In a new essay for The Conversation, University of Minnesota law professor Francis Shen grapples with the difficult legal and social issues raised by sexbots — including the specter of ones designed to look like children.
“Childlike sex robots are robots, not humans,” Shen wrote. “Like virtual child pornography, the development of a childlike sex robot does not require interaction with any children. Yet it might also be argued that childlike sex robots would have serious detrimental effects that compel state action.”
There’s already been federal legislation to outlaw childlike sex robots, Shen pointed out. A House bill called the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronics Pedophilic Robots Act — with the clever acronym CREEPER — passed unanimously in 2018.
According to Shen’s analysis, that’s just one example of the hazy regulatory environment hovering over the sexbot industry, which seems poised to go mainstream before society has hammered the legal and social norms that will surround it.
Muddying the waters further, according to Shen, is that some bots are blurring the line between sexbots and regular robots. The developer of the “Mark 1” bot, for instance, has said that he envisions it providing all types of companionship — sexual and otherwise.
“Humans, of course, can navigate both sexual and nonsexual contexts adeptly,” Shen wrote. “What if a robot can do the same? How do we conceptualize and govern a robot that can switch from ‘play with kids’ mode during the day to ‘play with adults’ mode at night?”