Geek Ethicist: Robot Wives and Android Prostitutes

Geek Ethicist

“Dear Ethicist–
How come I don’t have a robot wife yet?
Sincerely– Still Waiting”

Dear SW,

You won’t have to wait long.  “Lovotics” Robot Love is already in the geek lexicon.

The term refers to the loving robots.  The concept made a categorical leap forward last year with the work of  Hooman Samani, an artificial intelligence scientist from the Social Robotics Lab at the National University of Singapore who developed a robot with artificial hormones that respond to affection.  His work  demonstrates that humans easily have the capacity to use robots as surrogates for our human love objects.  Our real human hormones respond to the robots’ fake hormones.  (Yes, robots fake everything.) Among other hot-bots, Samani linked two pairs of robot lips so a person on one side of the world can transmit an authentic kiss to another person on the other side of the world.  But certainly it  is just a matter of time before someone develops the AI to allow a computer to kiss back all on its own. So the AI love-bot is only a small step away. Prosti-bots are already, so to speak, in the pipeline and are expected on the market within the next five years.  Imagine the market for really hot mindless prostitutes for rent or sale with no risk of jail or venereal disease!

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Some years back a Nobel prize scientist Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard wrote that everyone should have a wife. She wanted one herself.  Naleighna Kai wrote a book with a similar plot: a wife fights for custody of her soon to be ex-husband’s mistress. And there is no getting around it, wives really are great.  So clearly everyone should have one.  Married women especially need wives to help them manage the big three: houshold, husband and kids.  But everyone also needs a chainsaw and a box of wrenches; so robot husbands might be helpful too.  Put it all together and robo-spouse is inevitable.

All that joy aside, the realm of robo-love is filled with real danger for humans. I refer you to Matthias Scheutz, David Levy, and Blay Whitby on this.  The primary problem is people really do fall in love, and hate, with both animate and inanimate entities.  We even get jealous of inanimate objects.  Who hasn’t felt jealous of a partner’s fascination with a new computer game?  So, in Scheutz’s terms,  the dangers of “Unidirectional Emotional Bonds” (we love robots that remain indifferent to us)  are enormous, as are the risks of inter-human jealousy caused by unidirectional robo-love.  Would you kill a person to protect your indifferent robo-spouse? or harm your human spouse for loving an indifferent android prostitute? or punch your partner for kicking your little cutesy Roomba?  Perhaps.

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So, should humans even go down the dangerous path to loving our robots?  I say a big YES!  The problem, however, is not that we will begin to love robots deeply and they will at best fake empathy and everything else. The biggest problem is, if our robo-spouses seem to love us, will we have a duty to show them genuine respect in return?  Will their merely apparent cognitive abilities earn them real rights?  And here too, I’m afraid the answer is yes.

If  we actually love our robots then we will have to respect them. This is also the foundation of pets’ rights. Your dog does not love you like you love your dog.  For your dog, you are at best Alpha. But for us, pooch can be like a child. And it is only our human love for our pets that gives our pets their rights. There is a world of difference between a pet chicken and a fryer, but they cluck exactly the same.

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Since no one would want to be exploited, no one should exploit others.  And the way empathy works, it would be impossible to love something that is not, in principle, exploitable.  Yes we love ideas, but that is an entirely different category of love than loving our children and our spouses or even our pet chickens and our prostitute-Roombas.  Love requires the willingness to sacrifice a bit of yourself for the well-being of those you love.  If you really love little Roomba you will sacrifice for that little cutie too. And the paradox of love is that humans gain a personal benefit from our empathy for those we love.  So… if you really loved your robo spouse regardless of its indifference to you, you’d still have to go to movies you don’t really like that much for the sake of maintaining real robo-love.

Does my screen look fat in this case?  No! Your screen looks –wow– just great, honey, really just great.


Emily Cantin created original artwork for this article.

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5 thoughts on “Geek Ethicist: Robot Wives and Android Prostitutes

  1. Pingback: Robot Love
  2. There are times I which my husband had an indifferent android prostitute so I can get a break. He will not like this comment if he read it, but my husband doesn’t like the internet so I am safe.

  3. I wish I had a robot to help me with my kids and my husband since my husband acts just like one of the kids. I do it all go to work full-time, go to school part-time, take care of the kids, make sure every body eats, and keep the house clean. My husband just goes to work and fix up things that get broke around the house. Husband and kids have it made.