Artif Intell Law 25, 305–323 (2017).
The development of highly humanoid sex robots is on the technological horizon. If sex robots are integrated into the legal community as “electronic persons”, the issue of sexual consent arises, which is essential for legally and morally permissible sexual relations between human persons. This paper explores whether it is conceivable, possible, and desirable that humanoid robots should be designed such that they are capable of consenting to sex. We consider reasons for giving both “no” and “yes” answers to these three questions by examining the concept of consent in general, as well as critiques of its adequacy in the domain of sexual ethics; the relationship between consent and free will; and the relationship between consent and consciousness. Additionally we canvass the most influential existing literature on the ethics of sex with robots.
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Here, we want to ask a similar question regarding how and whether sex robots should be brought into the legal community. Our overarching question is: is it conceivable, possible, and desirable to create autonomous and smart sex robots that are able to give (or withhold) consent to sex with a human person? For each of these three sub-questions (whether it is conceivable, possible, and desirable to create sex robots that can consent) we consider both “no” and “yes” answers. We are here mainly interested in exploring these questions in general terms and motivating further discussion. However, in discussing each of these sub-questions we will argue that, prima facie, the “yes” answers appear more convincing than the “no” answers—at least if the sex robots are of a highly sophisticated sort.Footnote4
The rest of our discussion divides into the following sections. We start by saying a little more about what we understand by a “sex robot”. We also say more about what consent is, and we review the small literature that is starting to emerge on our topic (Sect. 1). We then turn to the questions of whether it is conceivable, possible, and desirable to create sex robots capable of giving consent—and discuss “no” and “yes” answers to all of these questions. When we discuss the case for considering it desirable to require robotic consent to sex, we argue that there can be both non-instrumental and instrumental reasons in favor of such a requirement (Sects. 2–4). We conclude with a brief summary (Sect. 5).