Australian lawyer calls for sex robot legislation ‘sooner rather than later’

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Will Sex Robots Need Legislation?

An Australian lawyer and a professor have called for sex robot laws to be implemented in the country “sooner rather than later”, because sex robot technology has potential to “objectify and promote sexual violence against women”.

Madi McCarthy, associate lawyer at Australia and UK-based law firm LK, and Tania Leiman, associate professor and dean of law at Adelaide’s Flinders University, made the suggestion in a co-authored article in The Bulletin: The journal of The Law Society of South Australia.

In the article, titled ‘Sex with robots: how should the law respond?’, the authors noted that there are currently no Australian laws prohibiting or regulating sex robots, although there are laws criminalizing importing or owning child-like sex dolls.

“The very real potential for this technology to objectify and promote sexual violence against women suggests [legislation] action is required sooner rather than later,” they wrote, regarding sex dolls.

That statement came after an analysis of ethical debates around sex robots, including whether their use could lead to more sexual aggression against women, or less, as male users may act on dangerous urges with robots instead of humans.

With some niche sex robots having stirred controversy by having ‘resistance’ modes (we’re looking at you, Frigid Farah), some academics and researchers have expressed concern that acting out a rape on a sex robot or doll could encourage rape against humans.

“Associating a fantasy of raping someone with sexual pleasure seems perilously close to a mechanism for Pavlovian conditioning for rape,” Robert Sparrow, a philosophy professor at Monsash University, said in 2017.

Others think that use of sex robots could be a useful part of therapy for people with dangerous urges. Ron Arkin, a robotics engineer, said that child-like sex dolls should be legal, and perhaps even prescribed as treatments, for potential abusers to redirect desires from humans to machines.

McCarthy and Leiman noted that an academic study revealed that many therapists believed that sex robots could be useful for therapy.

“Any regulation of sex robots will thus require delicate balancing of individual interests in autonomy and privacy in one’s home and sexual relationships, with broader public interests, such as protecting adults from non-consensual sexual activity and preserving public morality,” they wrote.

“Even if sex dolls are prohibited in Australia, it is likely that courts may consider such offences to be less objectively serious than sexual offences against humans”

Madi McCarthy, associate lawyer, and Tania Leiman, associate professor

In Australia owning a child-like sex doll is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. The authors noted that when people have been convicted of such offences, their sentences have been far less severe than this maximum penalty.

They wrote that they expected this sentencing style to be reflected in sex robot-related crimes, should legislation be passed.

They wrote: “Even if sex dolls are prohibited in Australia, it is likely that courts may consider such offences to be less objectively serious than sexual offences against humans, and sentences may be more likely to fall at the lower end of the penalty range, even where maximum penalties are equivalent.”

Tesla Bot

Arriving in the August 2021 issue of The Bulletin, the article arrived shortly before Tesla boss Elon Musk announced on August 19 that he was bringing a humanoid robot into the world.

Named the Tesla Bot, the South African engineer and tech mogol’s next ‘child’ will be five foot eight inches tall, 125 pounds, made of “lightweight materials”, and looks set to be in the male human form. There is no suggestion that it will have any use as a sex object, although Musk said “it’s intended to be friendly.”

While the Tesla Bot may not be making appearances in sex robot brothels, ethical and safety issues are raised by its announcement. Musk said that humans would be likely to be able to “overpower” the robot, should they need to, and outrun it — though this would presumably be assuming an average level of ability and fitness.

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Elon Musk (right) watches a man dressed up as the Tesla Bot at the August 19, 2021 announcement of the robot

Its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities will be wired to get it to perform helpful tasks such as grocery shopping.

Musk previously called AI humanity’s “biggest existential threat”, but insisted that the Tesla Bot would be a force for good, rather than something moving us closer to the kind of scenes seen in The Terminator, in which AI-powered robots wage war on humankind.

“We should be worried about AI… what we’re trying to do here at Tesla is make useful AI that people love and is… unequivocally good,” Musk said at the Tesla Bot announcement.

It might not be built for sex acts, but the Tesla Bot was announced with the help of a man dressed as the forthcoming robot, dancing, as Musk looked on lovingly.

Read next: Sex robots 101: Everything you need to know about sexbots

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Jamie F

Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice.

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