Will sex workers be able to compete with robots that don’t feel degradation, tiredness, fear or sadness?

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.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,

Elon Musk speaks to LA's mayor about his Boring Company

Elon Musk said this week that he has held “promising conversations” with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, regarding the potential of bringing his recently formed Boring Company to the city. One of the ideas reportedly under consideration would see an express line to LAX airport from LA’s Union Station being built.

Source: Tech Crunch

Atari is back with a new console

Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. Now, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat Atari CEO Fred Chesnais has confirmed that the pioneering video game company is working on a new game console. “We’re back in the hardware business,” said Chesnais.

Source: Venture Beat

Nasa find 10 planets that could potentially host life

Nasa has added a further 219 candidates to the list of planets beyond our solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, and may host life. Scientists found the candidates in a final batch of Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus.

Source: The Guardian

Tesla Model S told driver to put his hands on the wheel before fatal crash

Federal regulators said on Monday, the driver of a Tesla Model S, who was killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode, did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time despite being repeatedly warned by the vehicle that having his hands on the wheel was necessary.

Source: Ars Technica

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns

Having last week said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence, Uber boss Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive of the company this week after pressure from shareholders. His resignation comes after a review of practices at the firm and scandals including complaints of sexual harassment.

Source: BBC

Facebook defends against injunction to remove Oculus Rift from sale

Facebook and Oculus want a federal judge to let them continue selling Rifts despite a jury deciding Oculus stole another company’s computer code. Lawyers for Facebook said halting the sale of Oculus Rifts “would serve no one but ZeniMax, who would use it only as leverage to try to extract money from Oculus”.

Source: Bloomberg