Worldbuilding: Nonconsensual Robot Sex

So, I saw this posted on G+ recently:

What’s New In The World Of Robot Sex?

Relevant excerpt:

But the worries remain. And last week, news broke of a robot called “Frigid Farrah” that’s meant as a sex companion for a person, but with a twist. According to The Independent, the robot was originally advertised in this way: If you touch Frigid Farrah “in a private area, more than likely, she will not be to [sic] appreciative of your advance.”

Some commentators, including Laura Bates writing in The New York Times, suggests this kind of interaction amounts to rape. The manufacturer, Roxxxy True Companion, issued a statement that, unsurprisingly, takes a different view.

Should the specter of human-robot sexual encounters only increase our robot anxiety, then? On Monday, I chatted by email about robot sex with Girl on the Net, a writer in the UK who has thought extensively about issues like this. She told me that she finds the discussion around Frigid Farrah fascinating:

“not necessarily because of the robots themselves, but because of the way it exposed some gaps in how people understand consent. In the UK at least there were quite a few commentators talking about sex robots as if they were already conscious, autonomous beings. We had a few headlines that said people could be ‘raping’ sex robots, implying that consent is inherently tied to behavior, rather than tied to understanding and desire.

In my opinion, laying aside the implications of someone who wants a sex robot to be reluctant, one could no more rape a sex robot than they could rape a Fleshlight [sex toy] or a toaster, because robots don’t yet have consciousness. Consent is not just about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — it’s about making conscious and active choices, in conjunction with another conscious person.”

I agree with Girl on the Net: Today’s robots are not conscious and thus “rape” is not the correct descriptor.

The point I made over there where I originally saw it addresses the non-trivial problem that early-21st century humanity is hilariously unequipped when it comes to deciding what has qualia/is conscious or not, inasmuch as we have no damn idea how said things work. Quoth I:

I mean, sure, I can’t prove that a bangin’ bot, or for that matter a Roomba, is conscious and can suffer, but I can’t prove that a human isn’t merely playing out a convincing simulation of pain while I’m peeling their skin off with red-hot pinchers, either. I just assume that since I’m conscious of my own consciousness and am the same sort of critter, they’re probably not a p-zombie.

(And, I note, the Descartean position that animals are automata without consciousness, pain, or the ability to suffer isn’t all that old, and one can still find plenty of asshole adherents to it even today.)

And so it might just behoove us to be sure and treat our robots well and with due caution, lest in the future we find out that we presumed incorrectly and have been merrily engaged in decades of atrocities.

But now to extend this to worldbuilding, since this ties in to another concept that I had and decided not to use a while back, regarding how this sort of thing ties into the Empire’s sex tourism market.

Yes, it has one – not so much for providing the sex, as for providing a place to safely have it. If you live in some polity which is peculiarly interested in controlling that sort of thing or a society which has any number of bizarre taboos – and so long as what you’re into is safe, sane, and consensual – various Imperial institutions are more than happy to provide you with opportunity, comfort, and whipped cream, while taking a child-like delight in obfuscating, flummoxing, and in extreme cases arranging tragic airlock accidents for the representatives of your local Committee for Public Pecksniffery. Be it gaiety or xenophilia, it’s welcome here!

except for that one group of ’em…

On the one hand, this ‘verse is one in which the above constraint doesn’t apply, since it has a good understanding of sophotechnology and cognitive science, and is thus capable of saying, yes, this sex robot is definitely a p-zombie or lower, neither sophont nor autosentient, and so none of the above scruples apply.

On the other hand, remember what was mentioned about “simulations of how slavers get their jollies” back in the Bondage is Bad trope-a-day, and how well that flies in a profoundly libertist society? Well, dial that up to eleven squared when you make that a literal rape simulation.

It’s not illegal, of course. There’s no choice-theft or other rights-violation involved, so it can’t be illegal. You’ve just brought the pessimal paraphilia into an environment that invites every legal sanction to be leveled against you by anyone who learns what you’re doing, which may well include a bunch of freelance vigilantes watching your every move for the millimeter over the line that’d give them an excuse.

Which would be why the brochures say “Don’t,” when the topic comes up, in large, friendly red letters. (“Also: see therapeutic psychedesign services.”)


18 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Nonconsensual Robot Sex

  1. So in other words: Always pay in cash, make sure it’s shipped in unmarked packaging, and never leave the door to the room it’s in unlocked?

    • …and try not to give any of the ULE automation the notion that you’re sneaking about doing something creepifying, yeah.

      (And since you have to do all of that anyway, you might as well do it at home.)

  2. I wonder – are there any other sorts of things – not necessarily sex-related – to which the typical Imperial has that sort of negative reaction (specifically, the “it’s permitted, but if you’re sane you won’t do it” kind)? I’d imagine they think that way about various sorts of voluntary-but-not arrangements (you’re free to walk out, but woe be unto you if you do…), various sorts of dominance play, attempts to get people to contract themselves into slavery, etc.

    Says a lot about the importance of norms, and about how laws don’t always tell the entire story!

    • I’m curious about that as well — one of the questions I’ve been meaning to slot in my question queue concerns what they think of people who abuse debt and default for “para-coercion” by (for instance) inducing people to intentionally take on debts they cannot reasonably pay, then adding on increasingly onerous terms when it comes time to refinance; deliberately allowing an unpaid balance to go uncollected until the value is enough for them to justify repossessing the one thing they really want; or even just engaging in the classic form of loan-sharjing, offering loans with easy terms over indefinite period that never fully amortize just so they can perpetually “farm” the interest.

      • Well, one of the effects of living surrounded by various colors and flavors of reputation network is that it might become extremely difficult to pull off that particular trick more than once, because you’ll be forevermore known as that para-coercive asshole who shouldn’t be pissed on if you were on fire, etc.

