Will it be considered rape if a robot has sex with a woman who hasn’t consented? Will the robot be punished? The responsibility would lie with the people who have programmed the machine with the capacity to force itself on people, says robotics expert Noel Sharkey of the Foundation of Responsible Robotics. Speaking to the Daily Star, Sharkey said, “A male sex robot, like any robot, has no desires of its own. These are inanimate devices run by computer programming. Thus, if a male gendered sex robot were to rape a woman, the police would need to hunt down the programmer.”
Companies that develop life-like female androids with big breasts and porn star features have been accused of perpetuating ‘rape culture’ and objectifying women. But now male sex robots with chiselled six-pack abs and penises ‘better than vibrators’ have entered the market, new legal and ethical questions have arisen. Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics and AI at the university of Sheffield, said male sex robots built with a rape setting could pose legal risks for programmers. There is no suggestion of any firm making a male sex robot designed to resist sexual advances or act out of a rape fantasy. But if a woman were to accuse a male sex robot of raping or sexually assaulting her, the programmer would likely to be held responsible in the eyes of the law.
A report by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) researched the potential implications and benefits of sex robots becoming used more widely for various purposes. In one section of the report, Canadian lawyer Sinziana Gutiu argues that sex robots are designed to be ‘mere instruments for the fulfilment of male fantasises’. Dr Kathleen Richardson, a robot ethicist at De Montfort University has gone so far as to oppose any efforts to develop human-like androids that contribute to gender inequalities and is part of rape culture.
But Matt McMullen, founder of RealDoll and Realbotix has disputed ethical complaints levelled at his firm. He said, “I could just as easily ask you if it is ethically dubious to force my toaster to make my toast.” Sharkey said, “Using a sex robot for masturbatory purposes does not necessarily legitimise rape fantasies and sexual assault.” Matt defended his company, telling Daily Star Online his customers want to use sex robots – male and female – not necessarily in a sexual way.
Matt has stated that main aim of his company is to help the socially isolated find companionship. “We have equal interest in male and female versions of what we’re doing. I feel it’s important to offer both. We got a lot of people gravitating to the fact that we’ve just made a female robot so far. People have accused us of objectifying women, but it’s important that people know that this is more than a sex toy. We have a lot of female customers interested in buying male robots as companions to talk to and interact with.” Last year, a scientific study found that a quarter of millennials admitted they would be happy having a sexual relationship with a robot.