In the face of AI exerts repeatedly predicting the rise of sex robots, it’s increasingly difficult to insist that such machines strictly belong to a far-off, dystopian future. But some robotics experts predict we’ll soon be doing far more than having sexual intercourse with machines. Instead, we’ll be making love to them—with all the accompanying romantic feelings.
“Experts predict human-robot marriage will be legal by 2050”
I’ve heard this before. The thing is, I don’t believe it.
Oh sure, I’ve exploited the idea in short stories such as The Perfect Woman, and I’ve written commentaries on this theme like When Your Sex Toy Tattles On You and An AI Sexbot That Can Love You Back, but let’s face it. There’s a long road to travel from sex to love, at least there should be.
The other issue is even if you build an AI sexbot that is really, really good at simulating human behavior, both sexually and romantically, can it really feel “love”. I mean, what is love anyway? Can AI “feel” anything at all?
Emotional states typically require hormonal involvement, which AI doesn’t have. There’s all this biological “mushiness” that is involved in love, hate, envy, pride, and all of the other feelings we humans (and forms of animal life) experience.
How can you build that into a machine, no matter what level of AI is developed?
Maybe you can dupe a person into “loving” a machine, but I doubt the thing will love you back.
Which brings us to marriage. Why does the author, Olivia Goldhill, think people will be marrying machines in less than 35 years? To continue quoting from her article:
“That might seem outrageous because it’s only 35 years away. But 35 years ago people thought homosexual marriage was outrageous,” says Cheok, who also spoke at the conference. “Until the 1970s, some states didn’t allow white and black people to marry each other. Society does progress and change very rapidly.”
The inherit flaw in this line of reasoning is that whether you’re talking about same-sex marriage or interracial marriage, everyone involved in the coupling is a human being. That’s the common denominator.
Marriage, in a legal sense, is the consensual involvement of two human beings to enter into a contractual agreement which establishes the rights and responsibilities of each partner who signs on the dotted line (marriage certificate).
Can an AI give consent? The Supreme Court of the United States would have to grant AI sexbots the legal status of “human”. Do you think that’s likely in the next 35 years?
Pitting same-sex and interracial marriage against human-machine marriage is the proverbial apples to oranges comparison. AI is not alive and so far it isn’t sentient (and truthfully, I doubt it will ever be), and it certainly isn’t human.
Others agree with my opinion but with a caveat:
Oliver Bendel, professor at University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland, with a focus on machine ethics, says he does not believe sex or love robots will have moral standing. “Marriage is a form of contract between human beings to regulate mutual rights and obligations including the care and the welfare of children. Perhaps one day robots can have real duties and rights, though I don’t really believe it,” he says. However, he acknowledges that human-robot marriage could become legal by 2050 simply in response to public pressure.
Creating the legal ability for a person to marry a machine may one day fulfill some sort of societal imperative, but from a strictly legal and ethical viewpoint, it makes zero sense. If this sort of marriage were to be made legal, it would only be to satisfy someone’s “feelings”.
A few decades ago, author Harlan Ellison titled one of his anthologies Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled. I had the privilege of hearing Ellison read one of his short stories with the same title in the late 1970s. I think he said that the tale was inspired by several divorces and implied that what we consider love is only sexual desire.
I don’t share such a cynical point of view, but I do think for that thing we call romantic love to occur, it needs to happen between two people. Maybe someday we’ll build machines that look human, act human, and can have sex more or less like a human, and maybe some people will delude themselves into thinking they love it, but at best, that’s a fetish, not not romance and certainly not marriage.
On the other hand, given how badly some people manage marital relationships and the level of divorce in our society, maybe a sexbot is a reasonable alternative if you can’t or won’t commit to what it takes to make a lifetime of marriage and family. At least the machine doesn’t have feelings or needs that get in the way, and the human “partner” gets whatever he or she wants.