Some weeks ago I heard a serious Radio 4 discussion on future sexual activity provided through artificial intelligence. It assumed that some day, not too long in the future, we would have the facility of sexual robots – presumably of any gender or favoured anatomical details which, to the eye and touch, would be indistinguishable from the real things. One would of course be able to select any form of sexual activity according to taste at the time. This would seem to be the epitome of separating sexual activity from any element of personality and love.
Something similar is already happening in Japan. I understand that many young men who show no interest in sex, achieve their emotional satisfaction by sustaining fictional relationships with young girls who appear only in cartoon form in a game which is accessed through a tablet computer. Against a background of many years of economic stagnation, they have tuned out of the real world and opted for a retreat into fantasy. About a third of unmarried women under 34 have no partner, and double that proportion of men. And many claim that they are “not even looking”. About a quarter of both sexes are virgins. Anecdotal reports suggest that committed relationships are hazardous, expensive, and interfere with other life choices.
Fortunately I am now at an age when such changes in attitude will not affect me directly. But, were these to do so, I would remind myself of the nature of artificial intelligence. I have quite a lot of it in my house already. Take my washing machine. Once the power button is pressed it works making several appropriate decisions, and eventually presents me with clean clothes, already nearly dry, and fit to hang up in the kitchen. Similarly my central heating does its job of switching on and off, requiring me only to interfere at the change of the seasons.
An intelligent robot is in no way different in principle. It has a much higher degree of autonomy since we now have digital control and programs which can make far more defined decisions through their vast complexity. But they are no more persons, have no more intelligence and no more freedom and consciousness than my washing machine.
Could I, in a moment of frustration and far into my cups, ever fully convince myself that a robot which appeared to be a delightful blonde with infinite sexual appetites, would really meet my need? If it were so, I would be careful in my use of her control panel. Pressing sado masochism might be a mistake.
How do we foresee the condition of a society which is gradually separating sexual expression from love and commitment?