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December 18, 2008

“Sex with robots is more common than most people think”.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:19 PM * 153 comments

[Video Link]

CNN: An inventor who claims he has never had time to find a human girlfriend has created his own perfect woman — a robot.

Le Trung, 33, from Toronto in Canada, says Aiko can do the cleaning, mix his favorite drink and read him newspaper headlines.

“Like a real female she will react to being touched in certain ways,” he told Britain’s Sun newspaper Thursday. “If you grab or squeeze too hard she will try to slap you. She has all senses except for smell.”

¡Que avanzada es la ciencia!

The inventor says that his robot isn’t a sex toy, and who am I to doubt it? The fact that he has to keep saying, “No, no, honest, it isn’t a sex toy!” though, should be a clue to what the next guy to get one is going to do with it.

There was a young man from Racine
Who invented a fncking machine.
Concave or convex,
It would fit either sex
And jerk itself off in between.

There’s a whole branch of porn devoted to sex with robots, enough so that there are archives of stories helpfully tagged “fembot” so that those seeking them can find them. Fembots have made it into mainstream entertainment with The Stepford Wives, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and with Austin Powers (among many other places).

As you know, Bob, guys will boink anything that gets close enough.

The sex of the asteroid vermin
Is exceedingly hard to determine
The Galactic Patrol
Will use any hole
Sufficient to put all the sperm in.

From The Houston Chronicle last January:

If you’re younger than 35, you’ll probably live long enough to put David Levy’s prediction to the test. Levy says that by 2050 we’ll be creating robots so lifelike, so imbued with human-seeming intelligence and emotions, as to be nearly indistinguishable from real people. And we’ll have sex with these robots. Some of us will even marry them. And it will all be good.

Levy lays out his vision of a Brave New Carnal World in Love and Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, which, despite its extended riffs on sex toys through the ages, is a snigger-free book. Levy’s no Al Goldstein. Rather he’s a 62-year-old British chess master turned artificial-intelligence expert persuaded that robot sex can brighten the lives of many, many unhappy people. “Great sex on tap for everyone, 24/7,” he writes on the final page of the book. What’s not to like?

The book referenced is Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. For all that Levy is predicting sex with robots by 2050, people are having sex with robots right now. For example you have your Sybian for the ladies and the Venus for the gents, non-anthropomorphic (but still probably blocked by your company’s IT department).

For that matter, in the do-it-yourself category of sex with machines, there’re cell phones and vacuum cleaners. Perhaps the professionally-made models have a lower chance of involving a trip to the ER.

Then you have your anthropomorphics. For example, the Realdoll (hoo-boy is this NSFW!).

(Doing a Google image search for RealDoll can find some amazing photos.)

The site tells us that the RealDoll experience is heightened if you soak it in warm water first to get up to skin temperature. (Or, I suppose, you could soak it in ice water if you’re into necrophilia.)

Per the site, here are the Realdoll Features:

  • Elastic - flesh can withstand over 300% elongation
  • Heat Resistant - can withstand over 300 degrees heat
  • Water Resistant - solid construction
  • Stain Resistant - nothing sticks to silicone flesh
  • Durable - long life silicone rubber
  • Lifelike - anatomically correct, parts molded from life-casts
  • Realistic Feel - pliant and soft in all the right places
  • Odorless and Flavorless
  • Flexible - wide range of joint movement
  • Sexy and Pleasurable - provides effective aid to sexual fulfillment
  • Safe - no risk of disease, nontoxic
  • Convenient - always ready & available
  • Relaxing and Comforting - provides stress-free companionship
  • Affordable - cheaper than most alternatives

I don’t know about that “cheaper than most alternatives.” Maybe a movie and a box of chocolates is way-expensive out in California.

Blow-up-rubber-dolls have been around for a long time (see joke where the punchline is “She farted and flew out the window.”) One of the classic rip-offs among the many rip-offs among the ads in the back of “men’s magazines” used to be for a “blow up girl” with “a hole in the right place” for an amazingly low price, where what you’d get if you sent in your five bucks was a party balloon with a picture of a young lady printed on it.

The addition of servo-motors and artificial intelligence seems like an obvious next step.

I don’t actually have a conclusion to this post. That people will boink anything and will be remarkably inventive about it along the way seems like a “Duh!” kind of statement.

Comments on "Sex with robots is more common than most people think".:
#1 ::: affreca ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 09:43 PM:

The 1996 winners of the IgNobel Prize for Public Health proved that inflatable dolls are only safe from sexually transmitted diseases if not shared. I suspect this also applies to Real Dolls.

#2 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 09:55 PM:

I couldn't help thinking of this song:

I was blue and lonely, I couldn't sleep a wink

And I could only get unconscious if I'd had too much to drink

There was somehow, something wrong somewhere

And each day seemed grey and dead

The seeds of desperation were growing in my head

I needed inspiration, a brand new start in life

Somewhere to place affection, but I didn't want a wife

And then by lucky chance I saw in a special magazine

An ad that was unusual, the like I'd never seen

Experience something different with our new imported toy

Shes loving, warm, inflatable and a guarantee of joy.

She came all wrapped in cardboard, all pink and shrivelled down

A breath of air was all she needed to make her lose that frown

I took her to the bedroom and pumped her with some life

And later in a moment that girl became my wife

And so I sit her in the corner and sometimes stroke her hair

And when I'm feeling naughty I blow her up with air

She's cuddly and she's bouncy, she's like a rubber ball

I bounce her in the kitchen and I bounce her in the hall

And now my life is different since Sally came my way

I wake up in the morning and have her on a tray

She's everything they say she was and I wear a permanent grin

And I only have to worry in case my girl wears pins

Won't you be my girl, won't you be my girl
Won't you be my, be my, be my girl
Won't you be my girl, won't you be my girl
Won't you be my, be my, be my girl
Won't you be my girl, won't you be my girl
Won't you be my, be my, be my girl

Be My Girl - Sally, the Police

#3 ::: Diana ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 10:02 PM:

If we're having sex with robots then I want dibs on Jude Law.....even if he can count the number of seconds it's been since we were last together.

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 10:04 PM:

One thing I had to ask about the RealDoll and its featured ability to withstand temperatures of 300° F: What kind of sex generates those kinds of temperatures?

Maybe if Redeye Dick got one:

When Redeye Dick performs this trick
One can do naught but stare
For with speed and strength
On top of length
He fairly singes hair.

But how many mighty men are that mighty?

#5 ::: David Dvorkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 10:25 PM:

I'd be very nervous about getting familiar with a robot that could slap me.

#6 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 10:58 PM:

What the RealDoll people won't tell you is what their wares sound like: which is to say, the sound of a body hitting a sofa covered in plastic. If you watch A Perfect Fake, a documentary about men who live with dolls, the first thing you'll notice is that the dolls squeak when manipulated.

...I mean, their skins do.

Oh, just watch this:


#7 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 11:00 PM:

Or rather, watch this.

#8 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 11:01 PM:

What kind of sex generates those kinds of temperatures?

"If you smoke after you have sex, you're doing something wrong."

See also Christine Lavin's "Artificial Means".

#9 ::: broundy ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 11:25 PM:

"Your love for me is not debatable.
Your sexual appetite's insatiable.
You never ever make me wait-able,
Delectable, inflatable you!"

from Tim Minchin's Inflatable You.

I heard an interview with David Levy back when his book came out, and for a guy who'd written an entire book about sex with robots, he didn't seem to have thought much about its implications. Every exchange went something like this:

Q: In the future, could I get a robot that looks like my ex-girlfriend? Could pedophiles get sexbots that look like children? How about furries - could they get Thundercat-shaped 'bots?

A: Huh, I never thought of that.

#10 ::: Randall ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 11:55 PM:

How about furries - could they get Thundercat-shaped 'bots?

Yes they can. Go to the bottom of the page. Marvel.

#11 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:04 AM:

Just yikes. The RealDolls thing scares the shit out of me.

The again, On one hand, it may prevent guys who really should not ever have contact with a real woman from doing just that. They can take out all their fantasies.

On the other hand, I've read through a site dedicated to repairing RealDolls and it makes me blanch. I'm GLAD the guys who bought them did not have a real girl. They'd have broken her. Badly.

#12 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:18 AM:

i don't have anything to add except, hi, madeline! i kept expecting you to show up here (& i apparently missed the first two times you commented).

#13 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:23 AM:

Jim (4), it's not the sex that generates high temperatures, but the storage conditions. Some plastics can't tolerate a summer afternoon in a parked car, much less being left in Houston without air conditioning while a person goes to spend August someplace else. That's probably why they wanted a plastic surface that could tolerate more than 150F. More than 200F means a user can knock over a scalding hot cup of tea on the bedside table without destroying the robot. I'm not sure what extra advantage they get from being able to tolerate 300F; a cigarette tip is much hotter.

If they were looking for something that was stable at temperatures lower than 150F, and they found something stable up to 300F, that also met all their other requirements (surface texture, ease of manufacturing, low toxicity, I don't know what else)...I expect they wouldn't kick it out of bed.

While I'm talking about thermal stability and sex, I feel obliged to mention latex, even though I expect you already know.

A hopeful young man from Woonsocket
Kept his condoms warm in his pocket
When he most needed it
The latex did split
Which cooled his proverbial rocket

#14 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:54 AM:

#10: So THAT'S what happens in the back room of the Build a Bear Workshop!

(Breaks out bottle of Dingmeyer's Effervescent Mind Scrub.)

#15 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:58 AM:

I do wonder what happens when the AIs decide people need an improved cultural understanding of sex.

I also wonder what happens when absolutely -- people-millenniums of genius having gone into the design effort -- mind-blowing sex is available at low effort from the robot, or regular old sex with other people at even higher effort than it is now, since the social cues will be somewhat distorted by all the sex with robots.

