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The Government’s Next Big Challenge: Regulating The Sex Robot Industry

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Today in "your tax dollars at work" news, who would’ve thought a simple idea like sex robots would bring with it so much red tape?

As the Asia Times notes, there are several companies currently developing robots designed to provide humans not only with companionship, but also with sexual pleasure. In fact, some are already on the market.

And unlike conventional sex toys and dolls, sex robots may become mainstream. According to a 2017 survey, half of Americans think that having sex with robots will become a common practice within 50 years. But this practice comes with lots of question marks.

One of the first problems is how we define “sex robot”. Just because something is attractive to a human and provides sexual gratification, does the term “sex robot” apply? Or, should they be defined as “sex toys”, which are “devices primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs” as defined by Alabama? After all, Alabama is the only US state that still has an outright ban on the sale of sex toys.

But it’s looking like these robots will be more than toys: they use self-learning algorithms to engage their partners emotions and offer companionship, as well. There's been no word on if they'll be programmable to spoof futures trades, however. 

Take the Mark 1 robot, for instance. It has been made to resemble actress Scarlett Johansson and is regularly labeled a sex robot, but it’s creator, Ricky Ma Tsz Hang, states that it is not the robot’s intent. Instead, it’s supposed to assist with all sorts of tasks from “preparing a child’s lunch to keeping an elderly relative company”. 

And there’s also legal issues that will arise. For instance, in the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law and established a right to sexual privacy. There’s some debate among Circuit Courts how Lawrence should be applied to state restrictions on the sale of sex toys. For now, Alabama’s ban has been upheld, but should it eventually fall – which would seem likely – states won’t be able to restrict wholesale sales of sex robots. Rumor has it, Michael Avenatti has been retained to represent the robots. 

But bans on childlike sex robots may be different. It isn’t clear whether anybody in the United States currently owns a childlike sex robot, but the possibility has already prompted a bipartisan house bill, actually called the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act, or CREEPER, to pass in 2017. State politicians will likely follow down the same road, in attempts to ban childlike sex robots. The question of whether or not they will survive constitutional challenge is a different story.

For starters, the Supreme Court has held that prohibitions on child pornography do not violate the First Amendment because the state has a compelling interest in curtailing the effects of child pornography on the children portrayed. But the Supreme Court also held that the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 was overly broad in its attempt to prohibit "child pornography that does not depict an actual child". 

Ergo, childlike sex robots are still technically robots and, like virtual pornography, they don’t require any actual interaction with children. Yet, it can be argued that childlike sex robots would have serious detrimental effects that may compel state action.

And while sex robots may eventually become sentient, they are now still just products. Another question is how the US Consumer Product Safety Commission should regulate the hazards associated with them. Existing products aren’t well regulated and this could be cause for concern given the obvious – and excrutiatingly painful – ways they could be harmful to their users. For instance, what if parts of a robot are manufactured with lead paint or a toxin? And what if the robot, with the mechanical strength of five human beings accidentally crushes a human's finger – or a human's other parts?

Even worse, what if they become sentient enough to start bossing you around at the house?

Finally, what about the super sensitive data that these robots will collect? Would they be vulnerable to hacking? After they learn what a user likes and doesn’t like from a sexual standpoint, isn’t that arguably the most private type of information that someone would not want shared with the world? Will Huawei be allowed to import sex robots?

Much of the forthcoming regulation will depend on the effects of sex robots on individuals and societies.

In 2018, the Houston City Council enacted an ordinance to ban the operation of America’s first sex robot brothel. An attendee at one meeting warned: “A business like this would destroy homes, families, finances of our neighbors and cause major community uproars in the city.”

But as for right now, there isn't really any evidence of how the introduction of these robots would affect individuals or societies.

We don’t have any data on whether or not a person who uses a childlike sex robot would be more or less likely to harm an actual child. We don’t have any data as to whether or not robots would be substituted for humans and relationships – or whether they could even enhance relationships. There are a significant amount of unanswered questions and it is difficult to conduct empirical studies in until sex robots become more prevalent.

Regardless, they are coming to the American market soon and the reality will be upon us quicker than we think. The article describes it as a "real world challenge that society is about to face for the first time". And, like everything else government dips their hands into, our confidence in their effective regulation of this industry is minimal, at best. 


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