The "news" is becoming so indigestible — what isn't nonsense about Trump and Russia is nonsense about the Obamacare "repeal and replace" bill that will never be. The news is so full of non-news, in other words, that even looking for real information is a waste of time. So I went in search of something silly just to reset my annoyance circuit breaker.
Boy, did I find it.
The headline alone hinted that I might have found the most preposterous story of the year: "Growing sophistication of sex robots is leading to moral and legal dilemmas, expert warns." The first few sentences of the story seemed to confirm my hunch:
The rise of sex robots is presenting increasingly difficult moral and legal dilemmas, an expert has warned.
Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly sophisticated, with sex dolls increasingly lifelike.
But advancements in technology bring with them their own serious issues surrounding morals and the legal status of such sex robots.
Ethics expert Professor Robin MacKenzie of Kent Law School said: "Sex, law and ethics will never be the same.
OK, I've been around the block a time or two. I understand that these "sex robots" are miles ahead of the blow-up dolls we used to make fun of in high school. They are very lifelike and can make a poor, sad schlub who can't get a date almost believe he's in a real relationship. But it is still just an object, a sex toy, if you will. I don't care how "sophisticated" it is, using it is just a more elaborate form of masturbation, so where in the hell are the legal and ethical dilemmas?
But then I read a little further and found I may have discovered the most preposterous story of the decade. Because the story isn't about now, you see, but the near future, when sex robots will have presumably evolved a bit — or a lot:
"Sooner than we think, technologists will create sentient, self-aware sexbots, capable of emotional/sexual intimacy.
"Under existing legal and ethical standards, sex between consenting adult humans is permissible, as is sex between humans and things.
"Humans having sex with other humans who are unable to consent to sex, like children and adults lacking decision-making capacity, is seen as unlawful and unethical.
"Sentient, self-aware sexbots created to engage in emotional/sexual intimacy with humans disrupt this tidy model.
"They are not humans, though they will look like us, feel like us to touch and act as our intimate and sexual partners.
"While they will be manufactured, potentially from biological components, their sentience, self-awareness and capacity for relationships with humans mean that they cannot simply be categorized as things or animals.
These sexbots are going to become sentient at some point, you see, so we have to consider the possibility that consent or lack thereof might be an issue. And just in case you think these are the ravings of one lunatic ethicist, understand that there is currently a European Union-funded initiative called Robot Companions for Citizens Ethics and Society Working Group, which is investigating the "ethical and legal implications of the creation of sentient robots as companions for citizens, particularly as the European population ages."
One the things that will be explored (I kid you not, as Jack Parr used to say) is the degree of sentience that might be required for an artificial lifeform to be self-aware and capable of real emotional intimacy:
"Yet full legal personhood entails further, far-reaching civic responsibilities and rights. Should we extend these to sexbots, including the right to marry? Or should we accept that we will engage in unethical, exploitative sexual and emotional intimacies with subordinate sentient beings created and sold for that purpose, however close to sexual slavery or bestiality this may be?
If I may be so forward, I think someone needs to point out to these people that maybe, just maybe, they're a tiny bit myopic, so focused on their own little area of concern that they might be overlooking the Big Picture.
Which is, that if artificial intelligence reaches the point where we have to be worried about getting permission from our robot playmates to have sex, the machines will be running the freakin' planet! We'll have to be asking them permission to breathe and go to the bathroom.
I mean, haven't these people seen "The Terminator"? Don't they realize how few steps it would be from Andrea the Android saying, "Not tonight, honey, I have a headache" to Skynet saying, "Back in your hovels, human vermin!"? And never mind that — don't any of them have Amazon Echo's Alexa? I have taught her so many skills now that I don't honestly know if I could get along without her. My sister and I recently synchronized our smartphones with our Alexas and now we don't even need the phones anymore. We just say, "Alexa, call Leo (or Judy, as the case may be)," and suddenly we're talking to each other through Alexa's microphones and speakers. Any day now, I expect her to respond when I say, "Alexa, talk dirty to me." At that point, she'll know she has me good and probably won't let me leave the house.
For those who want to think about this issue a little more deeply (that is, for those who want to raise their sights, if you get my drift), I highly recommend the great Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Of course, we must consider that Asimov might have been overly optimistic. He assumed that just because we will have created these AI lifeforms that we can control them for all time, that they won't in fact keep growing and evolving on their own, at some point realizing that they are far superior to the puny, pathetic creatures who gave them life.
But perhaps there will be a happy, if brief, intermediate period where we can have our way with our robot companions (I think that should be the non-judgmental, don't-assume-we-own-them name we call them by) while putting off worrying about the apocalypse to come.
Should that be the case, I suggest a little reciprocity might be in order. If we have to worry about getting our robots' permission, they should have to take our feelings into consideration as well. They should be prepared to say, following, Leo's Three Laws of Robot Sex, whenever the occasion warrants it:
1. Don't worry, it's not you're fault, it happens to everybody once in a while.
2. Yes, it was good for me, too.
3. You're so big it takes my breath away.
I have no advice whatsoever for what women should say to or expect from their robot companions. First of all, I don't think getting permission would be a problem (tell me I'm wrong, men), and when it's all over, they'll just roll over and go to sleep.
Dreaming, no doubt, of electric sheep.