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Posted on December 4, 2007 at 12:38 PM

The reviews of David Levy’s book predicting human-robot marriage (and, um, other activities) are in and they’re… skeptical:
love_and_sex_with_robots_cover.jpg
+ In the New York Times, Robin Marantz Henig writes that her experiences in reporting a previous story about robots had “primed” her for Levy’s thesis. That doesn’t mean she’s totally buying in to his approach, though:

But despite my own brief robot crush, I would have appreciated a little ironic distance. Levy simply embraces the sexy robots in our future, whether they are a sensitive cybermale or an adoring female robot that is like a Stepford wife, but without her level of built-in subservience. But it isnt the subservience that makes the uniform, unthinking, unblinking Stepford wives so unnerving; its the fact that they are hello! robots.

Marantz Henig ultimately wishes that Levy would have devoted more of the book to not whether people will develop intimate relationships with robots, but whether or not that’s actually a good thing.

+Salon’s Farhad Manjoo criticizes Levy’s book for being “maddeningly dense and in stretches unpardonably dull,” but he praises Levy for taking up a fascinating topic: “Fascinating because the prospect of human-robot love is, though self-evidently insane, also undeniably attractive, and certainly not implausible.”

+In the LA Times, Seth Lloyd writes that Levy makes “serious arguments” and “His chapter on blow-up rubber sex dolls and the like will surely rank as the definitive study of such phenomena for years to come.” But, citing the great difficulty researchers have encountered in developing artificial intelligence, Lloyd has serious doubts that the technology necessary for Levy’s robot-human marriage prediction will be available by 2050.

David Levy has also been the subject of a number of recent interviews:

+In the Toronto Globe and Mail, Levy says that having sex with a robot is “absolutely” healthy and normal:

There are lots of people who find it difficult to find themselves a sex partner. These people are lonely, they’re miserable, they may suffer from some sort of psychological deprivation because they’re not getting regular satisfactory sex. If large numbers of unhappy people suddenly become happy, it must be good for society in general.

Levy also addresses the issue of robot consent:

Consent hasn’t really come into it much. Would it be rape if your robot said no? If a robot has consciousness, then I believe that how we treat it is important. If we treat a conscious robot in a negative way, then that sends a message that we believe it’s okay to treat conscious entities in that way.

+Gelf Magazine asked Levy about the ethics of people using robots that looked like children:

GM: What if people made robots to look like children and then pursued intimacy with them? Should that be legal?

DL: Personally I would make that illegal, unless it was prescribed by legal and/or medical authorities as a first step on the way to try to cure someone of pedophilia. I believe that the way we treat robots in the future is a very important ethical issue, and that we should treat robots as we would want them to treat us; otherwise we are setting a bad example for our children.

+A reader at New Scientist wonders whether there will need be Asimov-like rules for robots and intimacy. Levy’s response:

An interesting idea. Certainly robots will be programmed to behave in accordance with certain ethical and legal boundaries, and to appear to want to please their human owners/partners in various ways, including in their intimate relationships. And it will appear natural to their humans if robots exhibit humanlike desires for love.

There is a nascent field within the world of robotics researchers called “roboethics”, in which such matters are discussed, although I do not know of any suggestions along these lines, relating to intimate relationships.

And just in case you were wondering, Dr. Ruth’s not a fan of David Levy’s predictions. She told the New York Post that robot-human relationships would be “a sad state of affairs” and added “I want people to have relationships with each other, not robots.”

-Greg Dahlmann

Earlier on blog.bioethics.net:

+Bonding with robots
+And you thought gay marriage was controversial

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