Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots

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 (“Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots”) is by Yuefang Zhou and Martin H. Fischer (University of Potsdam). From the abstract: “The topic of human-robot intimate relationships is not only an intensely emotional one that is present in the mass media because of its ability to stir excitement. The very same topic also requires our understanding of basic mechanisms of the human mind and of social cognition in particular. A scientifically-minded framing of the debate around whether and how we might engage in intimate relationships with humanoid robots in the near future might in turn improve our understanding of human sexuality. Viewed from this angle, intimate human-robot interaction is then merely one of many examples of studying human-machine interactions for the benefit of users and as a means of improving our knowledge about humans and the human mind. In this chapter we will adopt such a stance and discuss both social-cognitive and sexual aspects of this innovative topic, review available empirical evidence and offer some suggestions for further research.” More information via www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

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.

Talking to Harmony

At the end of June 2020, DIE WELT conducted an interview with Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel about sex robots and love dolls. It was especially about their natural language skills. Particularly owners and users who want to have a relationship are interested in conversations of all kinds, about God and the world and in the sense of “dirty talk”. Companies like Realbotix go very far in this respect. Harmony for example can talk to her partners for hours in a quite convincing way. The engineers experiment with GPT-2, but also with other language models. Kino Coursey, AI boss of Realbotix, deals with this topic in his article “Speaking with Harmony” for the book “Maschinenliebe” (“Machine Love”) which will be released in October. The interview with Oliver Bendel was published on 11 July 2020 in the printed edition of DIE WELT, under the title “Intelligente Sexroboter sind begehrte Gesprächspartner” (already published the day before in the electronic edition, under the title “Was Sexpuppen können” …). In addition, an English version – “Intelligent sex robots are sought-after dialogue partners” – is available.

Machine Love

The book “Maschinenliebe” (“Machine Love”/”Machines of Love”/”Machines for Love”/”Love for Machines”), edited by Oliver Bendel, has gone into production. The subtitle is “Liebespuppen und Sexroboter aus technischer, psychologischer und philosophischer Perspektive” (“Love Dolls and Sex Robots from a Technical, Psychological and Philosophical Perspective”). The volume contains contributions by internationally renowned experts as well as interviews with a love doll brothel operator and a sex worker. It has about 200 pages and some color illustrations. Three of the 16 contributions are in English. They come from internationally renowned experts in this field, from Kate Devlin (King’s College London), Yuefang Zhou and Martin H. Fischer (University of Potsdam), and Kino Coursey (Realbotix; picture by courtesy of this company). The book will be published in autumn 2020. Further information is available at www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

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).

Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions

The paper “Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions” by Oliver Bendel was accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposia. 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.” The paper had been submitted to the symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”. Oliver Bendel will present the paper at Stanford University between 23 and 25 March 2020.

Jealousy 4.0

The international workshop “Learning from Humanoid AI: Motivational, Social & Cognitive Perspectives” took place from 30 November – 1 December 2019 at the University of Potsdam. Dr. Jessica Szczuka raised the question: “What do men and women see in sex robots?” … Her talk was based on the paper “Jealousy 4.0? An empirical study on jealousy-related discomfort of women evoked by other women and gynoid robots” by herself and Nicole Krämer. In their introduction the authors write: “In a paper discussing machine ethics, Bendel asked whether it is ‘possible to be unfaithful to the human love partner with a sex robot, and can a man or a woman be jealous because of the robot’s other love affairs?’ … In this line, the present study aims to empirically investigate whether women perceive robots as potential competitors to their relationship in the same way as they perceive other women to be so. As the degree of human-likeness of robots contributes to the similarity between female-looking robots and women, we additionally investigated differences between machine-like female-looking robots and human-like female-looking robots with respect to their ability to evoke jealousy-related discomfort.” (Paper) The paper can be accessed here.

Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots: Are we both ready?

In the recent years, there has been a widespread media coverage of the arrival of the sex robots (e.g., Harmony & Henry, produced by Realbotix™, 2019). This has created heated discussions around the pros and cons of introducing sex robots into human relationships. Nevertheless, it has also served to draw attention to far-reaching social and ethical challenges that will be imposed on us as users of this new technology. A recent Nature editorial (entitled AI LOVE YOU, Nature 547, 138, July 2017) called for urgent empirical research so that empirical evidences can be used to inform robotics design and guide public ethical debates. In response to this urgent need for empirical research in this field, Yuefang Zhou co-organized the first international workshop (AI Love You, 2017) on the theme of human-robot intimate relationships. The workshop brought together an interdisciplinary team, including psychologists, philosophers, computer scientists, ethicists, clinicians, as well as interested members of the general public to discuss this emerging topic. The newly released book (“AI Love You: Developments in Human-Robot Intimate Relationships”, 2019, www.springer.com/gp/book/9783030197339) builds on the presentations and discussions at the workshop to answer the questions of readiness from the perspectives of both technology and humans as users of the technology.