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Sexbot brothels? What we might see in an era of sex robots

Like it or not, robot lovers are coming, and with them, a whole lot of questions. An in-depth new report looks ahead to the next decade of sexual robotics.

From delivery drones to automated cars, robots are on the rise -- and that includes bots you can have sex with, thanks to the growing number of companies working to bring artificially intelligent sex dolls to the masses.

The Foundation for Responsible Robotics, which calls for "accountable innovation for the humans behind the robots," sees sexualized robots creeping up on the horizon, so it put together a comprehensive report on the subject. It's a fascinating read, covering evolving societal attitudes, ethical implications and sociological concerns. 

The entire report's worth a look, but here are seven key takeaways.

Sex robots skew toward men, but women are interested, too

The report cites a number of studies on whether people would have sex with a robot, and points to a wide range of responses. For instance, 9 percent of respondents to a Huffington Post survey expressed interest in the idea; another survey found 66 percent of men and about half as many women would want to give sexbots a go. Still another poll found that 86 percent of respondents believed a robot would be able to satisfy their sexual desires, suggesting potential for the market to grow as attitudes toward sex robots evolve.

Social acceptance of the fantasy will be key for adoption

The report also examines what future relationships with sex robots might look like, and draws comparisons to professional sex workers, many of whom say, according to the report, that high-paying clients often want to drink, socialize and do drugs together to form the pretense of a relationship in addition to having sex. 

While the technology needed to make sex robots into drinking buddies is likely a long way off, the report points to men who say they've formed emotional connections with inanimate dolls. These sorts of "fictive relationships" are a little like imaginative play, the report says, and social acceptance of these kinds of relationships will be needed for more people to feel comfortable entering into them.

The table's set for sex robot brothels

In another of the many surveys cited in the report, respondents were asked if sex robots were an acceptable substitute for prostitutes. On a scale of one to seven, with one being unacceptable and seven being acceptable, the survey results averaged out to a perhaps surprisingly high six. This, coupled with the fact that bordellos of inanimate sex dolls are already on the rise in Asia, leads the authors of the report to conclude that sex robot brothels might be a logical next step.

We don't know what impact sexbots will have on gender stereotypes

The report points out that there's no question creating humanoid sex robots based on pornographic representations of female anatomy objectifies women. Still, it asserts much of sexual societies already feed off of that sort of objectification, and goes on to suggest sex robots could ultimately serve more to reinforce existing mindsets than to create new ones. There's not a lot of research here, though, especially with regard to under-represented communities.

Sex robots could lead to greater social isolation

The authors of the report and the scholars they cite are fairly unified in the belief that the advent of sex robots could lead to greater social isolation. One big factor: Sex robots are easy to have sex with, and people who use them could be put off by the additional communication and social interaction that goes into a traditional sexual experience. They also express concern that sex robots could desensitize users to intimacy and empathy.

Sex robots could hold therapeutic value

The report goes on to discuss the potential therapeutic value of sex robots for people with social disorders or physical disabilities or even the elderly. There's some history to draw from here -- namely nursing homes that use semi-robotic dolls to provide companionship for their residents, including patients suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Still, there are ethical questions with regard to dolls like these, even before you bring sex into picture. Some authors argue they infantilize the elderly, and others question whether those suffering from mental disabilities can truly provide informed consent.

There's reason to doubt sex robots could help reduce sex crimes

The report cites controversial suggestions that sex robots could ultimately be used to stem the rise of sexual assault, rape and pedophilia by providing people predisposed to those acts with a non-human outlet. In addition to questioning the legality of such dolls (specifically those that depict children), the report's authors express skepticism about the proposed benefits, and even question whether they could actually encourage harmful behavior.

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