Jump directly to Theological Ethics of Sexbots Podcast
In an age of quick-paced technological developments, it’s no surprise we are seeing tv-series and films address ethical issues surrounding human interaction with robots. Even though Artificial Intelligence (AI) still has a ways to go before a synthetic being may be able to interact fully and free among humans, sci-fi is already putting scenarios to the public, challenging social views on ethical morality. Nearly every sci-fi projection of human interaction with artificial intelligence deals with sexuality on some level. Questions about how humans will interact sexually with robots are inescapable and often dealt with head-on. Consider the opening episode of Westworld, or the first season of Humans, where robots exist as sex workers in sanctioned brothels. Sometimes sex is implicit or a casual part of a robot’s positivistic search for personal identity in a human world (consider Star Trek’s Android Data). In Battlestar Galactica, sentient AI beings engage sexually in every way a human does, with other humans and with one another. Battlestar Galactica also explores the dark side of human behavior, presenting the complicated ethical problem of humans sexually abusing artificial life forms. These productions anticipate technology being developed in the real world, and so anticipate the need to sort out ethical perspectives on the subject matter.
Jeremy Meeks (Ph. D. cand., Trinity College Bristol) believes it is not too early for the Christian church to begin to think about ethics or morality about the treatment of sexbots. Jeremy is writing his dissertation on the ethics of sexbots from a Theological perspective. In this interview, he explains how he defines ethics, what a sexbot is (and is not), and why Christians should be thinking about such matters.
Toward the end of this episode, we discuss some books and films that explore the morality and ethics of interaction with AI, including the treatment of robots for sexual pleasure. These are listed here as a resource:
Media Discussed & Recommended in this Podcast
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Frankenstein, Or A Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Ender’s Game (Ender’s Quintet Series) by Orson Scott Card
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
Ex Machina (2014)
Robot & Frank (2012)
Lars & The Real Girl (2007)
A. I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Bicentennial Man (1999)
Theological Ethics of Sexbots Podcast
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This was a very interesting conversation. I had a story idea a while back about a Christian guy who works on technology to develop sexbots motivated by a desire to combat human sex trafficking, and gets a lot of flack from other Christians who view him as basically endorsing pornography, so I was intrigued.
I was glad to hear this podcast discuss a wider view of the issue, as it really enhanced my understanding of the issues it raises. Do you have any resources that outline the reasons why this technology is unlikely to hold the potential to reduce human trafficking? (other than people willingly involved in trafficking who feel it might be a threat to their livelihood). I will certainly be checking out the resource on the “yuck factor” and how that impedes meaningful discussions about issues like this.
Thanks to both of you for sharing your insights.
Mark, thanks for taking the time to comment. The first resource that comes to mind is Turkle’s Alone Together. It is not about sex trafficking directly, but does show how we become enamored with tech and are yet left unsatisfied at the same time. Another place to start to outline the complications with the issue is in this article – https://srh.bmj.com/content/44/3/161.full
The simple fact is that we don’t know what the results of broad sexbot use will be, but there is good reason to doubt that they will be wholly beneficial. The ideal that they will help end things, or even significantly reducing things, like sex trafficking is a skeptical claim.
Being a theological ethicist, I am not focusing on the pragmatic/empirical results of sexbots much at all. They could very well solve all kinds of problems in society, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be used or are “good” for society.