Holy hots, why not child sex robots?

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It had to be a spoof, didn’t it? Billed as an article lifted from the sober Washington Post, the piece I was reading online about some nutty professor campaigning to ban humans from having sex with robots must surely have been lifted from The Onion. Even the clinical psychologist David Ley, who posted the piece on the research-oriented Sexnet forum, said he hoped it was a parody.

But the reference to checkable names of academics and their universities suggested otherwise. First and foremost there was Kathleen Richardson, a senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. She was said to have presented a paper titled “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots,” at Ethicomp, “a forum to discuss ethical issues around computers” held in Leicester last month.

I looked it up. And there it was, the full text, including this remarkable direct quote:

“I propose that extending relations of prostitution into machines is neither ethical, nor is it safe. If anything the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognise both parties as human subjects.”

Er, excuse me, but if one of the parties is a robot, doesn’t that sort of suggest they are not, you know, human? So would a robot really be all that bothered about “relations of power”? Reading a bit further, though, I came to the startling revelation that Richardson was also worried about robot children. Somehow, I must have missed the news that not only can robots have sex, they can also “give birth” to baby robots.

But why would this be such a surprise after the news in June that a robot couple had married in Japan? It was a white wedding, so it would be polite to assume the bride was a virgin. Thus it could be at least a few months yet before the first “happy event” is announced, if robot gestation is anything like ours.

The Tokyo wedding, between groom “Frois” and bride “Yukirin” had every appearance of a grand occasion, celebrating an uncontroversial match between two entirely respectable and well-loved robots.

But Richardson, it is clear, wants to take us into a “darker” scenario. Prostitution! Her worry is that men paying for sex with robots – perhaps through buying the robot outright as a sex slave – will treat them as mere things, regardless of the robot’s feelings, needs and rights. She is not alone, either. An academic conference in Malaysia on “Love and Sex with Robots”, due to take place next month, was abruptly cancelled just over a week ago after the authorities declared it illegal to have sex with robots.

Muslim Malaysia, it may be supposed, would react with knee-jerk antagonism to any sexual unorthodoxy. Dr Richardson, by contrast, must at least be credited with giving long and hard thought to her specialist branch of ethics. Her real anxiety is that giving humans permission to do whatever they want to robots that look and sound like humans, with nothing ruled out, no matter how degrading or violent, will encourage bad attitudes towards real humans, including children.

This is a valid issue. In dealing with it, I think it will be helpful to clarify our thinking about robots, especially as regards artificial intelligence and sentience. The most obvious and important point is that we are suckers for believing in both. The popularity of sci-fi books and movies featuring sophisticated humanoids with super-human brains and even quasi-human emotions, shows how we love to anthropomorphize. The most significant example here, perhaps, is that of the film A.I., in which a robot child is programmed to love its owner, a mother whose own son is desperately ill and (in effect) in a coma. The boy robot, given the name David (Haley Joel Osment), is seen as a substitute to comfort her until her own child recovers. When he does, David becomes dispensable; rejected and cast out, he suffers ceaseless agonies of bewilderment and longing. For anyone with a heart it’s a heart-breaking film, not least on account of a compelling performance by the immensely lovable young Osment.

If we ever manage to create robots who really do feel emotions as deeply as David, or physical pain, then of course how we treat them (assuming we remain in charge) will become a moral question. But it is important not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Stories and drama are great vehicles for the imagination, enabling us to contemplate ethical issues in a far more vivid and engaging way than is to be found in philosophy books, with their brain-torturingly complex chains of argument. But whereas the philosophers often use their own imaginative tools, called thought experiments, to sharpen their judgments and reasoning, what we often take from science fiction is simply amazement and entertainment. Rather than using it to make tough ethical choices in our own world, we prefer the escapism of exotic scenarios and often distant futures.

Oddly enough, I find myself agreeing with  Erik Billing, of the University of Skövde in Sweden, who, with Kathleen Richardson, has jointly floated the idea of a campaign against sex robots. Billing, a senior lecturer in informatics (the study of information) is quoted in the Washington Post story as having said that films such as this year’s Ex Machina, with very advanced robots, ask big questions about what it will mean when machines becomes sentient. But these big questions can distract from the robots we already have, and how we interact with them.

However, I come to very different conclusions from Billing or Richardson, and Heretic TOC will now time travel back to the future to show why. The year is 1987 and a futurist film is made called Cherry 2000, which is set thirty years in the future – in other words, almost now. With astonishing accuracy, the film predicts that society has become increasingly rule-bound, requiring contracts drawn up by lawyers prior to sexual activity, with the result that actual sex is on the decline. But there have also been immense technical developments, fostering hypersexual expression in novel ways.

