Once experiments into AI began it was obviously not going to be long before humans started trying to have sex with robots, but what does that mean for current sex workers? We explore the likelihood of robots taking over the sex industry

The year is 2067. You’re walking on the pavement of a busy road. On one side of you automated cars are whizzing past, while on the other you pass robot chop shops and stores with androids serving customers. You’re struck by the sameness of it all, like whoever designed it was heavily influenced by Scooby-doo backdrops. But one store stands out. It’s hard to miss the neon-pink sign flashing the word sex at you that stands above its entrance. Intrigued you go inside. What you find are scantily clad robots, some of them are perfect replicas of human women, while others appear half-finished, part-robot and part-human. The robot brothel is open for business.

Like every industry, sex work is susceptible to the threat of robots taking over, but unlike other industries the automation of sex work could move it from a being a morally ambiguous profession to something that is conducted openly.

At the minute our sex robots are really just motorised dolls, but once they’re equipped with artificial intelligence they, and the service they provide, could become indiscernible from the real thing. That raises a whole new set of moral questions. For example, would it be morally right to treat something that is effectively conscious as a sex slave; how far will we let customers go with the robots and will the open objectification of predominantly female sex robots have a negative impact on the treatment of human women?

All of these questions will need an answer because sex robots are coming. Most of you will have heard the story of one pimp/entrepreneur who wanted to open a string of fellatio cafes. When he ran into trouble opening his first cafe in Geneva (not due to demand, but because of hygiene concerns) he changed his business model to include the installation of “high-end sex robots”, according to The Local. The robot sex brothel may be open for business sooner than you thought.

Will sex work be a robot only profession?

If robots are set to enter the professions then there is no reason why sex work would be excluded from that. But how would we go from what we have now, which in the UK is a situation where sex work is legal, but a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering are illegal, to a situation where robot brothels are openly available?

Image courtesy of Paul Vera-Broadbent. Featured image courtesy of Michael Coghlan

Eleanor Hancock, who authored the paper ‘Ethics and Robotics: The ethical and social implications of personal and sexual relationships with robots and AI’, believes that the process of robots taking over the sex industry will see robot and human sex workers working together, at least initially.

“In all settings where robots take over human beings it’s a long process and a lot of that process is humans and robots working together at their tasks. I can’t see the sex industry being any different,” says Hancock. “I think that they’re definitely going to have to take heed from sex workers in creating the dolls as well, especially the AI because you’ve got to prepare your AI to go to a brothel.”

The future of sex work could see robots and humans working together, but how long will this situation last? In other industries, when technology becomes cheaper and more efficient that’s when we see robots taking over, but could automation in the sex industry be uniquely able to withstand pressure from automation because people will still have  preference for human sex?  And if people prefer to go to human sex workers, could we see two industries running simultaneously?

John Danaher, lecturer in the School of Law at NUI Galway and author of the paper ‘Sex Work, Technological Unemployment and the Basic Income Guarantee’ believes this could be the case.  “In other industries where automation is the norm, majority human-operated businesses often compete concurrently with majority automated businesses, until some point in time is reached when the automated labour is considerably cheaper and more efficient than the human labour,” he explains.

“Will that happen with sex work? Possibly not because there may always be a preference for a human service provider, which (if true) means you can expect a longer period of concurrent operation.”

Can humans compete with robots?

The development of sex robots might lead to two separate sex industries, one populated by humans and one with robots or we could have a situation where robots and humans work to together. In that scenario, how likely is it that humans will be able to compete with their robot equivalents? As Hancock points out in her paper: “Imagine competing with a sex robot in the bedroom, a robot that does not feel degradation, tiredness, fear or sadness.  It could certainly outstrip the performance of a human prostitute in terms of stamina and emotional endurance.”