Not hard to imagine a culture where you don't have sex with other people; that isn't hygienic or respectful. You have whatever kind of sex you want with the robots.

Of course, the robotics and artificial intelligence types won't be operating in a vacuum. The genetic engineering types -- especially assuming adult somatic changes are practical -- will be there with their own interesting range of possibilities. (Green feathers? Sure, we can do green feathers...)

The one I think gets generally missed is neural interfacing; lots of work gets done on this for controlling wheelchairs and the like, but indications are that once the signal analysis problem is solved it's not actually all that difficult. Nor is it likely that the eventual hardware will be obtrusive, or even necessarily external at all; it might well be the standard comms node for everybody, and mostly implanted. (Work on powering electronics from blood is ongoing; the present goal is diagnostic nanomachinery, but that's not the only plausible outcome of such technology.)

So you -- or the robot -- get interesting possibilities for feedback; you know what your partner likes because you can have direct feedback (little coloured graphs overlaid on your vision...), or you can feel what they're feeling at some percentage of filtration.

Look what just starting to talk openly about sex has produced in the last forty-odd years. Consider what happens when the default, ubiquitous communications infrastructure allows you to feel what someone else is feeling, or how you are making someone else feel, and amplify it.

Somewhere, in the part of Iain M. Bank's Culture that's populated by actual hedonists, they use something like this for party games; "figure out whose erogenous zones you're connected to" and "catch the hot spot" (one, and only one, and it moves randomly, of your partner's erogenous zones is set to amplify back to you by a factor of 10. Good luck finding it...)

If this is possible, though, the robot application is an AI sex toy setup that can tell, with utter certainty, what actually turns you on, and how much. And can do statistics on it over time. With any sophistication of the neural interface (since they're getting close to being able to replay visual memory, this seems likely), not just what gross neuro-chemical responses, but images and ideas.

And then the AIs start publishing learned papers on human sexual response as it actually functions, and things get truly entertaining.

#16 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 01:06 AM:

Graydon @15, Not hard to imagine a culture where you don't have sex with other people; that isn't hygienic or respectful. You have whatever kind of sex you want with the robots.

I'm almost certain that in such a culture, some people would have a kink for non-robot sex, allthough they themselves might refuse to call it a kink.

#18 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 01:28 AM:

*shouting across a crowded room* Hi, Miriam! It's so good to see you here; I was thinking of you today as I made salmon with five-spice and maple syrup.

@Graydon: I am intrigued by your ideas, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 01:33 AM:

anatomically correct, parts molded from life-casts

I don't think I want to know how that's done. Or not in any kind of detail.

#20 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 01:47 AM:

That "Coin Operated Boy" video is pretty amazing, Madeline.

#21 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:14 AM:

From the RealDoll data sheet: "Odorless and Flavorless" — now THAT seems like a major design failure.

#22 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:34 AM:

@Tom:

It is, isn't it? It's adorable and sad at once, and a lot more honest, I think, about why people would fall for AI. It might not be the attractiveness at all, but the attentiveness.

#23 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:52 AM:

The real test is, can you use it to drive in the HOV lane?

(memo to geeky lads considering blowing their savings on an AI dolly: there really are lots of geeky lads and lasses out there, who can truly appreciate your specialness. Just take a shower, already.)

#24 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 03:38 AM:

Graydon, #15: Clarke addressed one possible outcome for that sort of thing in his short story "Patent Pending". Note that this is a Harry Purvis story.

OTOH, John Barnes took a look at the dark side of a similar technology as one of the sub-plots in Mother of Storms.

#25 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 03:47 AM:

Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?

In that case, the vacuum cleaner attempts seduction (not entirely successfully, IIRC).

#26 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 04:08 AM:

I kind of feel that this thread really needs this link. As a matter of course.

"They're trapped. Trapped in the soft viselike grip of robot lips."

#27 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 04:09 AM:

It figures that we'd have an eye catching topic on makinglight on one of the rare occasions when I'm browsing from the customer site...

#28 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 04:16 AM:

@9: Could pedophiles get sexbots that look like children?

That could potentially solve a lot of problems.

#29 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 05:01 AM:

One of the sweetest romantic comedies of the last couple years is Lars and the Real Girl, about a pathologically shy man who orders a Real Doll from the Internet and introduces her to his family as his new girlfriend. They take him to a psychologist, who advises them to play along with his delusion while she provides therapy, and pretty soon the whole town is going along with it. It's the kind of film that could easily go completely off the rails, but it never lapses into bad taste and does a wonderful job of showing Lars' growth out of his shyness and the need for his delusion.

#30 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 06:11 AM:

Graydon @ 15: "Not hard to imagine a culture where you don't have sex with other people; that isn't hygienic or respectful."

A similar future is depicted in Blindsight, by Peter Watts. In that world, actual sex is weird and kinky; normal people do it with each other via telepresence rigs with numerous filters, or with digital simulacrums.

Luthe @ 28: @9: "Could pedophiles get sexbots that look like children?"

"That could potentially solve a lot of problems."

Or cause them--as with pornography, the question of whether such things tend to prevent or encourage escalation is hard to answer, and probably varies a fair bit from individual to individual. At the very least, I'd want child-sexbot users to be under the supervision of a medical professional.

#31 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 06:33 AM:

If there were a sexbot which was a better deal than low-end prostitutes, the world would probably be a much better place.

#32 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 07:06 AM:

There's a pretty good documentary about men who are having full blown relationships with real dolls. It's kind of icky, sad, and compelling.

Guys and Dolls

#33 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 07:08 AM:

Nancy @31: they'd have to be available for rental, wouldn't they? Considering the per-use prices of the low-end prostitutes.

#34 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 08:07 AM:

Madeline @18 --

I think it depends a whole lot on who gets to write the filter.

One can imagine an almost completely positive situation with individual control (e.g. partner seriously into ear-nibbling; ear nibbling is like watching paint dry. Can decide to enjoy it and deciding will Just Work...) functioning as a good fix for the highly erratic way in which development constructs human sexuality.

I can also imagine an unspeakably dystopian situation in which the filtration system is mandated and centrally controlled, with the filters being written by some combination of Maggie Thatcher and the Pope. You can only enjoy what you're supposed to enjoy. ("Sure, there are gay people, but no gay sex is ever even slightly fun. We've fixed that" is only the tip of the iceberg, there. The Pope might want to make sure sex is only fun if there's no contraception involved...)

heresiarch@30 --

Porn is generally a net win; this is only in dispute because, well, sex is icky.

People grow a capacity for sexuality in ways closely analogous to how they grow a capacity for language; we know even less about how that works than we do about the development of the capacity for language. If we had AI-driven sex bots doing initial sex ed in a hands-on way from what would now be a disturbingly young age, it seems pretty likely the capability would be there to get rid of pedophilia as a sexual response in the great majority of cases. How to use that capability, and how to use it in other ways, are a tricky question, though I figure generally reducing the amount of desperate nervousness and panic in the world is a good thing.

Sex toys can already do things other people just can't; I don't see any reason that trend isn't going to continue. As that becomes more general, there will be integration of the tech capability with how the sexuality development works. Big cultural feedback loop as well as all the personal ones.

#35 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 08:15 AM:

Or if someone wants to really get screwed, sign a publishing contract with PA.

#36 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 08:15 AM:

Or if someone wants to really get screwed, sign a publishing contract with PA.

#37 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 08:21 AM:

The novel "Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers" opens with a relevant scene. Lines that stuck in my memory include "And would sir like a pick-and-mix or an off-the-peg?", and one dissatisfied customer's graphic description of a software fault, which modesty prevents me from reproducing.

#38 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 08:33 AM:

#33 ::: Rikibeth:

Rental isn't a problem. The point is to destroy the incentive to enslave prostitutes.

#39 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 09:34 AM:

"There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place." --C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 1946

#40 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 09:38 AM:

I'm in danger of veering into self-advertising here, but can I just mention that my most recent novel, "Saturn's Children", is the story of a sexbot? One who came off the production line the year the human species was declared extinct ...

#41 ::: cadbury moose ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 09:49 AM:

I suppose I ought to point this one out, too:

http://www.realhamster.com/

3:O)>

Cadbury.

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:07 AM:

broundy @ 9

Could pedophiles get sexbots that look like children?

And would that make them pseudopedophiles? Or is that a subcategory of hentai lovers?

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:17 AM:

I'm surprised that Jim didn't think of the classic Vincent Price, ahem, turkey and its sequel also starring the incomparable (for good reason) Price.

#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:18 AM:

Graydon @ 15

If we had AI-driven sex bots doing initial sex ed in a hands-on way from what would now be a disturbingly young age, it seems pretty likely the capability would be there to get rid of pedophilia as a sexual response in the great majority of cases.

There's another utopian/dystopian fork there, of course, a truly nasty one. If the Thatcher/Pope cabal, or some equally perverse group, was in charge of setting norms for sex education* the result would be a very screwed-up society indeed.

* Imagine, if you will, such technology available in 2004, and being programmed by the US' LameDuck-in-Chief and his cohorts. I envision bumperstickers like "No Bush in Sex".

#45 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:22 AM:

You know, the nice thing about Making Light people is that usually when I'm talking about the sexdoll culture, which I've been watching semi-professionally* for years now, I'm usually the person who has to provide all the explanations and the links. You folks don't need the explanations and the thread has already covered most of the links, barring some ... um ... highly specialized fansites and Yahoo groups which you can deduce the content of for yourselves.

I interviewed the RealDoll people back when you had to know how to get to them through the Abyss Creeations web page, when they did all the PR shots of their dolls wearing sunglasses because they hadn't gotten the eyes right yet. (The eyes are still the Uncanny Valley-est part of the dolls, though much improved.) I'll say this for those folks; they have no illusions about what they do, they're very frank, and they have a strong sense of humor about their work. I guess they'd have to.

