Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Should we campaign against sex robots?

Danaher, J., Earp, B. D., & Sandberg, A. (forthcoming). 
In J. Danaher & N. McArthur (Eds.) 
Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


In September 2015 a well-publicised Campaign Against Sex Robots (CASR) was launched. Modelled on the longer-standing Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the CASR opposes the development of sex robots on the grounds that the technology is being developed with a particular model of female-male relations (the
prostitute-john model) in mind, and that this will prove harmful in various ways. In this chapter, we consider carefully the merits of campaigning against such a technology. We make three main arguments. First, we argue that the particular claims advanced by the CASR are unpersuasive, partly due to a lack of clarity about the campaign’s aims and partly due to substantive defects in the main ethical objections put forward by campaign’s founder(s). Second, broadening our inquiry beyond the arguments proferred by the campaign itself, we argue that it would be very difficult to endorse a general campaign against sex robots unless one embraced a highly conservative attitude towards the ethics of sex, which is likely to be unpalatable to those who are active in the campaign. In making this argument we draw upon lessons
from the campaign against killer robots. Finally, we conclude by suggesting that although a generalised campaign against sex robots is unwarranted, there are legitimate concerns that one can raise about the development of sex robots.


Robots are going to form an increasingly integral part of human social life.  Sex robots are likely to be among them. Though the proponents of the CASR seem deeply concerned by this prospect, we have argued that there is nothing in the nature of sex robots themselves that warrants preemptive opposition to their development.  The arguments of the campaign itself are vague and premised on a misleading
analogy between sex robots and human sex work. Furthermore, drawing upon the example of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, we suggest that there are no bad-making properties of sex robots that give rise to similarly serious levels of concern.  The bad-making properties of sex robots are speculative and indirect: preventing their development may not prevent the problems from arising. Preventing the development of killer robots is very different: if you stop the robots you stop the prima facie harm.

In conclusion, we should preemptively campaign against robots when we have reason to think that a moral or practical harm caused by their use can best be avoided or reduced as a result of those efforts. By contrast, to engage in such a campaign as a way of fighting against—or preempting—indirect harms, whose ultimate source is not the technology itself but rather individual choices or broader social institutions, is likely to be a comparative waste of effort.