflection of the intentions of their human creators: What sex robots could we make if we had truly good intentions?