As It Happens

Robot ethicist calls for ban on sex robots

Robots need love, too. But a leading robot ethicist in Leicester, England says the future development of robots capable of sexual intercourse is a step too far.
Douglas Hines, founder of True Companion, poses with a life-size rubber doll named Roxxxy during the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas in 2010. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

There has been a lot of talk about humanoid robots. In July, robotics company Softbank sold out of its humanoid robot, "Pepper," minutes after putting it up for sale online. It's supposed to be the first humanoid robot to detect users emotions.

There's another touchy-feely robot in the works this year -- and it does more than just read your emotions. True Companions is set to release its Roxxxy Doll -- a humanoid robot that can be used for sex.

And that doesn't sit well with Kathleen Richardson. She's a robot ethicist at de Montfort University in Leicester, England. And this week, she launched a campaign to ban the development of robots used for sex. Her hope is to persuade engineers and scientists to withhold code, hardware and ideas from robotics companies that are developing sex robots.

Richardson tells As It Happens host Carol Off that sex robots objectify women and children, and perpetuate what she sees as "abusive forms of relationships."

"The ideas that went into sex robots were the same ideas that justified prostitution and the sex industry," Richardson says. "The robots are a continuation of that experience of being able to have your needs met, without considering another party."

Richardson says the argument she often hears is that sex with robots is harmless, because the robots aren't human. But she sees it differently.

"I guess the way that people think about it, they think that technology is not human. But the very fact that we know that when technology is produced, people don't leave issues of gender, race and class behind -- they take them with them. And they actually import those ideas into the machines that they create."

The CEO of True Companions, Douglas Hines, says the Roxxxy Doll is not meant to replace a human.

"We are not supplanting the wife or trying to replace a girlfriend. This is a solution for people who are between relationships or someone who has lost a spouse," Hines told the BBC. He also said that the physical act of sex would only be one component to the robot. "The majority of time will be spent socializing and interacting," he said.

But Richardson finds that hard to believe.

"If you go and you look on their website, you can choose from a few personalities. One of them is frigid, one of them is a dominatrix… so even the way they characterize them as women has been highly sexualized and particular. They're not companions."