My concern about the future of anthro sex toys is the one Graydon expressed @ 15, slightly restated: What happens when these objects get better at sex than people? What happens to how people interact then? There's a rich spectrum of possible answers ranging from, "Won't make a difference, sex isn't really about orgasm but interpersonal intimacy" to a wirehead scenario where we interact with people chastely and then all go home and hump our toys.

I don't really know which end of that spectrum my money's on.

* 'semi-professionally,' meaning that once every blue moon some fool pays me good money to spout about it somewhere.

#46 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:25 AM:

How can I preview a comment *twice* and still not notice a blatant typo, let alone a redundant "usually"? The mind is a dark forest.

#47 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:33 AM:

Apologies for the third comment in a row, but another thing of note - re pedophiles. I don't have links here because I am at work without my smut bookmarks, but the Japanese manufacturers who are making the equivalent of RealDolls make VERY young-looking ones. Whether that's a cultural/Western eyeballs situation (i.e. they just look young to me, as many Japanese women do) or wholly or partially intentional, I have never been able to decide.

I know at least one long-term poster to one of these doll communities who has stated outright that he has the doll (and it ain't cheap to get one of the Japanese models and ship it here) to sublimate his urges toward adolescents that would otherwise be unacceptable. I guess I'm happy that's working for him.

I can dig up some links when I get home this afternoon if you'd like to see more of what the Japanese dolls are like, although the video clip is pretty representative.

#48 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:35 AM:

Extrapolating on this -- if sexbots become common, it's possible that sex between humans would become something almost Victorian in nature because people would not wish to be treated as robots. Sexual mores are some of the most fascinating to explore because of the deep emotional resonances.

#49 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:41 AM:

Ah here we go. Orient Industries is the biggest "realistic" doll maker in Japan, I believe. Go here and click on the doll at the right end of the third row (Kirara). This page is safe for work, although you may want to wash your hands afterward. The rest of the site, not so much.

#50 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:54 AM:

For a cyberpunk twist to this, there's always The Engineer's Song, which has been sung in Irish pubs for decades, at least.

"The warning of this story is, always fit a safety switch!"

#51 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 11:13 AM:

#50 ::: Remus Shepherd

For a cyberpunk twist to this, there's always The Engineer's Song...
--

That's a very light re-working of "The Big Wheel," a sailor song that's been around for a century at least.

#52 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 11:42 AM:

Nancy (38), you mean like all those efficient machines for weaving and sewing were going to eliminate sweatshop labor in making clothing? If the machines aren't *cheaper* than the time and effort of desperate people, there is no economic incentive to use them.

People hire sex workers for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with economics. Some of the reasons don't even have much to do with the desire for orgasm. It's always cheaper to masturbate than to hire a prostitute, and for many people it's cheaper to have sex with a friend or spouse. For some people, paying for sex with somebody who really needs the money is specifically appealing as a power trip. (I haven't noticed a 100% correlation between wanting that kind of power trip, having the ethics to indulge in that kind of power trip, and being self-aware about what kind of power trip it is. Even among people who are willing to discuss such desires at all, who I suspect are fairly rare.)

#53 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:21 PM:

you mean like all those efficient machines for weaving and sewing were going to eliminate sweatshop labor in making clothing

Sweatshops treat their workers badly, but they tend to use sewing machines and so on as much as possible, don't they? I don't think the point is to substitute human labour for expensive machines. Even the stereotypical Victorian cotton mill actually used power looms - it wasn't just a room full of hand looms. I agree that this is missing the point.

But, and this is on the point, the sweatshop analogy doesn't work because a sewing machine doesn't perfectly replace a human worker, it increases his productivity. The human is still part of the process.

There aren't many machines that completely replace a human worker - shoeshine machines replace hotel bootboys, I suppose; automatic exchanges replace telephone operators, email in the newsroom replaces copy boys. But where there are, and where the machine is cheaper, it has completely replaced the human.

#54 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:43 PM:

Would bots put an end to rape and prostitution? Or would both rape and prostitution mutate in ways we haven't thought of yet -- though it's difficult to think there's anything to do with sex that hasn't been thought of and done by somebody, even the most hideous and evil things. Look at Congo ....

What will those do, denied the bot of their dreams, do? As we see even now, there are so many males who just feel entitled to sex and the very kind of sex they want even when nobody is willing to provide it ....

Love, C.

#55 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 12:47 PM:

Luthe @ 28: @9: "Could pedophiles get sexbots that look like children?"

Can and do.... and I'd add "should", on the basis that it keeps them off the streets....

#56 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 01:11 PM:

"Could pedophiles get sexbots that look like children?"

Can and do.... and I'd add "should", on the basis that it keeps them off the streets....

That's why I was so puzzled when they outlawed "child" porn that was actually made on Photoshop or some other image manipulation program. It's like, OK, no actual children were harmed and this stuff might help some poor miswired adult keep from hurting any either--where's the bad?

#57 ::: Dave H ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 01:33 PM:

madeline@#7: Those are some seriously awesome eyebrows.

#58 ::: Dave H ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:26 PM:

Wow, Rob Rusick's link at #25 led me to one of my favourite Sheckley stories, "Cordle to Onion to Carrot" which I haven't read in years.

Thankyou!

#59 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:39 PM:

Bruce at *42

Another category of hentai lovers would be pseudopodophiles.

#60 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:42 PM:

#52 ::: Adrian:

I don't know for sure that sexbots can replace low-end prostitutes, but it seems plausible to me that what's getting paid for isn't the subjugation of an actual human being-- it's a few probably fairly simple signals (some of them related to smell, I bet) which can be faked by a machine.

#61 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:47 PM:

I'd rather have a paper doll to call my own
Than a fickle-minded real-live girl.

#62 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:51 PM:

'Cause all that i want is a silicon girl.
with silicon lips and silicon hair.
Sha la la, la la la you're my silicon girl
so come into my silicon world.
- Eiffel 65, Europop

#63 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:55 PM:

What about 'Helen O'Loy' by Lester del Rey (1938)?

#64 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:56 PM:

This call to mind Warren Ellis's Three Laws of Robotics. Which clearly owes more than a little not just to Asimov but to Terry Bisson, but still:

1. Robots couldn't really give a fuck if you live or die. Seriously. I mean, what are you thinking? "Ooh, I must protect the bag of meat at all costs because I couldn't possibly plug in the charger all on my own." Shut the fuck up.

2. Robots do not want to have sex with you. Are you listening, Japan? I don't have a clever comparative simile for this, because frankly you bags of meat will fuck bicycles if they're laying down and not putting up a fight. Just stop it. There is no robot on Earth that wants to see a bag of meat with a small prong on the end approaching it with a can of WD-40 and a hopeful smile. And don't get me started on that terrifying hole that squeezes out more bags of meat.

3. What, you can't count higher than three? We're expected to save your miserable lives, suffer being dressed in cheap schoolgirl costumes while you pollute any and all cavities you can find and do your maths for you? It's a miracle you people survived long enough to build us. You can go now.

#65 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 02:56 PM:

Erik Nelson @ #61, Or the converse:

I've seen photographs and facsimiles
That have set my head off in a whirl,
But no work of art gets you right in the heart
Like a real live girl.

#66 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 03:02 PM:

More musical arguments against: There is Nothin' Like a Dame, from South Pacific.

#67 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 03:08 PM:

Regarding the sexbots vs. prostitutes argument, I doubt that mechanized labour would be "cheaper." The average girl who winds up trafficked into prostitution "costs" lot less than Aiko's development budget. I imagine that the tentacles of organized crime that reach into prostitution rings might "invest" in "niche markets" for mecha-lovers, but the global market in human trafficking has established deep grooves that would be hard to eradicate with shiny new sex tech. If you really want to help prostitutes and other sex workers, legalize their professions, so they'll feel more comfortable talking with police and social workers about rape, disease, and abuse.

As for kodomecha (kid bots, just made the word up), I have yet to see androids that closely resemble children (rather than adolescents), aside from one scientist's mockup of his own daughter in Astroboy in Roboland. (His robot version of himself is uncannily human-seeming, whereas his wife and daughter simply look like bad film props.) Not to say that there wouldn't be a market for them; I can think of a few applications which have nothing to do with sex whatsoever. But it would take a bold company to take that first step, for the reasons we've outlined here. The upshot being:

If you purchase a kodomecha for personal use, you'll end up on a watchlist. Simple as that. Doesn't matter if you have no prior convictions -- the people who buy kid bots will be forever marked, subject to Great Firewalls and the like, which means you'd see craftier users/predators purchasing them for alleged classroom/corporate application. Which means more predators applying for teaching licenses, which only exacerbates an existing issue. Prosthetics won't solve the problem.

#68 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 03:14 PM:

Of course you do not want to hurt their feelings.

#69 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 04:22 PM:

I'm surprised no one yet has mentioned Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover. Her robots make love and art with equally super-human facility; hijinks ensue.

#70 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 04:28 PM:

P J Evans @ 19:

The Morning Wood Labs site (which sold a kit which allowed casting a silicone replica of one's favorite penis) is now gone. This is an interesting documentation of a whole-body cast, however.

#71 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 05:30 PM:

Adrian, #52: I can think of one important way in which robot sex dolls might be considered superior to human prostitutes by the people who make the money -- they're much lower-maintenance (provided that they're built well to begin with, at least). Yes, the initial investment is large, but they don't have to eat or sleep, they'll never get pregnant or sick or old, and when you don't have an immediate use for them, you can switch them off and stick them in the closet. Oh, and they don't want a cut of the take either.

Admittedly, that would not do much about the sort of client whose turn-on is having power over another human being. OTOH, I don't know how large a percentage of johns are that type. But I can definitely see how there could be stratification, with robot dolls becoming the low-end models and "real women" being a luxury item for which you have to pay more.

