Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Prisons

On 24 October 2020 the article “Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Unproven and Unexplored Fields of Application” by Oliver Bendel was published in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics. From the abstract: “Love dolls, the successors of blow-up dolls, are widespread. They can be ordered online or bought in sex shops and can be found in brothels and households. Sex robots are also on the rise. Research, however, has been slow to address this topic thoroughly. Often, it does not differentiate between users and areas of application, remaining vague, especially in the humanities and social sciences. The present contribution deals with the idea and history of love dolls and sex robots. Against this background, it identifies areas of application that have not been investigated or have hardly been investigated at all. These include prisons, the military, monasteries and seminaries, science, art and design as well as the gamer scene. There is, at least, some relevant research about the application of these artefacts in nursing and retirement homes and as such, these will be given priority. The use of love dolls and sex robots in all these fields is outlined, special features are discussed, and initial ethical, legal and pragmatic considerations are made. It becomes clear that artificial love servants can create added value, but that their use must be carefully considered and prepared. In some cases, their use may even be counterproductive.” The article is available here for free as an open access publication.

Guys and Dolls

In October 2020 the book “Maschinenliebe” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer. The title means “Machine Love”, “Machines for Love” or “Machines of Love”. Three contributions are in English. One of them (“Guys and Dolls”) is by Kate Devlin and Chloé Locatelli (King’s College London). From the abstract: “This chapter explores the creators and potential consumers of sex robots. With Realbotix as our case study, we take a closer look at the language and sentiments of those developing the technology and those who are testing, consuming, or showing an interest in it. We do this by means of website and chat forum analysis, and via interviews with those involved. From this, we can see the motivation for developing a sexual companion robot places the emphasis firmly on the companionship aspect, and that those involved in creating and consuming the products share an ideology of intimacy and affection, with sexual gratification only playing a minor role.” More information via www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

Dangerous Machines or Friendly Companions?

“Dangerous machines or friendly companions? One thing is clear: Our fascination with robots persists. This colloquium in cooperation with TA-SWISS will continue to pursue it.“ This is what it says in the teaser of a text that can be found on the website of the Haus der elektronischen Künste Basel (HeK). “In science fiction films they are presented both as dangerous machines threatening human survival and as friendly companions in our everyday lives. Human-like or animal-like robots, such as the seal Paro, are used in health care, sex robots compensate for the deficits of human relationships, intelligent devices listen to our conversations and take care of our needs …“ (Website HeK) And further: “This event is part of a current study by TA-SWISS which deals with the potentials and risks of social robots that simulate empathy and trigger emotions. The focus is on the new challenges in the relationship between man and machine. At the colloquium, the two scientists Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel and Prof. Dr. Hartmut Schulze and the Swiss artist Simone C. Niquille will provide brief inputs on the topic and discuss the questions raised in a panel discussion.” (Website HeK) More information via www.hek.ch/en/program/events-en/event/kolloquium-soziale-roboter.html.

Next ROBOPHILOSOPHY in Helsinki

One of the world’s most important conferences for robot philosophy (aka robophilosophy) and social robotics, ROBOPHILOSOPHY, took place from 18 to 21 August 2020, not in Aarhus (Denmark) as originally planned, but – due to the COVID 19 pandemic – in virtual form. Organizers and presenters were Marco Nørskov and Johanna Seibt. A considerable number of the lectures were devoted to machine ethics, such as “Moral Machines” (Aleksandra Kornienko), “Permissibility-Under-a-Description Reasoning for Deontological Robots” (Felix Lindner) and “The Morality Menu Project” (Oliver Bendel). The keynotes were given by Selma Šabanović (Indiana University Bloomington), Robert Sparrow (Monash University), Shannon Vallor (The University of Edinburgh), Alan Winfield (University of the West of England), Aimee van Wynsberghe (Delft University of Technology) and John Danaher (National University of Ireland). In his outstanding presentation, Winfield was sceptical about moral machines, whereupon Bendel made it clear in the discussion that they are useful in some areas and dangerous in others, and emphasized the importance of machine ethics for the study of machine and human morality, a point with which Winfield again agreed. The last conference was held in Vienna in 2018. Keynote speakers at that time included Hiroshi Ishiguro, Joanna Bryson and Oliver Bendel. The next ROBOPHILOSOPHY will probably take place in 2022 at the University of Helsinki, as the organisers announced at the end of the event.

3D Printing a Robotic Finger

Nao and Pepper have perfectly shaped hands and fingers. But the fingers are now facing serious competition. Scientists at University of California- Santa Cruz and Ritsumeikan University in Japan have designed and produced a robotic finger inspired by the human endoskeletal structure. From the abstract of the paper “3D Printing an Assembled Biomimetic Robotic Finger”: “We present a novel approach for fabricating cable-driven robotic systems. Particularly, we show that a biomimetic finger featuring accurate bone geometry, ligament structures, and viscoelastic tendons can be synthesized as a single part using a mutli-material 3D printer. This fabrication method eliminates the need to engineer an interface between the rigid skeletal structure and elastic tendon system. The artificial muscles required to drive the printed tendons of the finger can also be printed in place.” The biomimetic robotic finger was presented at the 17th International Conference on Ubiquitous Robots (UR). The paper is available here.

