Manitoba

Hot tech: U of M prof makes the case for sexbots

A University of Manitoba professor is making the case for sex robots - how they can help humans, and how we need to be ready for them.

'This will not be Google Glass or something that 14 people in Silicon Valley are using," says Neil McArthur

University of Manitoba prof Neil McArthur co-edited "Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications," a book that discusses the future of simulated intimacy. (The MIT Press)

A local professor says sexbots could be the key to a happier, healthier society — but could also be a liability. 

"Sexbots aren't going to necessarily replace human partners, but I think they're potentially a powerful tool in addressing people's isolation," says Neil McArthur.

McArthur is the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba. He's also a co-editor of a new book called Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications.

With the current rate of technology development, McArthur says sexbots are inevitable. He predicts human-shaped robots with artificial intelligence — which would provide a realistic human experience — will be available to the public within five to 10 years.

And these won't be some taboo machines.

"I guarantee you this will not be Google Glass or something that 14 people in Silicon Valley are using," says McArthur.

"This will be a technology that becomes very widely adopted, so I just think that we should be ready."

Human benefits

Robot Sex is an international collection of essays that details how sexbots might change the way people interact with one another — for better or worse. McArthur wrote an essay titled "The case for sexbots."

He says there are several reasons a person might use a sexbot. That includes living in a place with a large gender imbalance, or a community that stigmatises LGBTTQ people. Another benefit could be for people who've had bad or traumatic experiences with sexuality. McArthur says the sexbots could be used as a tool to build trust and confidence.

"People who've had experience with sexual trauma may find that sexbots help them feel safe in their sexuality and possibly help as a therapeutic tool and help them transition into human relationships," he says.

The dark side of sexbots

But just because technology is moving quickly doesn't mean the rest of the world is. McArthur says hacking is a potential challenge given the robots will have such private, sensitive information. There's also the complex issue of intellectual property.

"[People] may want robots who look like their ex-girlfriend, and their ex-girlfriend might not want that," he says. 

"Our legal regime right now just hasn't given this any thought, so there's no protection for people of that kind."

McArthur acknowledges that we might need to address the risk of enforcing the objectification of women and that they're passive objects. But restricting the development of this technology isn't the way to deal with this, he says.

"I think it's something we need to look at in terms of education," says McArthur.

"It's part of a larger project of trying to change how society does view women and making sure women are viewed more equally."

Regardless of ethics or opinions, McArthur says talking about sexbots will is a good start to the future.

"People are concerned, they're interested, they're fascinated," he says. "So I think it's important we have this discussion."

About the Author

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.