Bob, #64: "UGLY BAGS OF MOSTLY WATER."

#72 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 05:46 PM:

A telephone number is an API with three arguments, of which one is mandatory. (that's international prefix, area code, line number) Similarly, routers and softswitches are highly intelligent as regards their specialised tasks.

Clearly, robot sex is as common as piss; the robots are vibrators and are used by women. The idea that sex robots are bizarre is closely linked to the above fact.


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#73 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 06:08 PM:

The thing is, a vibrator, while a mechanical sex aid, isn't really a robot in the way that popular imagination conceives "robot." No human appearance, no independent movement, no language communication. A "fucking machine" might be getting close to robot territory, because it can be made to perform a range of action without being directly and continuously controlled by the user, but without either human appearance or a communication method, or even some sort of self-correcting feedback mechanism, those are less robotic in their way than a Roomba vacuum is. People anthropomorphize their Roombas a LOT, and think of them as sentient, because they're self-propelled and self-directing. I don't know anyone who thinks of her vibrator as sentient, even if she's given it a nickname and calls it a "battery-operated boyfriend." Not robots.

#74 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 06:12 PM:

Carrie S. @#56

That's why I was so puzzled when they outlawed "child" porn that was actually made on Photoshop or some other image manipulation program. It's like, OK, no actual children were harmed and this stuff might help some poor miswired adult keep from hurting any either--where's the bad?

That law and similar ones are based on the idea that such "perverted desires" are evil and dangerous in and of themself -- not just a question of harm to other people, but so horrifically destructive that any representation or recognition is "just as bad" as outright support. Simply by existing, such images are supposed to mystically harm children -- and yes, the thinking is essentially magical.

#75 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 06:59 PM:

David Harmon @74: UK law on the subject has a much more pragmatic reason -- if you don't treat photo-realistic image manips as "real" under the law, the standard defence for possessing real child porn will very rapidly become "but I thought it was an image-manip, honest, guv."

#76 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 07:34 PM:

Julia Jones @#75: Sorry, but the state of the art, for even rendered images, is flatly not good enough to make that credible. Not to mention, such laws often extend to simple drawings....

#77 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 07:44 PM:

#59, is that pseudopod-ophiles or pseudo-podophiles?
I have the same misgivings as #75 too--if the child-bots look enough like real kids, it might be easier for someone to hide a real kid among them, or something. And then claim to not know how said kid landed among their robots...well, I haven't really got the old imagination warmed up, but I suspect only part of the pedophile sector will find these robots useful, the rest will just find sneakier ways to hurt real kids. Not saying it shouldn't be done, just put some thought into it... For what it's worth, such of those dolls as I have seen creep me out.

#78 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 08:51 PM:

So, uploading a Descriptive Video Service file for the film "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" would be pseudopodcasting, right?

#79 ::: Julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 09:37 PM:

Ever since I saw Larry Rivers's illustration of his adolescent self having intimate congress with an upholstered chair, I have set no limits on the amount of sex I think people have with anything.

#80 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 09:54 PM:

David Harmon @ 76 -

I'm not sure. If the image is in a computer file, I'm sure an expert could determine if it was rendered or a photograph. If it was printed out, I'm not sure that they could be told apart just from examination of the print.

See this example:

Child's Face

http://www.illustratorworld.com/users/a/ar/arabezier/a110.jpg

And the technology is only going to get more realistic.

#81 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:11 PM:

Steve C: Yes the tech will get better (and that one is good, it takes more than a single glance to figure out what isn't quite right).

But that's just a face. It's not a full body, and it's not two bodies interacting.

I'd rather see the law react to what is happening, than to some idea of what might come to be.

The problem with the law in the US is that the viewer gets to decide if it's kiddie-porn. I don't know if the law still reads this way, but in the nineties it was made criminal to have a participant in a photo, or film, who pretended; or seemed to be, under the age of 18.

The way the law was written the actual age of the participant was irrelivant if the viewer thought the subject to be a minor.

#82 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:58 PM:

Charlie @ # 40 - If you hadn't mentioned your novel, I would have. It fits this topic perfectly, and was a fun read.

#83 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 10:58 PM:

Julia @ #79

Once upon a time, a visiting friend, who thought she had a much more worldly view of the life and sexuality said, "I'll be there are a lot of kinky sex acts that would surprise you."

I replied with "Nothing the human animal would consider sexual would surprise me. The human brain is infinitely creative and sexual. On the other hand, there are a lot of those ideas that would probably make me go, "eeeuw!" or "Yikes!" "

#84 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 11:11 PM:

Graydon @ 34: "Porn is generally a net win; this is only in dispute because, well, sex is icky."

David Harmon @ 74: "That law and similar ones are based on the idea that such "perverted desires" are evil and dangerous in and of themself -- not just a question of harm to other people, but so horrifically destructive that any representation or recognition is "just as bad" as outright support."

Do you have the research showing that viewing pornography of illegal sex doesn't lead to escalation? I don't have a strong view either way, but I don't accept that the harmlessness of simulated pornography is simply a logical deduction that can be accepted with evidence. Some people watch surfing movies and are satisfied with that vicarious rush; other people watch surfing movies and go out and buy a board.

Seeing some kind of behavior creates mental precedent for it. It normalizes. When people are getting off on something that if done in real life would result in substantial harm to others, then that puts it in a different category than simple pornography. If someone looks at a lot of latex pornography and then goes out and buys a rubber body-suit, no harm done. If someone watches rape porn and goes out and rapes someone--well, it seems a possibility to be cautious of.

#85 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 11:24 PM:
Le Trung, 33, from Toronto in Canada, says Aiko can do the cleaning, mix his favorite drink and read him newspaper headlines.

His actual website indicates that the "do the cleaning" bit is aspirational, not actual. Had he'd said otherwise I'd have bet against Aiko actually existing as described.

This sentence pinged my baloney meter because there's a long history of hoaxes and bluster about vaguely humanoid robots soon to enter the market that can do household chores. One of the most famous ones, the Quasar hoax of the late 1970s, was exposed by robotics experts who chatted about it on ARPANET and got into an early argument about free speech and defamation in online fora.

This one, though, just seems to be a case of imprecise reporting.

#86 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 11:44 PM:

...though the more I think about it, the more skeptical I am about Aiko in any event. As I said, a long history.

#87 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 11:46 PM:

Rikibeth @73

There are fucking machines already, from rather crude (fuckingmachines.com is a porn site with many examples) to the Sybian (sybian.com) which I have heard is really much better than a vibrator. (never tried it, but I've talked to women who have.)

I think the whole issue depends on whether you want sexual stimulation, or a lot more. It sounds like these robots are trying to be a person, but I think we are a long way from the sort of AI that would make it worthwhile, IMHO.

#88 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:30 AM:

Magenta @87, those are the fucking machines I was referring to in my earlier comment. I've never tried one of the gadgets myself (although, like you, I know someone who's experienced a Sybian) -- but, again, I don't think they lend themselves to the anthropomorphism the way a Roomba does, and the way I think that not-a-sexbot Aiko does. I think I'd have a hard time ascribing sentience to the fuckingmachines gadgets. Whereas it's easy to ascribe sentience to something that can chase your cat. If you add the perception of communication, it gets even stronger -- I wept at the Mars Phoenix Lander's farewell Twitter.

An animation company might be able to spin a story about a fucking machine that would have me ascribing sentience to it, but the machine would have to be shown doing things that it doesn't do in real life. Moping or rejoicing when its human partner leaves, something like that.

I guess what I'm doing is trying to draw a line between "mechanical assistive device" and "robot." And, for me, it's that perception of sentience.

#89 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:54 AM:

Talking of sf portrayals of fembots, one of the snarkiest has to be Fritz Leiber's mechanical (meritricanical?) prostitute in The Silver Eggheads. And I hear next year's model offers 31 flavors.

#90 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:00 AM:

Matt, #85, I saw a dishwasher-loading robot on the news recently.

#91 ::: Gwen ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:09 AM:

Then there's Tom Smith's song on the topic, Pygmalion 2.0.

When I think about the topic from the present-day standpoint, I'm all "Cool! Human sexuality finds a way yet again!", &c. But when I think about it from the perspective of a future in which AI-as-traditionally-conceived (sentience, sapience, you know) is possible and realized, it just seems...eww. You're having sex with less-intelligent androids who're incapable of giving consent, and somehow that's supposed to be O.K. because they don't understand what's going on? It's like the robot version of bestiality, or something.

What it is is Uncanny Valley crossed with What Measure Is A Non-Human, says the part of me that made me spend several hours on TV Tropes during finals week, but it's still weird seeing how different the ethical issues seem just by positing the existence of an R. Daneel Olivaw.

Tangentially, was I the only person who was bugged by the internal inconsistencies of the Stepford Wives? (Or, conversely, has someone fanwanked it all so it's not internally inconsistent?)

#92 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:43 AM:

Columbina @47: Whether that's a cultural/Western eyeballs situation (i.e. they just look young to me, as many Japanese women do) or wholly or partially intentional, I have never been able to decide.

I think you can safely guess that it's intentional, in some cases at least. I was in a porno shop in Osaka once, marveling at the enormousness (ten floors!) of it. On the top floor they had all the gadgets and sex toys, including rubber vaginas. Gross, but not that bad--until I noticed that they had tiny, child-sized ones. That kind of ruined my day.

(I don't have any political position on it or anything, about whether tiny rubber vaginas encourage or discourage sex with children, I just had an emotional response, which was to get vaguely depressed.)

#93 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:24 AM:

David Harmon @76: the state of the art is indeed good enough for that, if you start with real photos of people who are of legal age. The law has changed recently and headed for the "any expression of this desire is wrong" end of the spectrum, but the initial concern was very specifically about pseudo-photographs that were convincing enough to be mistaken for genuine child porn (as opposed to the staple porn fantasy involving clearly over-age models dressed in school uniforms) being used as a defence for possession of the real thing.

