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.”)