We’ve read about sex robot brothels in places like Europe and Japan. Now they’re coming to the United States.
Yuval Gavriel, founder of “Kinky S Dolls,” is trying to skirt legal regulations by claiming his company is not a brothel but a “showroom.” Customers can rent the dolls, test them on the premises, and decide whether to buy one. Half hour in a private room with a sex robot costs $60.
Customers may also purchase a robot, but for most people the cost is prohibitive: from $2,500 to $10,000 for a high-end doll with artificial intelligence that can talk and respond to touch. Realistically, most customers will “rent” the dolls.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in an email statement to Fox News that the city is “looking to upgrade our ordinances to cover these type of businesses.” The City Council is scheduled to vote on amendments this Wednesday.
The company’s Facebook page promises that the robots “will allow you to fulfill all your fantasies without any limitations.” Some even include settings that simulate rape (the doll is programmed to resist).
Of course, that overlooks that fact that all the dolls simulate rape, since by definition they cannot give consent.
Some argue that sex robots will reduce crime, as potential offenders take out their fantasies on dolls instead of real people. But that sanguine prediction is “not borne out by evidence,” writes Kathleen Richardson of De Montfort University.
A variety of artificial sexual substitutes are already available, from pornography to vibrators to blow-up dolls. “If an artificial substitute reduced the need to buy sex, there would be a reduction in prostitution, but no such correlation is found,” Richardson concludes.
What really happens is that girls and women increasingly feel pressured to be a real-life embodiment of what boys and men have learned from watching porn, “adopting exaggerated roles and behaviors and providing their bodies as mere sex aids. Growing up in today’s porn culture, girls quickly learn that they are service stations for male gratification and pleasure.”
Sex robots will intensify that pressure. Melissa Farley, founder of Prostitution Research and Education, says robots function as “mechanized pornography.” Everything we know about the harms of pornography—how it teaches men to dehumanize and degrade women—“applies ten times more to these mechanized females.”
Laws and regulations are important, but to be effective we need to dig deeper to underlying cultural attitudes. How did it become possible that some people would prefer a mechanized doll to a real person?
As I explain in Finding Truth, the most popular metaphor for the universe among scientists today is mechanistic: The world is a vast machine. And if humans emerged from that universe by some evolutionary process, then they, too, are merely complex biochemical machines.
Stephen Pinker of Harvard is known for his metaphor that the human mind is an information-processing machine.
The most prominent of the New Atheists, Richard Dawkins, argues that humans are merely “survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed” to preserve their genes.
Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT, wrote a book titled “Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us.” They will change us by teaching us that a human being is likewise a robot—a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry.
In ordinary life, Brooks admits, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But “when I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”
The same mechanistic message filters down to popular culture. In a famous Star Trek episode, the characters debate whether the android Lieutenant Commander Data is a machine. He is, of course, but Captain Picard retorts, “It is not relevant. We [humans], too, are machines, just machines of a different type.”
For years, cultural leaders from scientists to TV celebrities have been teaching that humans are nothing more than moist robots. Should we be surprised that we are now seeing the logical outcome—that some people are willing to substitute robots for real persons?
Restoring sexual sanity will require addressing people’s core convictions about how the universe works. Whether humans are qualitatively different from machines is no longer a question just for intellectuals to grapple with. The answer now shapes the most intimate aspect of our personal and sexual lives.
If ever there was a time to rage against the machine, that time is now.
Nancy R. Pearcey is author of the newly released Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. She is professor and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University.