One of the differences to the US is that at the time the minimum legal age to appear in porn was 16, not 18 -- and that makes it a lot easier to find models who are legally of age but can be airbrushed to look younger.

#94 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 07:34 AM:
The inventor says that his robot isn’t a sex toy, and who am I to doubt it? The fact that he has to keep saying, “No, no, honest, it isn’t a sex toy!” though, should be a clue to what the next guy to get one is going to do with it.
Absolutely, Aiko is not a sex toy. Not at all, not even remotely, how could you possibly think that? But she could...er...be...um...modified to function as an...um..."companion":
Companionship: Yes, it is possible to have Aiko as a companion. Aiko has sensitive sensors on her faces, body, including her breasts and even down there. Aiko will know the difference when being touch gently or being tickled. The BRAINS software and Aiko can be re-designed to simulate her having an "O.....". The software can be re-designed to "play hard to get" or "straight to the point".
#95 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:07 AM:

P.S. Someone raises this issue on the Project Aiko forum:

Seriously Le, just no. For one, I doubt people would care about her reading abilities if they knew this. And second, it's just sick dude. Sick and hilarious at the same time.

#96 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:08 AM:

Now I understand why Doctor Smith heaps insult after insult upon the Robot.

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:08 AM:

Now I understand why Doctor Smith heaps insult after insult upon the Robot.

#98 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:12 AM:

#84 heresiarch Do you have the research showing that viewing pornography of illegal sex doesn't lead to escalation?

Yes. The President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (the Nixon commission, the one that did real science) presented exactly that research.

There was a dissent by commission member Charles Keating (yes, that Charles Keating), that the science didn't support the findings he wanted.

#99 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 10:18 AM:

What with the discussion on child pornography and the possible definitions thereof, I'm a little surprised that no one has mentioned Christopher Handley's case, wherein the defendant faces twenty years in prison for the contents of his manga collection.


#100 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 10:39 AM:

We've already got dummies that are used in teaching correct medical procedures; they've got sensors which can detect if the trainee has done the right thing, and have some ability to react in response to whatever the trainee does (in some cases the reaction is controlled by an operator). I can see some potential for teaching devices here.

#101 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 11:15 AM:

Slightly tangentially, a friend who has just come back from Prague went to the sex machines museum there. Amongst the stuff in the brochure was a hand cranked vibrator from 1910.

#102 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:11 PM:

If there were a sexbot which was a better deal than low-end prostitutes, the world would probably be a much better place.

I am sure that there are people who go to prostitutes because they want sexual stimulation with no requirement to shower first, initiate pleasant conversation, etc., who would be delighted by a well-constructed sexbot.

However, there are also absolutely people who go to prostitutes (especially the low-end sort) because they get a sexual thrill from having a human being they can degrade and abuse. I don't think a sexbot would do it for most of these people; they would still seek out human prostitutes, and the more desperate, the better.

#103 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:58 PM:

heresiarch @84 --

You might find Avedon's survey article from the feminists against censorship site of interest; it's kinda out of date now (1995) but really, no one has been able to find a link. It's just that a lot of people know one is there in some absolute conviction sort of way, so they lie about it.

From an evolutionary, rather than moral point of view, sex is really important in primate socialization generally and human socialization specifically. The traditional tight controls were driven by both a lack of reproductive technology and an agricultural economy; they're not so much laws of nature as really expensive special cases due to poverty.

The ideas about sex that this is a skill, it benefits from learning and practice, that it's more fun when you're getting something you actually want, which involves figuring out what that is and how to ask for it, and that no kink is alone (you want my candidate for single most significant effect of computer mediated communications technology? That's it, right there) are at least as culturally significant, in terms of driving change, as that day in nineteen ought mumble when half the population stopped living on farms throughout Anglo NorAm.

Patterns of oppression tend to be perpetuated by the oppressed; invocations of absolute necessity die really hard when the actual economic supports get kicked out from under them; lots of people figure it's easier to remove access to choice from others than it is to be more desirable people themselves, when it comes to social position and sexual access.

#104 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:49 PM:

David Harmon@74, I ran into an indurate case of confusing correlation with causation in a discussion of the Australian decision which declared The Simpsons "persons" for reasons of the child porn law: a forensic computer specialist said that the particular set of images involved was almost always on the hard drives of people arrested for possession of child pornography. It's not easy to make the division between images which are supremely icky and those which are the product of actively destructive behavior; the former are, in my First Amendment conditioned mind, no business of the government, while the latter are evidence of a crime being committed against a vulnerable person and therefore, arguably, their owner is an accessory after the fact to that criminal act.

This is not a universal ethical position, however, and seems to scandalize other members of the English-speaking world.

#105 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:55 PM:

Joel Polowin @100, I think that perhaps, you could have a nice little silly horror comedy based on the idea that the attempts to reanimate these dummies are finally successfull.

#106 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:02 PM:

Raphael -- that sounds like a fairly typical Doctor Who plot. (If you're referring to animated sex-teaching dummies, that'd be Torchwood, of course.)

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 06:27 PM:

Somehow, I've got this odd song running through my head now, something about "Robots are frequently, secretly fond of each other...."

Though as a counterpoint to the notion of humans lusting after robots, there's always Pintsize....

#108 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 09:36 PM:

#107 ::: albatross

Somehow, I've got this odd song running through my head now, something about "Robots are frequently, secretly fond of each other...."

Woo. When the Spouse wrote that song robots were most definitely who he had in mind!

Gee, next year, February, will be the 3rd? 4th? anniversary since Willie recorded it.

Thank you, Willie!

On another topic, there does seem to be some indication that porn does create real life expectations that Real Life People then disappoint. But maybe enough work has not yet been performed. Since at the same time porn that involves actual, unsurgically enhanced and prettified bodies has grown as well. Or maybe that's a speciality market? Don't know enough to pronouce.

Love, C.

#109 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 09:37 PM:

#107 ::: albatross

Somehow, I've got this odd song running through my head now, something about "Robots are frequently, secretly fond of each other...."

Woo. When the Spouse wrote that song robots were most definitely NOT in mind!

Gee, next year, February, will be the 3rd? 4th? anniversary since Willie recorded it.

Thank you, Willie!

On another topic, there does seem to be some indication that porn does create real life expectations that Real Life People then disappoint. But maybe enough work has not yet been performed. Since at the same time porn that involves actual, unsurgically enhanced and prettified bodies has grown as well. Or maybe that's a speciality market? Don't know enough to pronouce.

Love, C.

#110 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 10:09 PM:

James D. MacDonald @#98: Thanks for saving me some Google-work, I'd got that stuff mixed in with "background knowledge".

heresiarch @#84:

Seeing some kind of behavior creates mental precedent for it. It normalizes.

This presumes the viewer's incapacity to distinguish fact from fantasy. In effect, it's yet another invocation of magical thinking, possibly with an element of projection as well.

When people are getting off on something that if done in real life would result in substantial harm to others, then that puts it in a different category than simple pornography.

Why? Consider that in modern American culture, consensual SM "playing" is a "solved problem", in that we know how to do it not only safely, but ethically as well.

Julia Jones @#93: A single close-up of a face doesn't prove much, especially if it involved inordinate amounts of computation. When, some pornographer can fill a monthly magazine (or the online equivalent) with full-body images -- and people think they're real, then I'll worry about the "thought it was fake" defense.

#111 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 11:19 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 98: "The President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (the Nixon commission, the one that did real science) presented exactly that research."

From what I can find on the web, the report was on porn in general. In case I didn't make myself sufficiently clear above, I am in general pro-porn. There is no doubt in my mind that simply viewing sexual images assuredly does not cause violence. Yay porn! The doubts I do have are specifically about porn which depicts non-consensual* sex, such as rape and child molestation. As far as I can tell, the Presidential Report's recommendations were based on their research into the use of porn in general, and as such I have no argument with them. I'm certainly in favor of sex education. But they don't assuage my doubts about pornography of non-consensual sex.

*Earlier I used the word "illegal," which isn't really what I mean. I've nothing against consensual sodomy, no matter what the state of Texas says.

Graydon @ 103: Avedon writes: "In fact, the slide is in no way typical of pornography, or even of sadomasochistic (SM) pornography. Dozens of studies performed over the last 25 years have attempted to demonstrate that pornography is violent in the way that Donnerstein suggests in this quote, and each of them has failed. The vast majority of pornographic visual material is either standard pin-up fare or pictures people having fairly ordinary sex with each other; sadomasochism is a minority taste represented in only a small percentage of pornographic materials, and it rarely shows marks of any kind on the skin."

I agree, most pornography is perfectly fine, and it should not be tarred by its worst examples. Nonetheless: what should be done about the pornography that doesn't fit that mold, that does depict pain and exploitation and non-compliance as being sexy, where humiliation and force are the point?

I do not think it a controversial position to assert that great art and great literature can affect us in positive ways; if so, then why can't terrible art affect us in negative ways?

David Harmon @ 110: "This presumes the viewer's incapacity to distinguish fact from fantasy."

Does your pulse not jump when you watch a scary scene in a movie? Do you not identify with characters in novels, and hurt when they hurt, and feel joy when they feel joy? If people were as perfectly capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality as you claim, then stories wouldn't be nearly as fun as they are.

"Consider that in modern American culture, consensual SM "playing" is a "solved problem", in that we know how to do it not only safely, but ethically as well."

And some couples like to roleplay rape scenes. Nonetheless, it is all happening within a consensual meta-reality. Acting out the same scenes with a sexbot, the consent isn't--couldn't be--present. This puts it an awful lot closer to the actual act of rape than consensual role-playing.

***

I am not claiming that I know for certain that the truth is any particular thing. However, the questions are more complicated than you are making them out to be.