Remind you of anything? The rise of internet porn, perhaps, alongside the ever-tighter rules that feminist moral entrepreneurs insist are necessary to ensure sexual consent is valid?

Most precisely prescient by far, though, is Cherry 2000’s prediction that the hot new craze of 2017 would be sex androids that routinely malfunction during intercourse. A news report last month, meanwhile, saw Californian company RealDoll announcing plans to sell an “artificially intelligent”, talking, animatronic rubber sex doll by – wait for it – 2017.

Now, the important thing here, the really real thing, is the malfunctioning. To understand this we can park the Tardis and meet sex robot Roxxxy (triple x and likes to get her rocks off, geddit?), who exists right now and could be yours for as little as $6,995, or nearer $75,000 for “custom designs” (at that price it really ought to include child versions, boy and girl), from TrueCompanion, a company that has been in the sex doll business for a good many years and now touts its latest lady of the night as the world’s first sex robot.

Roxxxy, we are promised in a promotional video, has a range of “personalities”: you can choose whichever you find sexiest or most companionable. Touch her shoulder and she responds, saying “That is so exciting”. Fingering her knickers in the right place elicits enthusiasm expressed more urgently. She can even, if the video is to be believed, give a pretty mean blow job, with very realistic head movements. It’s hard to be sure how effective this would be, though, as we only see from behind and Roxxxy’s “partner” is left to the imagination.

Selling us Roxxxy’s charms in the video – or pimping her, as a hostile commentator might put it – is company chief executive Douglas Hines, who seems a nice guy as he gently takes us through Roxxxy’s features, focusing quite a bit on her companionate qualities. He seems keen to present her as a person, not a thing. There is nothing in the demo that would encourage Roxxxy’s owner to regard her as a “slut”, or someone to be abused.

For me, though, it’s a bit of a giveaway that Hines wears a white lab coat, just like the guys in those naff 1960s washing powder ads, doing their best to look like research scientists, offering housewives chemical wizardry in the pursuit of “whiter than white” whites. Every new detergent promised to get your whites whiter than the last, regardless of earlier promises by the same company that perfection had already been achieved.

It looks a bit like that with Hines, whose name suggests he might have moved on from flogging baked beans and whose sex “robot” spiel is really just an exercise in parlaying an overgrown talking Barbie doll into an intelligent, sensate being. So when I speak of malfunctioning being at the heart of things, what I really mean is that today’s “robots” do not truly function as robots at all, and nor will we see such a development anytime soon.

This does not mean they are worthless. It just means Richardson’s hyperventilating ejaculations against them are premature. There are more urgent things to worry about than hurting robots’ feelings and treating them unethically.

Having read Richardson’s paper, I can tell you that all it amounts to is a fancy dress version of tired old feminist clichés about men “objectifying” women. While it is right to be concerned that everyone is treated with respect, it is grossly unethical to put the utterly bogus needs of non-existent robots above the needs of real people.

David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, spelt out these needs in an interview with the BBC:

“There is an increasing number of people who find it difficult to form relationships and this will fill a void. It is not demeaning to women any more than vibrators are demeaning.”

There is unquestionably a lot of loneliness and frustration in an era when men are under increasing pressure to match up to feminist ideals and more people are living alone. And of course kind people like many of us here have no opportunity to be kind with kids.

Comments made online in response to a CNBC story about sex robots are very telling:

  • It’s about time! Women have wanted less and less to do with men over the years so let’s give them what they want. Who needs em?!
  • Cherry 2000 is the solution to having a feminist nutjob in your home… heck, for the most part they dont want the men, they openly say so, and they openly shame and hate them (that is until they are done screwing around and need someone to pay their bills for them)
  • Feminists should be glad of sex robots: sexual harassment will hit an historical low, approaching zero! 🙂 It will be a magic moment for all poor wimminz! 🙂

Misogynistic? If so, it’s hard to say the feminazis haven’t been well and truly asking for this sort of backlash. They keep loading men up with guilt and self-doubt but don’t give a shit about their problems. Their relentless pushing for women’s ever greater power and dominance is a cruel creed. Let me reiterate, it privileges the dogma of “objectification” over the lives of real people.

Oh, and before anyone objects that prostitutes are real people, yes, they certainly are, and they resent snooty feminists trying to force them out of sex work. Against this bullying, Amnesty International recently backed prostitutes’ rights.

Hines has said he feels robots (well, dolls) like Roxxxy help to reduce sex trafficking, sexual and domestic abuse. And there is academic support for this view, including from Ronald Arkin, professor of mobile robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology, who has proposed that child sex robots could be used in the treatment of paedophilia.

