Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Five Reasons Robot Sex Partners Won't End Human Trafficking

Power, economics and the Uncanny Valley.

  • May 2, 2012

“Robots, Men and Sex Tourism,” a paper in the journal Futures highlighted by Big Think and io9, makes the case that in the not too distant future, robots will replace humans as sex workers.

And will they rise up to extinguish their creators?

 The paper imagines a 2050 in which a robot sex club in Amsterdam ends human trafficking.

The only social issues surrounding the club is the resistance from human sex workers who say they can’t compete on price and quality, therefore forcing many of them to close their shop windows.

This seems like a narrow view of what prostitution is actually about, so I asked a few peers to weigh in about why this future seems so unlikely.

1. Sex trafficking isn’t about sex

@doingitwrong Sadism needs a partner to suffer.

@jon_jeckell I suspect a lot of this trafficking has less to do with gratification and more to do with power relationship[s]

@blueberrio Because prostitution has more to do with power and degradation than mechanics.

Spend about five minutes reading the stories of women, children and men who have been trafficked and it becomes apparent that for most of their clients, the interaction is about degradation, not sex. It’s easy to say that some day we’ll have perfect simulacra of human beings – at which point their consequences for the sex trade will be the least of the issues worth discussing. But what kind of power dynamics, if any, can there be between a person and an incompletely realized, not-quite-human robot?

2. Robots don’t get pregnant

@doingitwrong “The hope of a new life still a lure.”

3. Economics

@doingitwrong “Human lives cheaper than good gear.”

@doingitwrong “Robot factories didn’t end migrant workers.”

Remember when you thought Apple’s shiny iDevices were turned out in spotless factories by gleaming machines, and it turned out that human beings in Foxconn factories in China were cheaper, so actually, the iPhone is the most exquisitely machined hand-made object in history?

4. The Uncanny Valley

@atavistian How do you program a lip-twitch to not look like a software bug?

@atavistian Easier to program a human.

@murtaugh robots are creepy and too busy building cars

Our best animatronics are still pretty unsettling, because the closer they get to reality, the creepier they become, an effect known as the Uncanny Valley. There is a subset of humanity that isn’t phased by the Uncanny Valley, but they’re rare.

5. There are limits to what we’ll allow people to build

Child pornography and depictions of sex with children are illegal. One million children are sold into sex slavery every year. Even if you could create perfectly life-like artificial sex partners, who would condone creating versions of them that looked like children? So, the demand will remain.

@mims or email

Discover how robotics is driving the future of work at EmTech Next!

Find more information and register
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.