Is Australia ready for sex robots?
WHEN sexologist Nikki Goldstein visited a sex toy trade show in China there was one product that made her particularly uncomfortable.
Ms Goldstein explained to panellists on Q&A on Monday night that sex dolls can't move independently and have to be carried around, so there is a trend towards making them smaller in size.
But when she spotted some dolls that were "smaller in stature" in China she said they did ring alarm bells for her about whether they were pedo-bots.
"They were very cute looking, which was explained to me was not for Western cultures - which was for Asian cultures," she said.
"It looked too much like a child and I questioned the person selling them. I said 'is that a child doll?'. My immediate reaction was 'this is not right'."
She said it was explained to her that the doll had small breasts, which meant it was an adult, just in a smaller size but she said it was a "scary issue".
Ms Goldstein said technology was not good enough yet to make sex robots that were life-like, which felt or respond like actual humans, making their use more of a fetish.
"For a lot of people who do sexually desire a sex robot, we may be looking a techno-sexuality," she said.
The desire may actually be for control and the idea that the robot is there purely for their pleasure.
"I know a lot of people freak out about that and think 'what are we teaching people?'. Are we teaching them not to engage in consent?
"Even if we are going to program these AI (artificial intelligence) bots to say no, what's going to happen? Will a gate come down?"
Once the technology gets better, Ms Goldstein believes the person who would most likely benefit from using a sex robot would be someone who wants some form of intimate connection without having to go to a brothel.
However, social commentator Van Badham said providing someone with a sex robot could further loneliness and isolation.
"You have a phenomenon in Japan of people getting older and older without having sexual relationships, without forming partnerships or families because their lives are dominated by work," she said.
She said the kind of work people do is very individualised and this meant as we moved towards certain automations, the notion of human contact was being taken away.
"If you provide somebody with a sex robot and say that you can have this instead of a relationship, you're furthering that loneliness and that sense of isolation."
While some of the panellists wondered if the robots could play some role in educating people about sex and their lives, pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman said he thought this was "optimistic".
"You could look at pornography and say this is a way for a young person to learn about sex before they experience it," he said. "That's not the rain reason young people look at pornography."
There were also questions about who would control the data that sex robots gathered from the interactions with their owners.
"Who is buying the data? Is Facebook buying the data to learn more about us on a sexual basis?" Ms Goldstein pointed out.
"Will porn companies be able to tap into what we're doing with these robots?"
The discussion, which featured speakers from the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and also veered briefly onto questions of where to store sex dolls, seemed to lose many viewers with many describing it on social media as weird and inane.
#QandA Seriously? Homeless people. Working poor. Refugees. Who cares about sex robots.— Theresa Grima (@OsiraOz) November 5, 2018
#QandA this sex robot conversation is bordering on the inane— Jane Caro (@JaneCaro) November 5, 2018
Tonight’s #qanda is absolutely excruciating. These are some incredibly intelligent panelists, but they are being pushed by the producers into covering way too many topics. These are heavy sociotechnical topics that need focus and time to unpack, and we are just getting hot takes.— Dr Daniel Angus (@antmandan) November 5, 2018
Meanwhile performer and sex clown Betty Grumble said she thought the way society was educating kids around sex wasn't right.
"There is so much shame and sex panic," she said.
She said sex and death had become sanitised and controlled in society.
"It's a way of controlling people," she said. "It's beautiful that we're all so different … the only problem is when we harm others."
Ms Grumble said she thought people should confront shame where they saw it and stick up for people and all their weirdness.
Australians were still struggling to encourage women to be sexual outside of monogamy, Ms Goldstein noted.
"I really feel we have a linear model when we look at sex that's influenced by religion: boy meets girl, boy-girl get married, have sex, procreate," she said.
The discussion also touched a new social credit system being trialled in China that gives people points or takes them away depending on their behaviour on social media or if they are buying things like alcohol or cigarettes.
"It is terrifying to see what's happening in China," artificial intelligence researcher Tony Walsh said, saying the system was "really Orwellian".
He said China had also developed a facial recognition system called Skynet (yes, like the machine in The Terminator movie) and it could scan a billion faces in a second.
"They are using it to suppress religious minorities already," he said.
"If you think we're in Australia and can sit back and relax, our government has just decided they're going to build a national database and everyone's passport photograph and licence photograph, all of your biometrics is going to be in that database for national security purposes."