Furthermore, the idea that child robots could have therapeutic value is very much in line with extensive research findings showing that the ready availability of legal child pornography results in sexual assault offences against children falling, not rising.

Milton Diamond, director of the Pacific Center For Sex And Society, at the University of Hawaii, has found that in those countries where child porn has been legal (Japan, Denmark, Czech Republic), child sex offences decreased. He and his colleagues suggested that if computer generated child porn were to be made legally available it could provide a non-abusive, socially acceptable, way of reducing sex offences against children. He also noted findings by Swiss investigators that viewing child pornography does not appear to be a risk factor for future sex offenses (Endrass, et al., 2009).

A similar plan by brain researcher Dick Swaab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) has even found support from the Dutch anti-paedophile group, Stopkinderpornonu (Stop-child-pornography-now). Spokesman Chris Hölsken went so far as to describe it as a really good idea.

“… because we’re fighting to stop child pornography and child abuse. That means that every form and every method should be studied carefully. If fake pornographic images, such as in cartoons, can lead to stopping child abuse, we support that.”

So if computer generated child porn is capable of producing benign effects, why not child sex robots? If Kathleen Richardson really wants to be ethical, she will take these findings into account.

 

 

Time to say R.I.P. to V.I.P. ‘paedo scandal’?

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At last, a welcome return to some semblance of sanity as the “Westminster VIP paedophile ring” goes up in smoke – a smoke ring, as it were, or a stinking but otherwise insubstantial blast of gas from arse-talking fantasists and a few politicians on the make.

The most prominent of the politicians, Tom Watson MP, was recently elected deputy leader of the Labour Party but now finds his reputation slithering into the toilet faster than a dose of diarrhoea. Last night he faced criticism in parliament from prime minister David Cameron, no less. He made a spirited fight of it in his reply but will soon face tough scrutiny from his own party too.

The most colourful revelation in the last couple of days reached us from the Daily Mail, where we learned that Watson invited the police to his office in parliament to take a statement from a certain Mike Broad, said to be a notorious online gossip and conspiracy theorist. Talking about the Elm Guest House, long bruited as a house of horrors for the sexual abuse of children, Broad claimed “half the bloody Cabinet” went there, and said a neighbour told him “two transit vans took away children”. So, not just a few abused kids, oh no. Keeping those VIP loins a-thrusting required industrial scale deliveries and collections!

This all follows a landmark Panorama documentary on BBC TV, which exposed key  witnesses “Darren” and “David” as grievously unreliable figures. Darren, we heard, was a convicted bomb hoaxer; David backed off from his earlier claims of sexual abuse by the late Lord Brittan, saying at first they were a “joke” but he had been pressed into sticking with the allegations by an ex-social worker called Chris Fay, who has a conviction for fraud.

“Darren”, as Heretic TOC readers may recall, accused two of my friends, claiming Peter Righton was a brutal murderer and Charles Napier was a partner in crimes of violent sexual assault. Both of them had been members of PIE’s executive committee back in the 1970s when I was Chair. Darren had also corroborated yarns emanating from the most notorious of all these anonymous witnesses, “Nick”, who claimed to have witnessed three murders by VIP paedophiles and implicated former prime minister Edward Heath in a VIP sex abuse ring.

Nick alleged that for a decade he had been farmed out as a boy by his father to a paedophile ring including Ted Heath, former Home Secretary Leon (later Lord) Brittan and Harvey Proctor MP, as well as two generals and the former heads of the secret security and spying agencies, MI5 and MI6.

It was Nick’s outlandish allegations that a senior police officer incredibly described as credible and true, thereby setting up the police as judge and jury in the case.

Panorama focused on one of Nick’s claims,  namely that he witnessed a hit-and-run murder of a boy in Kingston, committed by his abusers to scare him into silence. A thorough investigation by the programme could find no report of any such incident in Kingston at the time alleged: there were no newspaper reports, no eye witnesses, no child reported missing. In other words, the claim was patently false.

In truth, Nick’s story was falling apart well before Panorama. Operation Midland has been launched by the police specifically to investigate Nick’s claims but had failed to come up with any solid evidence to support them. And a key figure against whom allegations had been made, Harvey Proctor MP, gave a feisty press conference in which he not only strenuously denied the claims (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) but also spelt out in detail their horrific nature, giving cogent reasons for their implausibility. He was no friend of Ted Heath, for instance, with whom he was supposed to have jointly committed offences.

Proctor would soon find heavyweight support from Lord Ken Macdonald QC, a former director of public prosecutions, who warned that detectives investigating historical child abuse allegations should not indulge “narcissists and fantasists”, saying they should conduct “impartial, objective investigations” and there was a danger concern for victims is “morphing into a medieval contempt for the accused”.

