The growing level of sex robots is leading to moral and legal dilemmas

Growing sophistication of sex robots is leading to moral and legal dilemmas, expert warns

A leading academic has warned the lifelike, sentient sex robots blur the line between what, or who, is capable of consenting to sex


  • 04:38, 12 JUL 2017
  • UPDATED15:56, 12 JUL 2017

The rise of sex robots is presenting increasingly difficult moral and legal dilemmas, an expert has warned.

Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly sophisticated, with sex dolls increasingly lifelike.


But advancements in technology bring with them their own serious issues surrounding morals and the legal status of such sex robots.

Ethics expert Professor Robin MacKenzie of Kent Law School said: "Sex, law and ethics will never be the same.

"Sooner than we think, technologists will create sentient, self-aware sexbots, capable of emotional/sexual intimacy.

"Under existing legal and ethical standards, sex between consenting adult humans is permissible, as is sex between humans and things.

Growing sophistication of sex robots is leading to moral and legal dilemmas, expert warns

"Humans having sex with other humans who are unable to consent to sex, like children and adults lacking decision-making capacity, is seen as unlawful and unethical.

"So is human/animal sex. Such groups are recognised as sentient beings who cannot consent to sex with interests in need of protection.

"Sentient, self-aware sexbots created to engage in emotional/sexual intimacy with humans disrupt this tidy model.

"They are not humans, though they will look like us, feel like us to touch and act as our intimate and sexual partners.

"While they will be manufactured, potentially from biological components, their sentience, self-awareness and capacity for relationships with humans mean that they cannot simply be categorized as things or animals.

"Robotic animated sex-dolls, able to simulate human appearance, assume sexual positions and mimic human conversation and emotions are on sale now.

"These are things, neither sentient nor self-aware, incapable of relationships or intimacy, as described in the Foundation for Responsible Robotics report just released.

"Proposals the European Parliament passed in February 2017 to recognise intelligent robots as legal ‘electronic persons’, focus on robots only as things, tools or devices. They seek merely to ensure that companies owning robots are liable for damage caused, and that robots are programmed to avoid harming humans."

Professor McKenzie is an expert on ethical and medical aspects of neuroscience, and as a member of the EU funded FET Flagship Initiative Robot Companions for Citizens Ethics and Society Working Group, is investigating the ethical and legal implications of the creation of sentient robots as companions for citizens, particularly as the European population ages.

Sexbots are becoming more and more lifelike

She said: "Where does this leave future sexbots? In order for intimacy to be achieved, degrees of sentience, subjectivity and autonomy must be built-in design features.

"This implies a central aspect of legal personhood: the capacity to decide whether to consent to or refuse sex, and to have that decision upheld by the law.

"Yet full legal personhood entails further, far-reaching civic responsibilities and rights. Should we extend these to sexbots, including the right to marry? Or should we accept that we will engage in unethical, exploitative sexual and emotional intimacies with subordinate sentient beings created and sold for that purpose, however close to sexual slavery or bestiality this may be?

"Future sentient, self-aware sexbots thus raise profound ethical and legal issues. These must be resolved urgently, before they appear."