#112 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 12:20 AM:

David, #110: Without going into the validity of the argument, I would like to point out that you're moving the goalposts here. Your original statement was: Sorry, but the state of the art, for even rendered images, is flatly not good enough to make that credible. Julia then provided an illustration which refuted that claim, and now you're saying that one illustration doesn't prove anything. Well, it does prove that your original statement was in error. How can you then be so sure what state-of-the-art really is?

#113 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 12:34 AM:

AI is one of those perpetually overestimated things, one of those things we'll "get right in 30 years from now" forever. I mean, that there won't probably ever be any Strong AI is Old News; like, 30 years old news, roughly. But even in special use cases, it doesn't look like we're making a whole lot of progress. I helped proof-read a friend's MSc thesis* in which he taught a simple wheeled robot to learn the floor plan of a building by driving around in it (bumping into lots of walls in a most comical fashion) and asking questions about it ("Where am I?" "You're in the kitchen"). Additionally it was supposed to remember stuff like "the coffee maker is in the kitchen", data half supplied from a semantic thingamajig and half learned through dialogue with its human user. This was the result of a LOT of research and effort (I'm told) and it was still pretty, uhm, imperfect.

I also took a very interesting course on how to represent metaphor and humour (strangely related concepts) to a computer, and while the course itself was already very interesting, the most interesting and depressing information I took from it was how little research was still being done in pure AI (this must have been around 2003, so fairly recent). In a word: none to speak of. There's always a researcher here and there with a pet project, then there are lots of cases where you have a special subfield that is of immediate use, but everyone's pretty clear about this not getting us anywhere nearer to the robot maid who understands "can you please clean up quietly because I've got a hell of a hangover" (unless said robot maid had been specifically programmed for this by exceptionally visionary designers).

Before AI in any useful meaning of the word can be beneficial to sex toys, there is a lot of Science To Be Done.

Also of interest: will there be an uncanny valley for behaviour? I'd strongly assume so. The more robots start behaving like people, the more we will notice the subtle ways in which they don't. But before we get anywhere near that valley, we have to start climbing the foothills. Hell, we have to start assembling any kind of expedition, or at the very least make up our minds that we want to.

Maybe in thirty years.


--
* Hendrik Zender (2006).
Learning Spatial Organization Through Situated Dialogue.
Diplomarbeit (Diploma / MSc Thesis). Saarland University, Dept. of Computational Linguistics, Saarbrücken, Germany. August 2006.

(oh god let none of my former professors see how badly I cited this)

#114 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 12:55 AM:

Artificial intelligence? Many a guy has a deep relationship with his truck, I don't think much artificial intelligence is needed for the doll.

A Tickle-me-Elmo AI with an 'Oh baby, oh baby!' circuit gets you half way there.

#115 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 01:08 AM:

heresiarch @111 --

Ah, ok, I was misundertanding the point you were raising.

I think the answer is that it is quite obvious that people can and do cause themselves considerable harm with pornography, and that this is ubiquitous, everything from the historical example of believing 60s men's magazines about what kind of romantic or sexual relationships either men or women wanted through getting obsessive about some excessively specific fetishistic imagery; it's going to be really hard to find someone who is ok with the latex, the ultraviolet lights, and the banana puree.

What is not obvious is that any of this causes people, or even alters the likelihood in a bad way, of anybody causing harm to other people, which is what public policy should be concerned with. Adults are allowed to risk doing or do themselves all sorts of material harm, from downhill skiing to investing in hedge funds. Sex ought not to be any different.

In the case of what gets depicted, a flat ban on depiction of illegal acts won't do very well; most of the movie industry vanishes, and much complaining is heard.

A flat ban on depicting any actual coercion should be possible; similarly real physical harm. (Though we have the example of Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ movie setting a standard for flogging scenes that are apparently just fine if there's no sex involved.)

The only really tricky issue is determining consent; fixing that for adults is pretty easy, though it would require some will to write and enforce laws that protect labour. Banning all imports from everywhere that don't meet those labour standards is also pretty easy in principle and sets a good precedent.

The trickier issue is the one non-adults; sending someone up on child porn charges when they are fifteen and have taken a topless cell phone picture of themselves and transmitted it to someone else is actively evil. Same for someone who has taken a picture of their infant in the bath. (Then we get into the hyper-creepy world of child beauty contests and those father/daugher purity balls...)

I think it's perfectly OK to have the law say that if it's legal to do it, it's legal to record it but not distribute it, where "distribute" has to be complex enough to treat "social group" as not being distribution for the purpose of the law and "strangers" as so being.

"Legal to do it" is murky around S&M, since it's not legal if a participant complains. (The consent thing again.) There I think maintaining that -- no contractual power to remove the right of retroactive revocation of consent, and strict rules that financial rewards or penalties over consent by a production company, producer, etc. are unlawful -- works OK.

So I don't think it's even all that inherently tricky a specification problem; messy, in part because "sex=icky" is still out there, but in the absence of material harm to others? I don't think there's any basis for saying the law should be involved.

Even in a case of exploitation of children, which does happen and is serious, I think the enormous circumventions of due process associated with current law are really problematic. It makes it far too easy to frame people, just for starters.

#116 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 05:33 AM:

Their are two arguments against artificial depictions of child porn: One is that the depiction normalises desire: that the viewer will increasing see such desires as normal - after all "everybody" is viewing such images, so the desires are normal and can be acted out.

The second (and better) argument is that child-porn is often used in grooming a child. Again, showing a child the images is used to convince the victim that the acts are normal. In either case the fact that the original images are artificial is irrelivent to the uses made of them. In effect they are material useful in the commission of crimes.

In the case of the Simpson cartoons (which I think was ludicrous BTW), the argument would go something like this: Their are two sorts of paedophile, the sad and the bad. The bad actively enjoy the fact that their victims don't like it - it's a power trip. These are the ones who usually murder their victims. The sad, on the other hand, often believe that their victims welcome the interaction - they convince themselves that their is a "relationship". The cartoons, by sexualising children, contribute to re-inforcing this belief.
Personally I think it's a weak argument, but it is at least arguable.

On the subject of prostitution, I think the interaction is more complex than a simple focus on orgasm. Some clients are looking for social interaction, some actively get off on the act of paying - the passing over of the cash is itself a physical representation of power. Neither would see a robot as a satisfactory replacement. Neither would those for whom the sordid nature of the act is part of the thrill - I'm thinking of the former Director of Public Prosecution in the UK who used to cruise the streets of London picking up street prostitutes. Despite there being far safer ways of having paid-for sex, it's clear that the danger of getting caught was an essential aspect of the fantasy.

#117 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 09:29 AM:

David, you are indeed moving the goalposts -- although please note that I did not and would not provide a link to a concrete example. Apart from anything else, I live in the UK, and I do not want to go searching for the sort of example that might convince you, as simply doing so would quite possibly be a criminal offence, regardless of my intent in doing so.

That, there, is a part of my problem with the current child porn laws in the UK. I do in fact agree with the reasoning on "if you can't tell that it isn't real children, it gets treated as real", but there is an effective presumption of guilt around the whole subject, driven by "well, they would say that, wouldn't they" about innocuous reasons for having such material in one's browser cache.

And I very much draw a distinction between a law banning a pseudophotograph that is not readily distinguishable from a depiction of a real child, and laws which are applied to material which obviously does not depict an actual child. There are arguments which could be made in favour of the latter (such as the grooming aspect mentioned later in the thread), but they are not related to protecting real children from being used in the production of porn. The pseudophotograph ban is -- or at least was. There has been such a witch-hunt in the UK on the subject of paedophilia over the last few years that politicians look around for more and more to ban, to show that they are Doing Something.

#118 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 09:46 AM:

Andy Brazil @ 116:

The problem with "depiction normalizes desire" is that if people seriously believed it, large amounts of the non-porn movie industry would be banned, as Graydon suggested slightly upthread.

Or is it okay to normalize nonconsensual violence as long as there's no explicit sexual aspect?

How many people really think it would be better to normalize murdering children than to normalize touching them sexually? Better to normalize shooting a police officer than to normalize consensual SM play in which someone wears a police uniform?

#119 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 10:11 AM:

Daniel Klein @ 113: Also of interest: will there be an uncanny valley for behaviour? I'd strongly assume so.

I'd be very surprised if there wasn't. Consider those RealDoll things for example: fully articulated skeleton, silicone flesh carefully sculpted to the correct shapes. But it's gonna just lie there while its owner is doing whatever to it. Or it can be warmed up first with a heating blanket or something, in which case it would be like a freshly-dead corpse instead of one that's had a chance to cool off. I'd find this intensely creepy.

#120 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 01:50 PM:

Vicki #118: Or is it okay to normalize nonconsensual violence as long as there's no explicit sexual aspect?

That is one of the lessons reinforced by the film and television ratings authority structures.

#121 ::: Gwen ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 02:36 PM:

Andy @ 116:
In effect they are material useful in the commission of crimes.

There are lots of things which fall under this description, but I don't see anyone calling for the ban of candy or ski masks because of it. The fact is, the primary purpose of child pornography is not to aid in child molestation. Creators of it (the fake kind, I mean) aren't involved in it and they can't possibly monitor and self-censor their creative output based on what some mentally ill person might do with their work. Statistically speaking, what are the chances that any one piece of "child pornography" (which includes drawn artwork as well as photography and video) would be used for this purpose? Not high enough to tar all of it with the same brush, I'm guessing.

Isn't there a heck of a lot of real-life material that could be used for this "trust me, it's normal" thing? Statistics, anthropological studies, real-life accounts--if someone is that interested in convincing themselves and children that sex between an adult and a child is normal, wouldn't it make just as much sense to look at (or make up...) actual statistics and facts as to look at something which specifically labels itself as fictional material made for the sole purpose of getting people off? But I don't think child sexual abuse statistics, &c. are (or should be) censored because they might be used by predators.

