Nothing Wrong With Your Patients Having Sex With Robots

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


November 18, 2015

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I'm Art Caplan at the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center.

We've all made jokes about blow-up dolls for sex. Maybe some of your patients have confessed that they've bought a rubber blow-up doll; sometimes people use them as sex surrogates.

Well, it turns out that's old-fashioned technology. Coming down the road soon, we'll have sex robots. These robots are going to be programmed (some of them, not all of them) so that if you wanted them to be, they could be sexual surrogates for individuals. People will be able to purchase a very nice-looking robot programmed to do things in the bedroom that the individual likes, and I guess you could say, "Worse for wear for the robot, but happy patient!"

You're going to get asked questions about this kind of technology. Not tomorrow morning—but soon. It's all coming down the road. The robots are being made and programmed as we speak. I would predict with some assurance that anything having to do with sex, particularly when it comes to men, will sell pretty well. So, I think we can expect patients to ask their physicians soon, "Could you prescribe this for me? Is this something I should use? What do you think, doc?"

Well, interesting enough, some people object. What they say is, "We see this coming, and we don't like it. We don't like it, first, because it objectifies sex when you're doing those things with a machine or an object." There's even been a little bit of complaint that we shouldn't objectify sex by letting robots become sexual.

I have to say, I don't find either of these arguments persuasive. It is true that robots are machines, but there are plenty of machines doing all kinds of things for us now. Robots are flying us in the air, driving us down the highway, and showing us pornography on our computer terminals (not mine, but I hear that's going on).

We don't think, my gosh! We violated our dignity and human rights because we're using machines to take over tasks that might have been done by other humans.

It is true that we could certainly become more and more lonely, more and more isolated, and more withdrawn if our entire romantic life takes place with robots. But that's a separate problem from saying it is wrong to decide that you would rather spend some time with a robot than another human being. I don't think it is.

I think that over the years, we've seen that people adapt to technology and the technology can adapt to them. It may even be helpful for people who are shy, or trying to learn what to do, to have some kind of an automated friend help them. It may even turn out that people in such places as prisons and so forth may find an outlet or release that isn't available any other way.

I can see some social good coming from robot sex. At the end of the day, even though it may sound strange, even though it may sound a bit—if you will—dehumanizing, I think this is a technology that has a good application. We're going to see it, and as I said, sex sells—so watch for that robot coming to your town soon.

I'm Art Caplan at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Thanks for watching.