Would you have sex with a robot? If not, why not? If you look at some recent research, a lot of people think it’s quite a good idea. A survey from America suggests four in ten Americans would willingly sleep with a robot.
It’s not just our friends in the States. The Daily Mail did some research at the end of last year, which revealed in the UK, men were three times more likely than women to agree to having a robot relationship. Globally, the study found 27 per cent of millennials would consider dating a robot. These studies are not unique, but confirm a developing narrative.
The figures raise urgent questions. Is dating a robot okay? What about sex robots? The robots are coming, but are we ready?
Clearly, we are amid a technological revolution. More and more jobs are being taken over by machines. A global study in 2017 suggested that by 2030, 800 million jobs would be lost to automated robots. In Japan, they are already embracing nursing care robots. A recent study by Babylon suggested artificial intelligence is as good at diagnosing health problems as GPs.
Did you know that Corby is the town most threatened by automation in the UK? Research by Sky proves that eventually the whole economy will be hit by this technological revolution and it’s low-skilled jobs that will go first.
From a Christian perspective, what will the Church teach regarding this new dimension? It’s no good throwing the baby out with the bath water and simply running from the robots. For one thing, they’ll be able to catch us.
Actually, new technology and artificial intelligence has the potential to do immense good. But we need to control it. We need to set boundaries and be clear about what is and what is not acceptable. Christian principles are not only useful in this debate, they are vital.
Take the issue of sex robots, for which there is big demand. Christian teaching on human life, relationships and sex must guide our thinking. Humans are made in God’s image and we are made for a relationship with God and with each other. As part of His design for humanity, God created marriage and sex. Its purpose was to facilitate population growth, but God also intended sex to be a deeply relational act, the most intimate in marriage.
In one of his letters, the Apostle Paul spoke about the importance of sex in the marriage context as a vital part of the relationship between husband and wife. This pattern still exists today. God wants us to build relationships and, in the right context, to enjoy sex. So, God designed us, designed sex for us and set the boundaries for the fulfilment of this gift in a way that glorifies him. But his plan for humanity and sex does not include sex robots.
Persistent use of robots for sexual pleasure will further undermine real and genuine relationships. It’s like the effect pornography is having across society. Part of the problem with porn is that it objectifies women and men, it creates unrealistic expectations when it comes to sex and it can undermine your ability to conduct healthy relationships. Sex robots will do the same. Just as porn has distorted people’s minds about sex, consent and appropriate behaviour, sex robots will only make the problems worse.
However human-like the latest ‘humanoids’ are, they will not be human. For example, there are certain parts of our make-up that are utterly unique. Can you give a robot an immortal soul? Can you give it a conscience? We can program robots with different ‘emotions’ and responses that represent feelings, but that does not even begin to match the sheer complexity of human psychology.
So here is one definite line in the sand: don’t sleep with robots. But that’s just one answer. There are so many other questions and at the moment, there are no easy answers. But I do know the Church must be prepared. We don’t want to drift into this robotic age without doing the hard thinking now.
That’s why CARE has been getting involved. Last year we held a robotics seminar and commissioned robotics expert Nigel Cameron to write a book – “The Robots are coming: Us, Them and God”, which has proved a massive hit. We’ve invited church leaders, Christian thinkers and technological experts to a major, sold-out conference being held Friday, June 29th in central London. This conference is only the beginning but that’s how it starts – by getting together, listening to experts and starting to work out what we think.
The robots are coming. As they become more sophisticated and more ‘human’, timeless biblical values about the dignity of human life, the importance of work and the need for care and compassion will become even more important.
James Mildred is Communications Manager for CARE