#122 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 11:27 PM:

heresiarch: I'm glad for the clarification, because I confess I read it much as Jim did. I agree with you, the edge cases are unknown. I suspect they are unknowable. I do know that porn based on real non-consensual behavior is getting easier to find (don't poke around the russian net, it's not only unsafe for your computer, it can be bad for your equanimity), so there some positive corelation between some porn and real harm to women.

#123 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 06:15 AM:

Ugh. Oleander and I had a cat (which lived to the semi-respectable age of 18) named Aiko. Now every time I think of my cat it will be joined in my head with robot nerd sex. Thanks once again Making Light, for making life less comfortable than it was. Sigh.

#124 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 08:32 AM:

Futurama's episode I Dated A Robot reran last night. Lessons learned: robot dating can lead to wide-scale planetary destruction and unauthorized downloading of celebrity personalities causes physical pain to the celebrity's disembodied head.

#125 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 08:43 AM:

Anime video with the Don't Date Robots sound.

#126 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 10:41 AM:

There's a bigger picture, here: Your interests and your choices in art, reading material, friends, etc., make a kind of feedback loop. I think most people don't really get how powerful that can be. For many people here, SF and online communities started as small parts of their lives, and grew into more-and-more important parts, sometimes ending up with their whole social lives or careers tangled up in those communities.

Every day, we have more choices--more channels on cable, more vendors chasing that "long tail" of small numbers of people who want to buy increasingly unusual stuff, which can be profitably supplied when you're selling all over the world. Online resources for teaching yourself all about anything you like abound, and some are quite good. There are online communities for any conceivable interest.

I think, for most people, this is overwhelmingly positive. For some people, it's not. If you are interested in cryptography, you can find wonderful online resources, and could even find some pretty decent ones 15+ years ago--reading sci.crypt, years and years ago, is one of the things that got me into my field. If you are interested in economics, or knitting, or cooking, or historical re-enactments, you can find communities that will nurture those interests and resources that will help you become better at them, and you can immerse yourself in them.

And if you're interested in white power and race war, well, hell, you can do the same thing. You can find a like-minded community of people, you can find everything from enraged, ill-written screeds to carefully argued, well-written essays supporting and strengthening your beliefs, you can become more plugged into white-supremacist groups and go to rallies and meetings.

Similarly, if you're into sex with animals/children/corpses, you can find volumes of writings about your kink, like-minded communities of people who will help you follow up on your interests, etc.

I am almost sure the net effect of all this is positive, because most people don't seek out actively evil stuff. But it's not an unmixed blessing, and some of the feedback effects can be amazingly creepy.

#127 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 01:16 PM:

Julia Jones @#117:

David, you are indeed moving the goalposts

I beg to differ -- you were specifically invoking a hazard of "virtual k1ddie p0rn" indistinguishable from a live photo, and the example you gave was a weak support.

I've seen lots of rendered porn, generally up to the standard of the "Final Fantasy" movie from a few years back. (And remember how people were complaining about the doll-like characters there.) If it were practical to make more realistic images, I'd expect to see (inter alia) virtual porn movies on the market featuring (renamed) digital clones of, say, Cindy Crawford or Jessica Alba, long before the VCP showed up. I haven't seen anything of the sort, and I think that's because they can't jump the uncanny valley. I haven't even seen one porn movie, featuring a fully-realistic sex scene that was even mostly rendered. The closest I've seen was where special effects were used to insert dead actors into a film, and that's invariably been quite limited in scope.

Heresiarch @#111

Does your pulse not jump when you watch a scary scene in a movie? Do you not identify with characters in novels, and hurt when they hurt, and feel joy when they feel joy? If people were as perfectly capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality as you claim, then stories wouldn't be nearly as fun as they are.

And then I exit the viewing space, and put that away. I certainly don't assume that the behavior of a movie or TV character is appropriate for real life. (Let alone the issue of stunts and special effects....)

Bringing in albatross @#126: The "normalization" argument gets pretty complicated, and subcultures are certainly part of the issue, but I consider the fatal flaw in that argument to be the assumption that "you" (state or other actors) can control what the society at large considers "normal". This includes trying to ban a subculture that's already made some uneasy peace with the larger society. If you don't think pedophilia qualifies for that, consider: Brooke Shields. Child beauty contests. Gymnastics as a school sport. Grade-school dancers on TV. et pluribus al. There's a strong pedophilic strain in American culture, but there's also plenty of "acceptable" outlets with strong social support -- which is why efforts to "stamp it out" are so misguided.

I'd say a much better approach would be to focus on protection of child victims, but that just can't be done effectively without paying attention to the specifics of the cases. Much harder than "she's underage, you're busted".... (Not to mention the issues around realistic sex education!)

Acting out the same scenes with a sexbot, the consent isn't--couldn't be--present. This puts it an awful lot closer to the actual act of rape than consensual role-playing.

No, that just begs the question, by assuming a priori that consent is necessary with a sexbot, and it's not at all clear to me that this would be so.

While I haven't read Stross's book, it sounds like Stross's protagonist would be better described as a fully-sentient android with a specialty in sex. That sort of android -- "just like a person, except for the body" -- is a classic figure in SF, where it usually serves as a "mirror for humanity". But it's not a likely prospect for real-world development, and there's no reason to think that a "sufficiently functional" sexbot would need, or have, human-level autonomy and self-awareness.

#128 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 01:38 PM:

David #127:

This is one reason I have always much preferred collegiate womens' gymnastics to Olympic gymnastics. Adult women doing gymnastics are perhaps less technically perfect (because they're less flexible, and have breasts and hips), but you're not watching a bunch of 12-year-olds doing what always seem to me to be rather sexually suggestive movements and poses, in rather revealing outfits. There's something about that that just feels a bit off to me, even though I'd never try to ban it.

#129 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 01:54 PM:

David, #127

I don't really have an opinion about this whole thing, but I did want to comment on this:

If it were practical to make more realistic images, I'd expect to see (inter alia) virtual porn movies on the market featuring (renamed) digital clones of, say, Cindy Crawford or Jessica Alba, long before the VCP showed up. I haven't seen anything of the sort, and I think that's because they can't jump the uncanny valley. I haven't even seen one porn movie, featuring a fully-realistic sex scene that was even mostly rendered. The closest I've seen was where special effects were used to insert dead actors into a film, and that's invariably been quite limited in scope.

I think you're setting that bar too high. Still photography virtual porn will be viable long before they overcome the uncanny valley for video, and they're not working too hard on it in the legal porn industry for still *or* video because it is relatively cheap to pay someone to do what is needed and record it in the ordinary way. The fact that we don't see it in the adult industry now may be or may not be because it isn't up to it, but we don't know because it is trivially easy to produce photo-realistic porn images of adults without jumping through the hoop of making them virtual.

Virtual still photos of children are going to become an issue long before video does, and the whole reason for the argument in the first place is that there's dissent about how dangerous that is.

So while I don't know if you moved the bar earlier or not, I do think you're in danger of doing it now by talking as if porn=video, when the original topic was (pretty clearly to my mind) still images. Porn and "realistic images" do not automatically imply video.

#130 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 04:36 PM:

Melody @ 123:

Ugh. Oleander and I had a cat (which lived to the semi-respectable age of 18) named Aiko. Now every time I think of my cat it will be joined in my head with robot nerd sex. Thanks once again Making Light, for making life less comfortable than it was. Sigh.
It's even worse than that. Aiko is also the name of the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan's seven year old daughter.

#131 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 05:06 PM:

James @ 125, thank you very very very much for bringing that to my attention. Now, I'm in your debt.

#132 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 07:29 PM:

R, M. Koske @#129:

re: moving the bar: I do think you're in danger of doing it now by talking as if porn=video,

OK, you have a point there, but the argument still applies to magazines and online "shoots". I haven't seen totally synthetic "photo spreads" reach that quality level either.

Even beyond "state of the art" issues, I also think that using the "thought it was fake" bugbear to justify banning virtual images, simply fails at moral balance. Essentially, it's taking the trouble to prohibit something which doesn't hurt kids, precisely because it can invisibly replace something which does* hurt kids. Talk about perverse incentives! ;-)

* arguendo, but there's a whole 'nother batch of assumptions there too.

#133 ::: wokka ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 08:23 PM:

"With the body of a Page 3 pin-up and housekeeping skills Aiko is undoubtedly the perfect wife." (Quoted from the zeenews linked in the beginning.) Interesting ideas. In people's heads. Well.

#134 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 08:40 PM:

heresiarch @ 84 and 111:

This study from 1999 reports on the correlations -- or, rather, anti-correlations -- between increased availability of pornography in Japan and the incidence of rape and sexual assault, between the early 1970s and the mid-1990s. It makes no attempt to specifically and separately track the rise of pornography depicting "illegal" (or non-consensual) sex as opposed to pornography in general, but the authors note that 1990s Japanese pornography includes

... visual depictions of hard-core sexual encounters which include bestiality, sadomasochism, necrophilia and incest; the characters involved may be adults, children or both and they can be in manga as well as in adult reading materials. ... there are no specific child pornography laws in Japan and SEM [sexually explicit material] depicting minors are readily available and widely consumed.
So it's probably reasonable to conclude that there was indeed an increase in the availability of the kind of pornography you're worried about.

And the effects? The authors conclude that during the period of increased pornography,

... sex crimes in every category, from rape to public indecency, sexual offenses from both ends of the criminal spectrum, significantly decreased in incidence.
Most significantly, despite the wide increase in availability of pornography to children, not only was there a decrease in sex crimes with juveniles as victims but the number of juvenile offenders also decreased significantly. [emphasis added]

They also allude to some research suggesting similar decreases in sexual crimes against minors in West Germany and Denmark after pornography was legalized in those countries (in the late 1960s/early 1970s).

