October 14, 2007

It Could Happen

Thanks news media! I was just wondering why public understanding of science is so poor, and then I saw this article in MSNBC's science section.

Sex and marriage with robots? It could happen

As software becomes more advanced and the relationship between humans and robots becomes more personal, marriage could result. "One hundred years ago, interracial marriage and same-sex marriages were illegal in the United States. Interracial marriage has been legal now for 50 years, and same-sex marriage is legal in some parts of the states," Levy said. "There has been this trend in marriage where each partner gets to make their own choice of who they want to be with."

"The question is not if this will happen, but when," Levy said. "I am convinced the answer is much earlier than you think."

"My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience.

Levy predicts Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize human-robot marriage. "Massachusetts is more liberal than most other jurisdictions in the United States and has been at the forefront of same-sex marriage," Levy said. "There's also a lot of high-tech research there at places like MIT."

Same-sex marriage = human-robot marriage. Finally, someone brave enough to make that comparison!

The main benefit of human-robot marriage could be to make people who otherwise could not get married happier, "people who find it hard to form relationships, because they are extremely shy, or have psychological problems, or are just plain ugly or have unpleasant personalities," Levy said. "Of course, such people who completely give up the idea of forming relationships with other people are going to be few and far between, but they will be out there."

Hey! Half of my family are from Massachusetts and we aren't that hard to get along with!

The possibility of sex with robots could prove a mixed bag for humanity. For instance, robot sex could provide an outlet for criminal sexual urges. "If you have pedophiles and you let them use a robotic child, will that reduce the incidence of them abusing real children, or will it increase it?" Arkin asked. "I don't think anyone has the answers for that yet — that's where future research needs to be done."

Keeping a robot for sex could reduce human prostitution and the problems that come with it. However, "in a marriage or other relationship, one partner could be jealous or consider it infidelity if the other used a robot," Levy said. "But who knows, maybe some other relationships could welcome a robot. Instead of a woman saying, 'Darling, not tonight, I have a headache,' you could get 'Darling, I have a headache, why not use your robot?' "

Child-sex robots. Oh my god. I am not the kind of person who shouts exclamations of disbelief at no one in particular while reading, but for this I made an exception (if only so my roomba could hear). When discussing potential topics was this guy's thesis adviser just like: "Think of the creepiest possible thing you can imagine. Now double it." (I know that is how I ended up working on cosmological neutrinos as an undergrad.)

Furthermore, "Darling, I have a headache, why not use your robot?" Solid gold. Can we please make this a cliché? Nothing would better exemplify the loss of America's collective can-do spirit...

In summary,
Wacky PhD thesis from some European university with low standards? Check.
Ridiculously ill-advised comparisons to actual civil rights struggles like inter-racial and gay marriage? Check.
Repetition of common (but partially misguided) stereotype that all New Englanders want to marry/copulate with robots/quahogs/houseplants. Double check.