Red light districts are set for a shake up with robots taking the place of human sex workers. In the recently published report “Sex work, Technological unemployment and the Basic income guarantee,” National University of Ireland’s law professor John Danaher claims cyborgs could reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and even stamp out sexual slavery and human trafficking. Danaher suggests that bots could be better in bed than humans and form emotional bonds with their clients. The expert also claims that human-robot relationships could be common in under 10 years. Danaher explains to Metro the pros and cons of robot brothels. 

What do sex robots have to offer?

We have a prototype called Roxxxy from a company named TrueCompanion. This was revealed to the public in 2010 but it's not clear if anyone actually owns one. We also have a company called RealDoll who are working on a prototype. This will be a development from their popular non-robotic sex doll. So the short answer to your question is: We don't know yet. All we have is speculation.

Are robots actually a viable alternative to sex workers?

Some people think they will be good substitutes. David Levy, author of “Love and Sex with Robots,” argues that sex robots will provide all the things that human sex workers provide with none of the legal, health and ethical risks. I am a little bit more skeptical of these claims. I think there may always be a preference for human-to-human sexual contact and that human sex workers will therefore remain 'competitive' with sex robots. I also think that technological unemployment in other industries may drive people into industries in which there is a preference for human service providers. Sex work may be one of those.

Are people willing to have sex with a robot instead of a human? 

There is little evidence so far. A study done by Martin Smith of Middlesex University suggested that one in five people would be willing to have sex with a robot. A YouGov poll done in conjunction with the Huffington Post found that 11 percent of people would be willing. This suggests that only a minority wish to entertain the possibility right now.

What are the main problems of starting to use sex robots? 

There are many ethical and social concerns. People worry a lot about the symbolism of sex robots. The majority are likely to cater to a male heterosexual audience and so may embody stereotypical norms of feminine behavior and body shape. This may help to reinforce patriarchal and sexist cultures. 

What do you mean?

The use of such robots may have knock-on effects on people's behavior. Perhaps they will treat real women with less respect and demand them to comply with what they have come to expect from the robots. These are certainly the concerns of the Campaign Against Sex Robots. 

Are there any positive consequences?

Yes. Some argue that the widespread availability of sex robots could be a way of guaranteeing positive sexual experiences for more people, without compromising positive experiences for others. Other people think that sex robots could be used to treat those with paraphilias (e.g. those with a sexual desire for children). I'm skeptical of those claims, but we don't have evidence one way or the other yet.

When can we expect to see sex robots on the streets?

As I said earlier, we already have some prototypes in existence or on the way. In the next five to 10 years there will probably be models available to the public. Myself and my colleague Neil McArthur are publishing a book with MIT Press next year that will address the social, legal and ethical consequences of this technology.

-Dmitry Belyaev