Imagine competing with a sex robot in the bedroom, a robot that does not feel degradation, tiredness, fear or sadness

If given the choice between a robot and a human sex worker perhaps people will still opt for the human if they are only equally capable, but once robots start to outperform humans that’s when we may start to see human sex workers being replaced because, as Hancock has noticed in her current work with sex workers, the current industry is vulnerable to the same pressures that every other industry is. There’s no reason to think that sex workers aren’t worried about the prospect of automation.

“I’m doing a bit more research on sex work now and even now in this country [the UK] sex workers face the same problems that everyone else does,” says Hancock. “You know like basic economic hardships [affect them] the same way as they affect us. For example, they have to lower prices to compete with Eastern European workers who will work for a lower price.”

Faking it or simulating it

Before sex robots are upon us en masse, it’s important that we reach some kind of consensus about what we actually expect them to do. As Danaher points out, our attitudes toward human sex workers already vary quite a bit. Some customers are possessive, and have preferred service providers who they treat as a quasi-intimate partners, while others are more casual about their commitment and enjoy the idea of ‘no strings attached’ sexual encounters. We might see similar attitudes when it comes to sex robots.

Perhaps for customers who treat sex workers like stand-in partners humans will be the better option because who knows if sex robots will be able to fake intimacy. “From what I’ve gathered from interviewing a lot of sex workers of course they have to fake emotions,” says Hancock. “But I think there’s a difference. A robot wouldn’t be faking it; it would be simulating it. A robot wouldn’t know how to fake it. It’s all simulation.”

Simulating real emotions is probably the final frontier when it comes to sex robots, but will the ready availability of predominantly female sex slaves that can fuck anyone, without feeling exhaustion, but while stimulating intimacy ever be a good thing for women? In her paper, Hancock points out “Practicing extreme, violent or aggressive behaviours on an objectification of the female form could suggest wider implications for society a whole. It could normalise the behaviour, making it more prevalently used on real women in society.”

There is a general consensus that eventually we will have sex robots, but their level of sophistication is debatable, as is the way we will access them. Robot brothels are just one way; another could be through rentals or even ownership.

On one hand their presence could bring an industry that is surrounded by criminality out into the open, but on the other they could leave us in more of a moral quagmire. There are already people who have confusing relationships with sex dolls (Davecat, who is an advocate of synthetic love, is probably the most famous example of this) imagine what will happen when we add AI to the mix. One thing is for sure though: we won’t be able to stop robot brothels from opening for business.

“I think the thing about humans is when we really want to do something normally, we do even if it ends in disaster,” says Hancock.

In the not all that distant future we will be able to swap out parts of our bodies like changing parts in a car and fight diseases like Parkinson's with a simple software update. We hear from Nexeon MedSystems CEO and bionics consultant for Deus Ex: Human Revolution Will Rosellini about the increasingly intimate realtionship between man and machine

If you’ve played seminal cyberpunk video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the name Will Rosellini may be familiar to you. You’ve probably hacked his computer in Sarif Industries headquarters, and read some rather terse emails between him and cybersecurity chief Frank Pritchard.

What you probably don’t know is that Will Rossellini is a real person. In fact, as chairman and CEO of bioelectronics company Nexeon MedSystems, he consulted on the video game to provide an accurate roadmap of the future development of human augmentation upon which the game is based.

A fan of the Deus Ex series since its development by Warren Spector back in 2000, Rosellini was disappointed that the 2003 sequel failed to contain the detail about augmentation that its predecessor had been so praised for. So when he heard that a new game was in development, he was keen to offer his expertise.

Image courtesy of Eidos-Montréal

“So I called the CEO of the videogame company and said ‘hey can I fix this for you guys? I’m an expert in neurotechnology, I love the game, I understand what the gamers want because I’m a gamer, let me go and write all of this,” Rossellini says. “So in 2007 I started writing the technology that would be used in Deus Ex.

“The fun part was I didn’t have to work that hard to predict what was going to be around in 2027 because that’s my job.”

According to Rossellini, in the time since the game has been released many of the predictions he made in his augmentation roadmap have started to become true.

