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Should sex with a robot be considered cheating?
A study out of Finland shows us that sex is sex and robots are robots, and the overlap is confusing.
- A new study from Finland suggests that people view sex with a robot more kindly than they view sex with a human prostitute.
- The effect is maintained even when the customer is married.
- While the exact causes of these opinions remain unknown, several proposals have been made. They may well serve as ethical guides going forward.
Robot sex dolls are a thing now. A proposed robot brothel in California is in the crowdfunding stage, Chinese scientists are pitching lifelike dolls as the solution for a society with a shockingly skewed gender ratio, and a TV show including sex robots as characters is watched by millions. Regrettably, philosophical investigation into the ethics around sex robots has not kept up with the tech or culture. A new study carried out in Finland may help to close the gap, though its findings raise as many questions as they answer.
The strangest study these people will ever be part of.
This photo taken on February 1, 2018 shows a worker trimming the skin imperfections of a silicone doll at a factory of EXDOLL, a firm based in the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian. With China facing a massive gender gap and a greying population, a company wants to hook up lonely men and retirees with a new kind of companion: 'Smart' sex dolls that can talk, play music and turn on dishwashers
(FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
The study, to be presented at the International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots in Montana because we live in a world where that's a thing now, involved two experiments asking Finnish library patrons their opinions on the moral character of a person using a brothel either staffed by humans or robots in a short sci-fi story. The moral stances, sexual histories, level of disgust with pathogens, and familiarity with science fiction media were all recorded and used to analyze the subjects' answers.
The participants' moral stances were measured using the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, created and made famous by Jonathan Haidt. It breaks moral psychology down into five foundations: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Purity/Sanctity. The test asks questions designed to determine how relevant a foundation is for a person when making a moral choice and then gives them statements related to each foundation for them to rank their agreement or disagreement with. You can take the same test yourself here.
The subjects were then randomly placed into one of four groups to read a vignette. Their story featured either a single or married man in 2035 visiting a brothel on a trip in Europe. The brothel either advertises "You cannot tell our robots from real women" or "All our workers are real women." The story ends with the man paying for "services" which were left to the reader's imagination.
The readers than expressed their opinion of the man by answering a series of questions. These questions focused on their opinion of his behavior, their opinion on his character, and their opinion of buying sexual services in general. The answers were then compared with the demographic data collected above.
What did they say about the man?
As you might expect, people viewed a married person who went to the brothel of any kind more harshly than a single person. However, people saw the act of sleeping with a robot as less objectionable than sleeping with a human for both single and married individuals.
Subjects with more sexual experience judged the act of going to a brothel less harshly overall. Female test subjects found the character to be more morally degraded than the male subjects did. The act of sleeping with a robot was condemned less than sleeping with a human, except by people with very high scores on the purity/sanctity spectrum.A second, larger test was carried out with only one change; a scenario where the customer was a woman was added. The results were largely the same, although people saw what the female customer did as slightly worse than what a male one did.
Why would we get these results?
The silhouettes of two teenage girls rescued from a cyber sex den. Could sex robots be the solution to such situations?
Photo: ED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images
The authors concluded that:
"Sex with a sex robot is seen to be closer to sex with another human than masturbation. Also, attitudes towards sex robots seem to be influenced by the same factors as attitudes towards robots in general. In summary, sex with a robot is considered to be sex and a sex robot is seen as a robot."
These findings are largely in line with a previous study carried out by Thomas Arnold of Tufts University, who interpreted his results by saying:
"Relationships seem to drive how people morally judge the use of sex robots… The more you start thinking about it as something that could compete against or interfere with your relationships, that seems to be what people morally object to."
He further explained to New Scientist that his study "found that most people thought of it more like masturbation or using a sex toy."
A relationship was found between how people scored on the pathogen disgust quiz and how much they objected to the character's actions, with people scoring lowest on that scale objecting more to a married person sleeping with a sexbot than those who got a high score. Highly germophobic people objected the most strongly to the idea of a married person paying for sexual services of any kind but especially disliked a married person paying for sex with a human being.
This suggests that while many people object to the idea of cheating no matter what the situation, at least some of this objection is based on the idea of the need to prevent "contamination" of the marital union. Given our common notion of robots as sleek and clean, it may be the case that the fear of disease isn't applied to them in the same way it is to a human sex worker. It also explains why they would be less concerned about a single person going to a brothel than they are for a married person.
"No judgment here," say sci-fi fans
Perhaps most surprisingly, the more familiar or involved people were with science fiction fandoms the more accepting they were of the idea of sex with robots. This correlation was so strong that it removed the gender difference in how the character was viewed. The authors of the study do not know if consuming science fiction work causes this acceptance, however, it is possible that people who are open to this idea could be the same people who are attracted to science-fiction.
What else don’t we know?
The study's authors were very clear that much more work is needed. They suggest that further studies should have test subjects more reflective of the entire population and from cultures that might have different attitudes towards robots than the Finns.
As sexual robots become ever more realistic and popular, we're going to have to have a clearer understanding of how we view them and what we consider our use of them to be. This study is far from definitive, but it does give us a point to start with.
- Robot sex dolls are becoming more popular, according to data - Big Think ›
- More men and women are likely to consider sex with a robot - Big Think ›
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.