Even Mark Williams-Thomas joined the sceptics. This ex-police officer, the man who opened the floodgates to the Jimmy Savile scandal, warned that many of the allegations against political figures were unsubstantiated. Building up a crescendo of bad omens for the believe-any-allegation-unquestioningly lobby,  radio broadcaster Paul Gambaccini lashed out at Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for failing to apologise over their handling of discredited sexual abuse allegations he had faced. He criticised the police for publicly inviting more “victims” to make complaints against named individuals such as himself, smearing them without evidence and encouraging fantasists. Fellow radio star Sandi Toksvig said she had been approached by detectives, who invited her to make allegations against Gambaccini or others.

It would be interesting to know how all this is playing with the wider public. Tom Watson has long been building an image for himself as a fearless crusader against powerful vested interests, coming to national prominence for holding global media baron Rupert Murdoch to account when his News of the World tabloid was in trouble for phone hacking. This was a much more worthy endeavour than his squalid bullying of dying peer Lord Brittan, and was probably the main factor in his winning the Labour deputy leadership.

So many will see him as a noble figure who has at worst been naïve in believing the wrong people. Not his parliamentary colleagues though. They know him at close quarters and can see through his populist opportunism: he is neither loved nor respected.

The Anna Raccoon blog has got his number too, where industrious guest writer Petunia Winegum did a hilarious Billy Bunter parody of the portly Watson recently. Give yourself a treat and read this piece of sustained comic brilliance: it neatly exposes the Fat Owl’s dubious methods.

Most satisfying for me in all this was the exposure of an outrageous bluff by Watson. You might remember that a good while back he was the first MP to claim there was a “powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10”.  As the Daily Mail put it,  he “used the fact that an innocent Tory MP had a paedophile relative to bolster his claims”. He told the House of Commons in October 2012, without giving any names, that there was a child abuser who “boasted of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister”.

We now know this “boast” was nothing whatever to do with an implied paedophile conspiracy. We have been told he had been referring to Charles Napier, whose half-brother is John Whittingdale, who was once Margaret Thatcher’s political secretary.

If there was a “boast”, it was not Napier’s but Watson’s – and an empty one at that. His boasted knowledge of a VIP conspiracy reaching right to the heart of government at No 10 Downing Street, was just a bluff, an attempt – a successful attempt – to hoodwink the nation, in the full, clear, knowledge that there was no merit in his claim.

Not that Whittingdale is quite as “innocent” at the Daily Mail claims. As Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the present government, he is currently doing his damnedest to preside over the destruction of the BBC, in an orgy of cultural vandalism that constitutes a far greater crime than anything his half-brother Charles has ever done. But sadly Charles is the one currently serving a 13-year prison sentence, not John.

As I say, we still have little idea of how Tom Watson’s come-uppance is going down with the public. Will he be discredited, or will he be seen as a victim of the Establishment? And will the Metropolitan Police get away with their disgraceful arrogance in the face of Panorama’s exposure of their foolish faith in Nick’s “credible and true” tripe? Instead of ’fessing up, and admitting the BBC had done a good job, they went into attack mode, furiously arguing that the programme “could compromise the evidential chain should a case ever proceed to court”. In other words, as Stephen Pollard pointed out in the Daily Telegraph, “no journalist should ever investigate anything, because any investigation by journalists upsets the police applecart. That is the nature of investigative journalism. That police statement is, in its own way, as idiotic and inappropriate as the earlier statement that Nick’s allegations are true.”

Refreshingly, for an opinion piece in such a right-wing paper as the Telegraph, Pollard praised the Panorama programme, saying it had been “…surely one of the most important programmes the BBC has ever broadcast.”

I would like to agree. It would be great to see it as a new beginning, a sign of the tide turning against the excesses of recent years, in which, as Pollard wrote, “Ever since the revelations about Jimmy Savile emerged, we have been engulfed in a form of mania about paedophilia.”

I would like to think we have passed the darkest hour, but we have been here before and seen false dawns. There were earlier panics, were there not? There was the mania over Satanic abuse; there was the “recovered memory” fad, and much more. These bubbles were pricked, their absurdity exposed, only to be replaced by new nonsense. A resurgence of similar alarmism in as yet unexpected guises can safely be predicted until such time as there is a deep underlying shift in the economic and social conditions that are driving them.

Still, there has to be some hope that the Goddard enquiry, the overarching mega-investigation into child sexual abuse in all its manifestations going back as far as living memory can stretch in the UK and perhaps further, will take on board the recent hiccups and steer a course away from permanent hysteria.

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