The danger of sex robots

August 13, 2018

Given the seemingly endless possibilities of technological change, we children of late modernity must consider the question: does technology enhance or diminish our humanity?

This question and the possibilities of technology hit me with a new relevance when May 27th’s New York magazine arrived with the cover story, “My Date with a Sex Robot.” Allison P. Davis tells a gripping yet horrifying account of touring Realbotix in San Diego. Matt McMullen, founder of Abyss Creations, a current global leader in the manufacture of sex dolls, and Realbotix, their AI spinoff, is creating AI-enhanced humanoid robots that humans can engage in sexual activity with.

Lest this sound like a bad sci-fi movie gone wrong, Davis reports that manufacture of the female robot sex dolls are ready for shipping as of summer 2018. “So far, there have been 50 orders at $12,000 apiece.” The male robot is still in development, but Davis describes customization as the heart of the company’s business model. “Realbotix is betting that much of what users want comes down to customization. The fantasy it’s selling is the ability to select a sex partner to meet your precise specifications—to get exactly what you want. . . Selecting physical attributes for a sex robot is Tinder taken to to a logical extreme.”

The loneliness problem

As Davis toured Realbotix, she describes trying to imagine if she would be seduced by a robot.

At first I doubted the plausibility of a robot interloper in my love life. Then I thought about the way I wake up most mornings with either my phone or my laptop in bed beside me. Like many, I’ve developed an insecure attachment to my phone—without it, I feel anxious, bereft, and bored. Even beyond dating apps, modern romance is a world of refreshing Gmail, manipulating read receipts, and feeling bummed out when a potential mate is a “bad texter.” Our iPhones and computers are our portals to intimacy—of course we’re attached to them. And these attachments aren’t just fulfilling preexisting holes; they’re creating new needs and desires.

The loneliness of modernity is the problem the sex robots solve. McMullen theorizes, “If people are connecting with other people through technology, and if those virtual connections create loneliness and isolation, why not use technology to create an alternative sort of relationship—a relationship with technology?” Davis concludes her article leaving open the question of her participation in this new technological possibility: “No, I did not have sex with Henry [the male sex robot] today. But to answer the question on everyone’s mind, I’m not not going to have sex with Henry in the ever-nearing future.” The technology exists to pair artificial intelligence with a silicon human form; the question remains, does this technology enhance our humanity, or diminish us?

On the one hand, these sex robots seem to offer quick and easy sexual satisfaction at a price point lower than a decent car and with less risk than sex tourism or a brothel visit involves; as some have already suggested, this could be a solution to the nascent “incel” movement. At the same time, “Henry” and his fellow bots represent a dehumanizing progression: sex divorced from purpose, pursued only for pleasure, results in the removal of another human from the process. When human beings no longer provide the most pleasure, why go through the heartache, struggle, and effort to commune with another human being?

A biblical understanding of sexuality

The biblical understanding of sexuality, in contrast, places limitations around human sexual encounters, and links sex to two different purposes: communion with another person, and the offspring which may result. God’s design for human beings is inherently sexual; Adam and Eve were both gendered beings united in marriage within the garden. One of God’s first commands was to “be fruitful and multiply” so that his image-bearers would fill creation. Genesis 4 opens with, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” The use of “knew” to connote sexual intercourse is fascinating; this is no accidental euphemism. Instead, it conveys the idea that the man and his wife unite in physical union, and in doing so, gain a deep knowledge of each other.

This sexuality is not about mere pleasure. Instead, it is about coming together, about seeking and finding oneness. In Recapturing the Wonder, Mike Cosper writes, “Sex is a feast of attention. It is most intimate and most meaningful when a husband and wife approach one another in a spirit of generosity, joy, and wonder” (Cosper, 125). This attention is part of what Paul describes when he writes that the husband ought to “love his wife as Christ loves the church” and the wife ought to “respect her husband.” Paul further explains that within marriage each spouse’s body belongs to the other. Therefore, they should each serve each other within their sexuality. The biblical vision of sexuality understands pleasure as a by-product of a other-oriented relationship.

Perhaps ironically, an unlimited sexuality which seeks self-satisfaction fails to meet the real longings of the human heart; it is when two partners each seek the others’ ultimate good and serve each other that intercourse transcends a mere physical encounter. Within such a framework, sexuality heightens the human dignity of each partner.

Such a relationship requires limitation, time, self-sacrifice, and service. None of these things speak to our base natures. Instead, we would rather have immediate, quick gratification. The Realbotix dolls promise the satisfaction of quick sexual pleasure at the cost of removing another human being from the relationship. In doing so, they remove sexual intercourse from the realm of human interaction. Cosper writes,

Only in a world where sex is meaningless does it make sense to use the principles of a video game to enable hook-ups (like Tinder). Only in a world where sex is meaningless does sexting make sense. Only in a world where sex is meaningless does it make sense to use images of a nearly-naked woman to sell cheeseburgers. Sex is disposable in this world because we are disposable (Cosper, 127).

Cosper does not speak directly about the Realbotix dolls, but his argument extends to them. While the logical implications of the widespread use of these dolls is a clear danger to birth rates, the more subtle danger is the enshrinement of selfishness as a good while creating the illusion that one is intimate  with a human partner.

Late modernity is on the cusp of rolling out a new technology which offers the satisfaction of pleasure at the cost of removing the potential for happiness. The creation of such devices and the popularity of them contemporary journalism and the blogosphere points to a moral vacuum; we have lost the confidence necessary to say “X is not good; people should not do X.”

The moral confusion present in Alison Davis’ piece, representative of a secular perspective which lacks the moral capacity to question a technology’s existence, presents Christians with a rare opportunity: we can now highlight the positive view of human sexuality articulated by God’s Word. We can contrast the folly of thinking that a sex doll, no matter how artificially intelligent, could ever satisfy the real longings of the heart for community with the Christian understanding of a rational creature living within the moral fabric woven by the Creator into reality itself, concluding that when we live in accordance with moral reality, we find happiness and lasting human flourishing.

Davis’ “My Date with a Sex Robot” highlights the way our historical moment differs from previous such moments. In a post-industrial age, the question is no longer can we do it, but rather should we do it. And for that, we need more than science. We need a philosophically rigorous and theologically true vision of human nature.

A form of this article originally appeared here.

Josh Herring

Josh Herring is a Humanities Instructor at Thales Academy, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Hillsdale College, and a doctoral student in Faulkner University's Great Books program. He has written for Moral Apologetics, Think Christian, and The Federalist; he loves studying the intersection of history, literature, theology, and ideas expressed in the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24