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The Robot (Sexual) Revolution

By: Carol Queen, PhD

AIBuckle up while we take a trip into the Uncanny Valley, friends! The sudden wild emergence of AI technologies like ChatGPT just adds to all the tech-y things that have increasingly become part of our lives: dating site algorithms, the Internet of Things (including sexual fitness trackers and Bluetooth-enabled toys), virtual reality, chatbots… Most of us are at least going steady with these technologies. And as we know, every new technology that can incorporate sex, does. When you stop to think about it… you might be having sex with a robot right now.

So… robot sex good? Or robot sex bad? Not surprisingly, the pros and the cons are related to issues we already see in sex and culture. Time will tell how it all shakes out, but already we're seeing differing degrees of access to new and recent technologies—and that’s important in part because people will look to AI for information, including ways to practice their intimate skills and other tools for sexual development. Also very important when we think of this kind of use: the possibility of misinformation and incomplete info (compare to the way sex influencers might know it all… or just “play sex doctor” on the internet). Nuance is so important, but will people get the nuance that makes info relevant (or not) to them? And—as with influencers—who did the AI bot learn from, and can we trust that knowledge? Access paired with misinformation can set unrealistic expectations or allow people to internalize “information” that just isn’t true. Already we’re hearing that ChatGPT and its kin can simply make up sources. Eeek!

It’s also really important to note the possibility we’ll receive unexpected or unwanted info; already Italy has sought to shut these AI models down until it can be demonstrated the bot won’t offer age-inappropriate information to kids. This shades right into nonconsent—not just the bot being inappropriate with us, but some feel these programs’ prodigious “brain”-power and constant communications with us will lead to something like sentience. Will we mistreat our robots? Even if they are not sentient at all, how  would that affect how we think about consent? (Watch the beginning of Westworld again if you’re not sure how that could go down.)

Yep, lots to think about. We made a list! No AI contributed.

Yay robots/AI:

  • We get cool new toys!
  • Bots can make erotic play and communication possible to all adults. A sex-minded bot can help instill vocabulary and confidence as folks practice things like dirty talk.
  • They’ll serve a sex ed function—and people need more sex ed.
  • Probably there will be one that can help partners with communication and erotic interests, like a coach would. And AI sex therapy might be a thing.
  • AI will filter further into dating apps and help them choose better matches for us, among other innovations in that space.
  • More ways to play on the internet! Including AI-generated cammers, writing a prompt to generate custom erotic stories—the sky’s the limit (maybe).
  • AI will be able to generate fine-tuned erotic material for fetishists and “sexual specialists” and can help facilitate exploration of kinks in a shame-free space.
  • We will be able to do things in virtual reality (if we want) that just can't be done by humans IRL.
  • Over 20 years ago we held the Millennium Sex Toy contest (“sex toys you wish existed”)—and the winning idea is getting closer to reality all the time! In the future, there will be tech that allows us to record sexual experiences to play back—not on video, but to experience again. Wow! Thanks, bots!
  • There will be great health implications for diagnosis and treatment—and given the shame and access issues around sexually transmitted conditions especially, that could be a great innovation.
  • Finding online community will be easier and better than ever.
  • Relatedly, tools for connecting to partners from afar will get better and there will be more of them.
  • AI and the robot revolution will continue the normalization / exposure of sexuality as something more mainstream and acceptable – this is pushing conversations about human sexuality to the forefront in many ways. 

EEEEK robots/AI:

  • They learn from the whole internet, which is not a nice place—already ChatGPT has added nonconsensual/underage content to erotic stories when not prompted to.
  • Our new AI friends could be subject to social bias (like the recently-in-the-news chatbot that stopped being erotic with its users because the company owner removed that programming—this could also show up in anti-gay ways, etc). There’s a real potential for hateful rhetoric to be incorporated.
  • Minors can use it in ways that are age-inappropriate.
  • It can help surveil us (even more than we already are, and as we increasingly sexualize the bots, in way more intimate ways than is currently the norm.
  • AI-generated cameras will take money-making opportunities away from human cammers and other sex workers and sexy creatives.
  • AI just makes stuff up. Do you still feel in touch with reality even after the pandemic? That could change!
  • Humans can already be full-on awful, and some of them will be even worse to robots.
  • Even better online love scams will come our way!  
  • Even more trouble with deepfakes is happening already! (And remember, a large proportion of those are doing for nonconsensual sexual bullying.)
  • There is a jailbreak issue with AI programs—even if they have been taught that there are no-go topics, it is reportedly pretty easy to convince them to jump their guardrails.
  • Heteronormative, sex-role-stereotyped beliefs are pretty rampant even among humans now—will AI be taught to privilege certain things as normal/normative?
  • AI scrapes from countless sources which means that the automation can easily obtain misinformation or incomplete information, can portray opinion as fact, and lots of other opportunities to insert disinformation into the discourse AND into our sex lives.
  • The “instant gratification” that AI chat / sex can provide may set expectations that can leach into IRL sexual encounters, causing issues around proper consent and communication.
  • The notion of the “Uncanny Valley”—that there is a creepy factor that comes along with close but not exact human replicas—will likely be relevant especially when AI is inserted into actual sex robots. How will that change the way we respond to the bots, and to each other? Too, many fear bots will open the door to eroticism without emotion or humanity. (All right, to be fair, some humans seem to have arrived at that station already.) 

Final EEEEK: Even the people who created AGI don't entirely understand how it works. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and they’re afraid of it. Okay then.

All right, humans, listen up: This is on us. It is for sure on the creators and owners of these technologies, but we don’t know (given the point we just made) that they understand and can actually control some of the deleterious effects AI and other tech may bring. We need a new kind of literacy—just as we preach the notion of media literacy when you’re online looking for info, or watching porn and sorta believing it is a documentary made to teach you sex ed (it almost always isn’t), the emergence of large-learning-model AI and similar tech into our lives (and our sex lives) requires us to learn, think, evaluate, trust our guts, talk to one another—do what humans are wired to do when we need to learn. AI can be the most profound helpmate our species has ever had. But don’t trust just a few folks at the top to guide and evaluate it. Some intelligence will never be artificial. Use it!

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