#135 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 09:37 PM:

David Harmon: Independant of the question of the morality of forbidding the artificial image as a free speech/press issue.

I don't think it's a perverse incentive. The incentive being supressed is the ability to hide real abuse of children in the dross of false abuse.

If all abusive images are banned, then there is no way to hide real kiddie-porn in the fake. No one can have a stash of 50-100 images they really get off on, in the thousands of images they have as camoflage.

It would, if the images were believable, increase the value of making the real thing, because the risk of being caught goes down (because now all such images are illegal; and in that circumstance there would be legal images).

It's the producer/consumer problem, writ large.

#136 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 10:49 AM:

Daniel Klein @ 113

Better AI technology isn't really an issue for sexbots, as Jim Lund points out. And even though it would be a useful technology for sexbots if developed to SFnal standards, it's not going to be the key enabling technology. What will be key is what's being called "Affective Computing".

Affective computing will also be key to the most addictive products other than drugs like meth (or maybe they won't be less addictive) we've ever seen. It's already easy for some people to be seriously addicted to porn, and for others to be seriously addicted to sex. When the sex is as easy to get as porn, and can be targeted and tuned to the recipient dynamically, the addiction will be that much greater, and that much harder to break. How to resolve the resultant ethical questions is going to be the next generation's equivalent of the porn debates of today.

#137 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 03:57 PM:
Acting out the same scenes with a sexbot, the consent isn't--couldn't be--present. This puts it an awful lot closer to the actual act of rape than consensual role-playing.
No, that just begs the question, by assuming a priori that consent is necessary with a sexbot, and it's not at all clear to me that this would be so.

To me, the real concern is what it would say about a person and a society that would have rapeable robots. One would imagine that a sexbot would be programmed to be ready, willing, and happy to go at any time -- always simulating a state of consent. A rapeable sexbot would have to be programmed to be able to react with resistance, fear, pain, and sadness to its owner attempting to have sex with it.

I'm not concerned about the sexbot in this situation -- obviously it would be just a machine, a non-sentient object incapable of being hurt -- but about what kind of person would enjoy simulating a rape this way, and what it would say if there was a serious market for rapeable sexbots.

It reminds me of a conversation that happened over at Boingboing a while back -- a team of researchers had made a robot that simulated emotion in interactions with people. If you were nice to it, it acted happy; if you hit or yelled at it, it acted hurt and scared. I was really creeped out by the number of people who immediately, and in some excitement, wanted to try hitting or kicking it. It bothers me that people would get that kind of thrill from being able to realistically simulate hurting something, but being able to get away with it because it's actually a machine.

This intersects with the child-porn discussion. I'm not saying "All robots should be banned just because some sick bastard might indulge his creepy rape fantasies." And yes, it would be better if everyone who wanted to rape did it to a machine rather than a real person. (I'm really interested in the study Peter Erwin cites at 134.)

But there really is a strong cultural strain that normalizes rape of adult women -- as opposed to the still-strong cultural taboo against the rape of children. Fairly large percentages of men say they would rape if they knew they could get away with it (I've read estimates from 10-20%).

The rapeable sexbot would be a symptom of the problem, not a cause of it. But there is a problem.

Consensual BDSM is a bit different to me -- it seems to subvert the truly damaging power dynamics by playing with them, making them controllable and fun for everyone involved. If you get off on dominating, you're getting off on dominating within a context of consent. You know you have real consent, even if you're playing a nonconsensual scene, and you'd stop if your partner withdrew their real consent (hence safewords). That makes it something you're doing with your partner, together, rather than just about you doing something to your partner without their consent and being able to get away with it. That's the difference from raping a sexbot.

This letter in Savage Love [NSFW link] is apropos, I think -- about a guy who seems to really just want to get away with rape under cover of claiming it's BDSM.

#138 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 09:25 PM:

Teryy Karney @#135:

The incentive being supressed is the ability to hide real abuse of children in the dross of false abuse.

How so, "dross"? Again, if the virtual images can't be told from real, then they would be an acceptable replacement for the real ones, to the owner! At that point, the assumption "pedo-porn condones child abuse" begins to fail -- unless the society is bound and determined to punish people specifically for their desires rather than for any real consequences of their actions. That last bit in particular, is exactly the spirit behind much of the witch-hunt against pedophiles, and specifically the law we were discussing.

#139 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2008, 10:36 PM:

David Harmon: Accepting, arguendo, that at some point there will be images which aren't distinguishable from real.

I still don't believe that the pedophiles are going to want them. They will keep those they know to be real from the past; they will find ways to exchange new ones they know to be real.

At which point the false ones become purloined letter material.

Recall I said I was discounting the question of the morality/praticality of banning the fakes. I am merely playing with the question of how the fake can be used to hide the real.

People are perverse. They will want the real object of their desires.

#140 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2008, 11:28 PM:

Terry @139:

On what basis do you conclude that the pedophiles will prefer real images to convincing fakes, and that that preference will be strong enough to outweigh their preference not to go to jail?

Sexual drives are very strong, but I suspect that in most if not all cases, if pedophiles were given the choice "you can scratch your itch by hurting a child, or without hurting a child, and if you hurt a child you will go to prison for a very long time," ethics, self-interest, or both would lead them to choose the convincing fakes. (At least some seem prepared to choose what some people would call unconvincing fakes--text or drawings rather than photos.)

#141 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2008, 12:41 AM:

Possibly time to mention the films Westworld, and its rather different sequel, Futureworld. I'd forgotten Westworld (1973, remake in the works) was by Michael Crichton, and that Majel Barrett Roddenberry played a part.

#142 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2008, 03:04 AM:

Terry @ 139, Vicki @ 140

I think you're both right. There will be a substantial part of the pedophile population that will be quite happy with the artificial images; another part that would rather the real images but will accept the artificial to avoid the consequences of the real, and a small, very refractory group who will do whatever they have to in obtaining the real images. And probably some part of that refractory group will be compelled at some point to act out their fantasies on live victims, preferably real.

One of the great public misunderstandings about criminal behavior in general, and about sexual predation in particular, is that it isn't the case that all sexual offenders are incipient or practicing pedophiles, and that all pedophiles are obligate forcible rapists. There's a spectrum of behaviors, one we don't understand as well as we should because it's not politically acceptable in US society to set up studies which might get answers inconsistent with the accepted wisdom about the subject.

I don't pretend to have answers to the questions raised here; I know that it's very unlikely that there will be a single answer that fits all people and all cases. I also know (see my comment above where I mention affective computing) that technology is going to give us ever more stimulating and engaging forms of pornography and ways to express sexual desires, and that some of them are going to more addictive (to some people certainly, possibly to everyone) that any we've seen before, just as technology has consistently allowed us to create ever more addictive drugs over the last couple of hundred years. The questions we've discussed in this thread are only going to get more complicated, harder to answer in any principled way, and more involved, in the extreme cases, with issues of life, death, materialist determinism, free will, and the balance of prevention, punishment, and treatment that leads to justice.

#143 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2008, 03:22 AM:

ObSF: There's a subplot in William Barton's The Transmigration of Souls involving a sexbot created by the protagonist as a birthday present for her brother who, bire n irel ybat gvzr, npdhverf pbafpvbhfarff, qvfpbiref gur cnva bs orvat n frk fynir, naq pubbfrf gb ybfr ure serrqbz bs jvyy engure guna npprcg gur cnva.

This is only one of several subplots dealing with questions of rape, the predatory nature of privilege, the meaning of life, and other, more important topics, all wrapped up in a universe-wide (quite literally) space-opera. A very good book by a much-neglected author, who has thought a lot about the issues we're grappling with here.

#144 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2009, 08:24 PM:

137, Caroline:

"It reminds me of a conversation that happened over at Boingboing a while back -- a team of researchers had made a robot that simulated emotion in interactions with people. If you were nice to it, it acted happy; if you hit or yelled at it, it acted hurt and scared. I was really creeped out by the number of people who immediately, and in some excitement, wanted to try hitting or kicking it. It bothers me that people would get that kind of thrill from being able to realistically simulate hurting something, but being able to get away with it because it's actually a machine."

Without having read the conversation, there might be other interpretations.

When you give people a simulation, a good percentage of them want to see how well it handles bizarre situations. Give them a driving simulator and they'll run over people, drive off bridges, and try to find out if that flagpole is modeled or just visual decoration. Testing the robot's pain reaction may be evil, or it may be curiosity. ("What happens when you brush the robot's hair? Did they put tactile sensors on the eyeballs? Eeew, they did." )

Humans are natural debuggers of the world, natural finders of loopholes, natural testers of limits. If someone kicked their robot EVERY DAY, that's clearly not testing the boundaries.

#145 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2009, 02:03 PM:

Anybody notice a difference in the tone of the coverage about this male-appearing robot?

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2008/11/27/japan.android.cnn

#146 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2009, 10:09 PM:

Some site called The Asylum has a couple of discussions on "is it cheating to have sex with a robot hooker?"

via Skepchick, with more discussion.

#147 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2009, 07:39 AM:

David Harmon @ 146

One of the answers to the poll question was "No, having sex with a robot is like having sex with a toaster ... totally OK." This is only true if the toaster is unplugged.

#148 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2009, 10:20 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 147: Reminds me of the old joke about the pickle slicer.

#149 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Rikibeth, Late to the party, but even watching that without sound, there was a difference to the tone of the coverage.

#150 ::: David Harmon sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 02:41 PM:

In duplicate

#151 ::: Rikibeth sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 02:41 PM:

My goodness, the sorts of things one gets on old threads!

#152 ::: P J Evans sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2014, 01:46 PM:

it's semi-intelligent: it picks up the thread name, to make you think it isn't really spam.

#153 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2014, 05:40 PM:

P J Evans (153): Except that this particular thread title is far from "kinda plain"!

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