Findings on Robotic Hugging

In the first part of the HUGGIE project initiated by Oliver Bendel, two students of the School of Business FHNW conducted an online survey with almost 300 participants. In the management summary of their bachelor thesis Ümmühan Korucu and Leonie Stocker (formerly Leonie Brogle) write: “The results of the survey indicated that people have a positive attitude towards robots in general as robots are perceived as interesting and useful rather than unnecessary and disturbing. However, only a minority of the participants stated that they would accept a hug from a robot. A possible reason for this could be that for the majority of participants, a hug is an act of intimacy with a deeper meaning attached to it which is only being shared with selected persons. For a robot to be perceived as an attractive hugging partner, a human-like design including a face, eyes, a friendly look as well as the ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally is desired. However, an appearance being too realistic has a deterrent effect. Furthermore, an in-depth analysis of the data in relation to age and gender of the participants resulted in the discovery of interesting facts and differences. Overall, the findings contribute to a clearer picture about the appearance and the features Huggie should have in order to be accepted as a hugging counterpart.” The bachelor thesis will be publicly available in autumn 2020. There will also be a paper with the results next year.

Towards a Proxy Machine

“Once we place so-called ‘social robots’ into the social practices of our everyday lives and lifeworlds, we create complex, and possibly irreversible, interventions in the physical and semantic spaces of human culture and sociality. The long-term socio-cultural consequences of these interventions is currently impossible to gauge.” (Website Robophilosophy Conference) With these words the next Robophilosophy conference was announced. It would have taken place in Aarhus, Denmark, from 18 to 21 August 2019, but due to the COVID 19 pandemic it is being conducted online. One lecture will be given by Oliver Bendel. The abstract of the paper “The Morality Menu Project” states: “Machine ethics produces moral machines. The machine morality is usually fixed. Another approach is the morality menu (MOME). With this, owners or users transfer their own morality onto the machine, for example a social robot. The machine acts in the same way as they would act, in detail. A team at the School of Business FHNW implemented a MOME for the MOBO chatbot. In this article, the author introduces the idea of the MOME, presents the MOBO-MOME project and discusses advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. It turns out that a morality menu can be a valuable extension for certain moral machines.” In 2018 Hiroshi Ishiguro, Guy Standing, Catelijne Muller, Joanna Bryson, and Oliver Bendel had been keynote speakers. In 2020, Catrin Misselhorn, Selma Sabanovic, and Shannon Vallor will be presenting. More information via conferences.au.dk/robo-philosophy/.

And the Winner is … Lio!

DIH-HERO is a project in the healthcare sector supported by the European Union since January 2019. According to the website, the mission is to create a sustaining network that connects players in the healthcare sector and to support small and medium sized enterprises. “Currently, Europe and countries all over the world are facing a global pandemic. Together with its extensive Robotics in Healthcare European network DIH-HERO decided to support the fight against COVID-19 by providing €1,000,000 for robotic technologies that can be deployed timely, in order to support healthcare professionals and save lives by satisfying a current clinical demand or need.” (Website DIH-HERO) F&P Robotics based in Switzerland is one of the winners of the announcement. Lio – one of the company’s flagships – will now learn new tasks in the field of disinfection (door traps, lift buttons). The normal use of the care robot was last described in a paper by Oliver Bendel (School of Business FHNW), Alina Gasser and Joel Siebenmann (F&P Robotics) that was accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposia. Because of COVID-19 the lecture was postponed to late autumn.

Dogs Obey Social Robots

The field of animal-machine interaction is gaining new research topics with social robots. Meiying Qin from Yale University and her co-authors have brought together a Nao and a dog. From the abstract of their paper: “In two experiments, we investigate whether dogs respond to a social robot after the robot called their names, and whether dogs follow the ‘sit’ commands given by the robot. We conducted a between-subjects study (n = 34) to compare dogs’ reactions to a social robot with a loudspeaker. Results indicate that dogs gazed at the robot more often after the robot called their names than after the loudspeaker called their names. Dogs followed the ‘sit’ commands more often given by the robot than given by the loudspeaker. The contribution of this study is that it is the first study to provide preliminary evidence that 1) dogs showed positive behaviors to social robots and that 2) social robots could influence dog’s behaviors. This study enhance the understanding of the nature of the social interactions between humans and social robots from the evolutionary approach. Possible explanations for the observed behavior might point toward dogs perceiving robots as agents, the embodiment of the robot creating pressure for socialized responses, or the multimodal (i.e., verbal and visual) cues provided by the robot being more attractive than our control condition.” (Abstract) You can read the full paper via dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3371382.3380734.

Care Robots and Sex

The paper “Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions” by Oliver Bendel, accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”, can be accessed via arxiv.org/abs/2004.04428. From the abstract: “Residents in retirement and nursing homes have sexual needs just like other people. However, the semi-public situation makes it difficult for them to satisfy these existential concerns. In addition, they may not be able to meet a suitable partner or find it difficult to have a relationship for mental or physical reasons. People who live or are cared for at home can also be affected by this problem. Perhaps they can host someone more easily and discreetly than the residents of a health facility, but some elderly and disabled people may be restricted in some ways. This article examines the opportunities and risks that arise with regard to care robots with sexual assistance functions. First of all, it deals with sexual well-being. Then it presents robotic systems ranging from sex robots to care robots. Finally, the focus is on care robots, with the author exploring technical and design issues. A brief ethical discussion completes the article. The result is that care robots with sexual assistance functions could be an enrichment of the everyday life of people in need of care, but that we also have to consider some technical, design and moral aspects.” Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical meeting to be held at Stanford University was postponed. It will take place in November 2020 in Washington (AAAI 2020 Fall Symposium Series).