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Sexbots; An Obloquy
2016 Wisconsin Law Review Forward 45 (2016)
  • Thomas E. Simmons
Sexbots may displace humans in the sex trade (or on a wider scale) sometime between the 2020s and the 2050s. Although some perquisites may derive from the proliferation of sexbots (lower levels of sexually transmitted diseases, for example), significant social harms can also be predicted. In anticipation of those harms, lawmakers may endorse targeted regulation or outright bans. The uncertain limits of Lawrence v. Texas and its progeny of sex-toy decisions will present vague constitutional shoals to these aims. The legislating-of-sexbots crusade will also make for strange bedfellows, politically speaking, as social conservatives aiming to maintain traditional values ally with liberals concerned with amplified objectification.

The practice of endowing found articles with the verisimilitude of the female form for purposes of sexual attention and carnality is ageless. Seventeenth-century sailors employed cloth dummies for sex. The ersatz doll is ideal for aberrant and aggressive heterosexual male outlets insofar as its total availability and unalloyed passivity. Sexbots differ from scarecrows with exaggerated bosoms only in their closer approximation of genuine females and their more deliberately designed submissiveness. But the degree to which these mass-produced devices will mimic women will be startling; an advanced model will be essentially indistinguishable from a human being, as identic as an actor playing the part of an android in a science-fiction film. Contemplating a future populated with responsive, counterfeit human commodities that are designed for consentless penetration should affect us disagreeably on several levels. Reinforcing the objectification of women on a widespread and hyper-realistic scale will not be good.

For purposes of bounding this brief essay, I employ the term sexbot to refer to a commercially available gynoid with sexual functionality, an android that closely mimics human sexual behavior by means of its hardware and software. I omit personified computer programs unaffiliated with a human form, such as the operating system Samantha portrayed in the film Her. I ignore robots designed for tasks such as domestic chores (think: Rosie in The Jetsons) that are subsequently modified by their owners for sexual aims. I exclude both masculine sexbots and the troubling possibility of childlike sexbots. Instead, I focus on tangible hyper-realistic adult-like robots combining both hardware and software design aims—like Pris in the film Blade Runner—androids distributed and marketed for the sex trade but without any degree of cognizance, sentience, or agency of their own, technologically advanced machines. Make no mistake; human ingenuity fueled by a multibillion-dollar pornography market will produce marketable sexbots, whether within five years or forty. Consideration of preemptive moral legislation should begin now, before an actual urgency arises, not later. After sexbots enter commerce, the proverbial horse will be out of the barn.
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Thomas E. Simmons, Sexbots; An Oblloquy, 2016 Wisconsin Law Review Forward 45, available at