        It also occurs to me that actually pulling off this sort of trick might be quite difficult, given that your fellow citizens are likely to be quite clued-up about what sort of contracts they should and should not be entering into, and who have access to quite a lot of information and helpful sophonts who might discourage them doing such a thing.

        (there’s also a possibly-relevant post about leonine contracts, but it appears that you were the one who asked the original question that prompted it, so it probably isn’t going to tell you anything new. )

        • I think it goes without saying that the Imperials would be rather quick to shut that down on their home turf as a rule. I was thinking more from the perspective of, say, someone who seemed upstanding and we’ll-behaved enough at home but, say, wanted to find some isolated, underedeveloped Planet Congo out in the Expansion Regions where he could play King Leopold without worrying about word getting back home.

          • A quick archive binge on the subject of “renegades” and related articles might bring up a few relevant snippets, but presumably there’s some level of king leopolding that would attract the attention of the 2nd and 4th directorates, at which point it would suddenly stop being all fun and games.

            Also, the notion of doing nefarious things “without worrying about word getting back home” when “home” is a post-sophont ubiquitous surveillance state seems like it might be impractical.

          • I’m familiar with those articles (and the others you’ve linked to); suffice it to say that I’m aware of the “what,” but I’m trying to tease out a little more details of the “why.”

          • Well, if they’re playing actual King Leopold, I’d point out that the Fundamental Contract doesn’t say anything about citizen-shareholders, it talks about elén daráv, “sophonts”. Crimes in violation of it are therefore ecumenical crimes with equally ecumenical jurisdiction.

            At this point in the discussion the Sanguinary Enforcers of the Liberty Ethic and the Imperium Bellipotent point out that by the never-formally-repudiated-albeit-disused Doctrine of the Ecumenical Throne, are thus entitled, if not indeed mandated, to shoot the shit out of every slaver in the universe. Settle down, boys. The logistic, ethical, memetic, practical, and grammatical issues with kicking off Universal Ragnarok For Freedom are off-topic right now.

            …but where it is applied, for reasons of justice as well as preserving the spotless reputation of the Worlds’ premier citizenship brand (, is that where such things occur involving them and theirs, the Empire always cleans up its own shit. And its own shits.

            Now, if you’re talking about things that are merely “para-coercive” rather than going the full Leopold, I would merely point out that the Empire exports its ethical and moral norms with the same enthusiasm as it does everything else; that’s what gives elén zakhrehs its bite, insult-wise.

            (And the notion that Johnny Foreigner has some sort of special ethical status that makes things done by or to them more or less acceptable than they would be otherwise is rather a quaint and bizarre one, in their milieu. The sort of thing el zakhrehs would come up with, I dare say. Harrumph. Et cetera.)

          • (And the notion that Johnny Foreigner has some sort of special ethical status that makes things done by or to them more or less acceptable than they would be otherwise is rather a quaint and bizarre one, in their milieu. The sort of thing el zakhrehs would come up with, I dare say. Harrumph. Et cetera.)

            I was approaching it more from the notion of someone who thinks more along the lines of something like this:

            “There are two kinds of people in this world — the wise and the foolish — and the latter deserve whatever they inevitably get for being foolish. I’m just helping things along, because [the Universe / karma / the Hidden Cog] moves too slowly and too randomly for my tastes.”

            (Though I’d imagine the Imperials would have something to say about that view, too.)

          • “Just because we have not yet defeated the Second Law is no excuse to go around helping it.”

            Or, to approach it from another perspective, virtue is not something you cultivate for the benefit of sophonts you approve of, or even sophonts in general. It’s something you cultivate in order to be a superior being, or at the very least, less of a sophont garbage fire.

            Someone who thinks (rather entropotropically) they should screw folk over just ’cause someone will – and it might as well be them – and/or they have it coming is epically failing at that.

          • As I should probably have mentioned before, the other problem this hypothetical dude would have is ever going home.

            ‘Cause the Empire has certain standards of rationality they expect everyone to meet, as a necessary precondition for having a society free enough that citizen-shareholders can buy nuclear devices off the shelf in hardware stores and be comfortable that no-one will do anything dangerous with ’em.

            While (with some literary conceit) the parameters are loose enough that, for example, suitably intellectual master thieves with rational modi operandi are still able to function, I guarantee that Captain Dominance-Play here, razorwalking his way along the edge of not-technically-a-slaving-fuckhead, is gonna light up all their alarms in exactly the wrong way.

            And then someone’s getting edited, or else shown the door that will not hit ’em on the ass on the way out.

      • To summarize the summary of a summary:

        “When confronted by the interaction of an idiot and an asshole, the idiot should be treated as an idiot, and the asshole should be treated as an asshole.”

        Ain’t no-one coming out of this looking good, but the one is a worse moral flaw than the other.

        • Fair enough, for the time being. As always, the answers are much appreciated.

          Though I am looking forward to seeing you unpack that “summary of a summary” in more detail in the work itself, when and if it strikes your fancy.

    • Well, some of them show up in “Welcome to the Empire!” under the paragraph beginning with “We would advise that the following activities, which remain legal in the Empire, be avoided for your safety unless you are previously familiar with them.”

      But in general, yes, norms are the thing – and that the Imperials are principledly chary when it comes to bringing down the lawhammer on issues of morality rather than ethics for reasons both philosophical and pragmatic, that by no means implies that hortation, social sanctions, and extreme sniffiness cannot or will not be brought to bear against instances of ungentlesophly behavior.

  3. Pingback: Eldraeic Word of the Day: Zakhrehs | The Eldraeverse

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