Recently there’s been an uptick in the amount of news stories about sex robots potentially becoming vulnerable to being hacked and reprogrammed to kill their owners.
Variations of this yarn have been bobbing up for years. In 2018, British tabloid the Daily Star warned of “sex robot armies”. The newspaper quoted Dr Nick Patterson, cybersecurity expert from Australia’s Deakin University, saying that ne’er-do-wells could “hack into a robot or a robotic device and have full control of the connections, arms, legs and other attached tools like knives or welding devices.”
On 5 February 2021 Hong Kong law firm ON Lawyers also quoted Dr Patterson, in a report named ‘Love, Cybersecurity & Hacked-Robots – Can Robot Manufacturers Be Held Liable for Murder Perpetrated by Hacked Sexbots?’.
“Hacking into many modern-day robots, including sexbots, would be a piece of cake compared to more sophisticated gadgets like cellphones and computers,” Dr Patterson was quoted as saying. “Hacked sex robots could be told to kill users as experts warn it’s a ‘piece of cake’,” the Daily Star then reported.
Less than a week after ON Lawyers’ report went online it was revealed that actress Florence Pugh is set to star as a sex robot that kills its owner. In Apple Studio’s forthcoming film Dolly, Pugh’s sex robot requests the services of a lawyer.
As sex robot technology develops, along with attitudes towards using sex dolls and robots, how long before this sci-fi scenario becomes a real possibility?
Quite long, probably.
Dr Patterson was right to say that hacking into robotic equipment can be easy. The recent smart device boom has made such devices being controlled without consent achievable with a simple password hack.
Such vulnerabilities are seen in sextech. In January, one victim told Motherboard about how a hacker gained control of his internet-connected chastity cage, declared “Your cock is mine now” and demanded a ransom. Thankfully, the victim’s genitals weren’t in the cage when the hack took place and his cock remained his own.
In 2018, vulnerabilities in the cybersecurity of the Panty Buster, a sex toy made by the Probing Vibratissimo company, were exposed. Data from 50,000 users, that could lead to remote control of the sex toy being obtained, was posted on the company’s website. Over the past year, Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns have led to even more companies offering remote control of their sex toys via apps.
All this is concerning. But these examples also highlight that the area of concern in the sector should probably be data privacy, rather than humanoid sex robots biting necks instead of administering blow jobs.
While companies such as RealDoll and DS Doll Robotics have gained a lot of press with their robotic love dolls, these items aren’t exactly toaster-common. Articles about surges in demand for them have been based on companies reporting “hundreds” more orders.
“There are fewer than you’d think from reading the media,” Dr. Kate Devlin, senior lecturer in social and cultural artificial intelligence at King’s College London, told SEXTECHGUIDE. “There are a handful of workshops making them, but no mass marketing.”
“These prototypes can barely stand up on their own, let alone wield knives. Cybersecurity is an issue with anything connected to the internet, but in this case, it’s far from plausible that hacking a sex robot could make it attack you. Currently there are no sex robots on the market with fully articulated limbs, meaning that possibility of getting stabbed or shot by one that’s been hacked are close to non-existent,” Dr Devlin added.
“If you could hack a sex robot, presuming it was connected to the internet – it doesn’t have to be – then the damage would be most likely to come from stealing data and perhaps using it to blackmail someone over their sexual activities. And let’s face it: you don’t need to hack a robot to do that. Anything connected has the potential to be hacked – we would do well to remember that – and people are understandably concerned when that data is sensitive.”
So there you are. Admittedly, ‘Sex robot owner blackmailed over user data’ is a less gripping headline than, say, ‘Sex robot kills owner with breadknife after being hacked by serial killer’, but it seems as if that’s a more realistic scenario for the foreseeable future.
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