“I was able to write what I thought was going to be happening and it did,” he explains. “A lot of stuff came true, and at the time that looked like crazy science fiction, but that made the game even more fun I think to see there was some reality behind how you had your health recovery or your ability to use your eye prosthesis etc.”

Software updates to fight disease

A key driver for Rossellini’s roadmap for the game was his belief that humans are increasingly going to have more car-like bodies in the future, where individual parts can freely be exchanged and upgraded as needed.

“My philosophy is that our bodies are going to look more like cars in the future, where we are making parts that can fit into anybody’s system, where we are upgrading parts the same way we upgrade a cell phone,” he says.

Our bodies are going to look more like cars in the future, where we are making parts that can fit into anybody’s system, where we are upgrading parts the same way we upgrade a cell phone

This could include new-and-improved organs, which could be custom printed and programmed to seamlessly work with a given individual.

However, of particular note is that this would not just cover hardware; it would also cover software that could be remotely updated to respond to new diseases or syndromes as required.

“If you think about the body of the car, there’s going to be a lot more ‘here’s the software program for Parkinson’s; download it’, just like the Tesla,” he says.

And while this is clearly some way away, the notion of running remote updates to implanted medical devices isn’t as far away as it seems.

“It’s happening now, so it’s just a question of how much software, what it does, what it can help you with, etc.,” Rossellini says. “Right now some of [medical device manufacturer] St Jude’s products today can be upgraded remotely with software downloads. So it’s just beginning.”

Cloud-integrated nervous systems

While these developments will undoubtedly have a phenomenal impact on human health, it is the potential to gather data about particular conditions on a completely unprecedented scale that Rossellini believes will have the biggest effect.

“My opinion is that these devices are going to start moving from the nervous system and being able to integrate with the enormous amounts of data that is up in the cloud already,” he explains.

“I think we’ll have dramatic, dramatic discoveries about how much we know about the patient’s disorder from the data that exists.”

As a result, Rossellini believes that the large-scale collection and cloud sharing of medical device data will very quickly lead to hitherto unprecedented cures for a host of different conditions.

“I think in five years we’ll be just ticking off disorder after disorder based on this data splurge that is going to come from linking all the information up and doing meta data analysis on it,” he says. “That’s what I think is next.”

Artificial hardware 

Image courtesy of Eidos-Montréal

We are, of course, some way off this goal, however the first steps are well underway and it’s not hard to see how things could progress from the current state of affairs to the heavily augmented future that Rossellini is predicting.

“We won’t be there in 20 years, but right now we’ve already been able to replace almost 30 different functions in the human body with an artificial device: artificial pancreas, artificial heart, artificial eyes, ears, nose, sexual organs,” he explains.

“So if you look at it on a map, you’re going to have a lot of hardware incorporated into your body’s and then it’s just a question of downloading new software as the programs come in.

“So that’s the vision of the world that we actually have, and we put that in Deus Ex and that seemed to be popular.”

Ethical roadmap

You’d be forgiven for being concerned about this future. It is, after all, a radical change in what it is to be human, with the potential to bring us to a new stage in our species’ development.

However, Rossellini is very keen to stress that considerable effort has been put into developing a strict code of ethics for human augmentation to ensure the technology is implemented responsibly.

“We spent a lot of time creating a code of ethics and human augmentation, and CNN threw a conference to kick it off,” he says. “We are adhering to a fairly strict ethical code as we think about how to be responsible with the technology.”

Covering both the medical and the DIY community, this ethical framework, entitled Human X Design, is designed to be a starting point that will be built upon as the technology progresses, covering responsible stewardship, public beneficence and justice alongside freedom and responsibility. And while it is very early days, it is hoped that by thinking about these topics now, they can be better dealt with future.

“In order to foster a sense of private agency and bolster public responsibility, discourse around human augmentation has to happen, now,” Rossellini and his co-authors wrote in the framework. “We hope this framework provides some tailored ways of deliberating the ethical questions that will shape our future.”