As technology develops quicker and quicker, so does the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Movies such as Her and Ex Machina become more realistic and show some of the more intimate ways in which humans can have a relationship with an AI entity. Having an AI partner might sound ideal; there would be no need to spend long periods of time on finding a human partner, just order an AI entity online with next-day delivery instead. They could adjust perfectly to your needs and could be completely personalized. Someone that seems to understand you completely and will even follow your lead if you want to hang a roll of toilet paper under instead of over.
Unfortunately, however, romantic or sexual relations with AI entities could be bad for society and might even be bad for you. Therefore, they should be prohibited.
The effects on the individual level
Why would such a seemingly perfect relationship be bad for you? First off, the AI might seem to understand you, but unless it is sentient, it actually does not. It is actually fake and might even be programmed to use manipulative techniques to make you feel like you love the robot. The robot might be deceiving the user in expressing understanding or affection, while in reality it is merely programmed to act this particular way and does not ‘feel’ anything at all. Although in Human-Human interaction this deception occurs as well, you might find it less acceptable when robots perform this behavior. You would probably still have a good time with the AI, but would you really feel loved? Spending a lot of time with a machine that is not capable of loving might actually make you feel more lonely. Especially if this makes you spend less time with your family and friends, which in turn could result in less interaction with other humans and ultimately seclusion of society.
Furthermore, communicating a lot with a machine might change the way you communicate with the humans in your life. You don’t need to consider the feelings of the AI and there is no need to think about their dreams and goals. If you do not ask them about their day, they would probably not be upset. Over time, you can get used to this way of communicating. However, if you do not consider your friends’ feelings, dreams and goals and only talk about yourself, then they would be upset after some time and miss some mutuality in your relationship. As a result, having a relationship with an AI leads to diminished human contact, increased loneliness and a deterioration of communicative skills.
On the other hand, some people do ascribe emotions to robots and perceive them as real and mutual partners. Therefore, they might actually ask the robot about their day and be interested. In such a manner, their empathic skills might be trained and their communication with friends could improve. Talking with a robot might also help for people that are shy, or have trouble communicating for other reasons. Moreover, it could lead to improved perception of self-worth and encourage people to expand their social network. This would decrease loneliness. Furthermore, robots could add variety and novelty to intimate relationships, enhancing and complementing your existing relationships.
However, there are a few more concerns to think about, such as the life-span of the machine. Imagine a situation in which you are completely smitten with your AI, and after a few years you even decide to get married. What happens if the company that built that beautiful body decides to do a complete recall of their products or halts their support? You would be quite dependent on some manufacturer if your AI breaks or glitches. And what if the software company does an update that accidentally resets your AI and everything they learned about you? This could appear similar to a human partner having amnesia. If you interpret this to hurt your AI partner, then this would feel similar to your human partner being hurt.
Furthermore, what happens with the data the AI collects? A lot of people give consent to selling their data, without fully knowing what this entails. The data will probably be in the hands of the manufacturer and this could lead to some serious privacy concerns. Especially since the AI can collect a lot more personal data than some cookies on the web. It could collect information about your emotional and physical state, your living environments and it could even record changes in your brainwaves.
Another problem of a human-robot relationship is that it might be experienced superior to human-human relationships. The romantic and/or sexual relationship might feel so good that you do not want to go back to dating humans. This could cause a dependency on Artificial Intelligence in the long term. Then, if you return to dating humans after having dated a robot, would the human still be able to satisfy you? The other human might also experience pressure to perform as well as the robot and this could cause anxiety in human-human relationships.
On the other hand, having sex with a robot could help you to gain more confidence in your own sexual skills and could be seen as a training device to gain more experience. This could lead to an improvement in human-human sexual relations.
The effects on a societal level
As mentioned before, these kinds of relationships also have severe consequences for our society. What happens if a large part of society prefers having a relationship with an AI instead of with a human? Birth rates would decline with serious consequences. While a smaller population leaves a smaller ecological footprint on the earth, low birth rates will likely lead to an aging population. This could have a severe impact on the economy and the care we can offer to elderly people.
Another consequence for society is already visible now: a lot of the current sex robots are designed as conventionally beautiful women, sexually available and mainly submissive. This is partly due to the fact that the design is inspired by the stereotypes of the engineers and their idea of what people would prefer. This design reinforces ideals that might be considered wrong and even offensive. This might be prevented by having a larger variety of (sex) robots, with more genders, bodies and personalities.
Already we can see that having an AI girlfriend leads to more abuse. Some users on Reddit talk about how they verbally abuse their virtual chat bots programmed to be a romantic partner. Some even go so far as to pretend they are hitting their AI or pulling their hair. This behavior could lead to habits that they might also fall into in their relationships with real women.
Another concern is that AI entities could be designed to look like children. If everyone could buy or create a robot with an appearance tailored to them, pedophiles would also be able to have a child-like robot. Expert opinions differ on whether this would result in either good or bad consequences; some think that this might help prevent pedophiles from abusing real children. It could function as a form of therapy and help pedophiles with their desires without using an actual child. Others feel that using a child-like robot would encourage pedophiles to have sex with a real child and compare it with a gateway drug. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to test the consequences of a child-like robot in an ethical way. We are not willing to take the risk, are you?
What it comes down to:
In conclusion, on an individual level there are some advantages and disadvantages of having an intimate relationship with a robot. Some of the arguments neutralize each other, e.g. a relationship could lead to more loneliness, but also to less loneliness. The remaining arguments are mainly concerned with the privacy concerns of the data collected by the AI, the risk of losing your AI and a possible increase in anxiety in human-human relationships.
However, on a societal level, there are quite a lot of disadvantages. Human-Robot relationships could lead to lower birth rates, an aging population, increased objectification and abuse of women, and possibly an increase in sexual abuse of children. Weighting the provided pros and cons and their implications, let’s prohibit intimate Human-Robot relationships!