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Friday, October 15, 2021

The Ethics of Sex Robots

Sterri, A. B., & Earp, B. D. (in press).
In C. VĂ©liz (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of 
Digital Ethics. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.


What, if anything, is wrong with having sex with a robot? For the sake of this chapter, the authors  will  assume  that  sexbots  are  ‘mere’  machines  that are  reliably  identifiable  as such, despite  their  human-like  appearance  and  behaviour.  Under  these  stipulations,  sexbots themselves can no more be harmed, morally speaking, than your dishwasher. However, there may still be something wrong about the production, distribution,  and use of such sexbots. In this  chapter,  the  authors  examine  whether  sex  with robots  is  intrinsically  or  instrumentally wrong  and  critically  assess  different  regulatory  responses.  They  defend  a  harm  reduction approach to  sexbot  regulation,  analogous  to  the  approach that has  been  considered  in  other areas, concerning, for example, drugs and sex work.


Even  if  sexbots  never  become  sentient,  we  have  good  reasons  to  be  concerned with  their production, distribution, and use. Our seemingly  private activities have social meanings that we do not necessarily intend, but  which can be harmful to others. Sex  can both be  beautiful and  valuable—and  ugly  or  profoundly  harmful.  We  therefore  need  strong  ethical  norms  to guide human sexual behaviour, regardless of the existence of sexbots. Interaction with new technologies  could  plausibly  improve  our  sexual  relationships,  or  make things  worse  (see Nyholm et al. forthcoming, for a theoretical overview). In this chapter, we have explored some ways in which a harm reduction framework may have the potential to bring about the alleged benefits of sexbots with a minimum of associated harms. But whatever approach is taken, the goal should be to ensure that our relationships with robots conduce to, rather than detract from, the equitable flourishing of our fellow human beings.