did electrogonorrhea, the noisy killer, just strike the adult industry in spain?
Did a real robot brothel quietly open in Barcelona? Well, that depends on your definition of robot...
Although some people who should really know better believe that humans aren’t at risk of losing their jobs to robots for another 50 to 100 years, we’re seeing the exact opposite in the wilds of the global economy, and even in the developing world, the prognosis is grim. But certainly there are service jobs out there that could only be done by a human, right? Could you even try to imagine legal, highly regulated, unionized prostitution being done by machinery and putting humans willing to go into this line of work out of a job? Actually yes, you probably can because this is not the first time this is being mentioned on this blog. We talked about concepts for robot brothels and even covered whether you can marry a sexbot as examples of futurism that tries to grapple with AI and sex. So imagine my surprise when I came across a story on social media alleging that this is happening right now, in Spain, where a union of licensed sex workers is protesting a brothel where clients rent realistic sex dolls because it unfairly reduces their income, and as they claim, reduce sex workers to mere objects to customers?
Yes, the source is a UK tabloid, which may not be the most trustworthy or objective place to get information to put it mildly, but just in time to have access to my browsing history sold by ISPs, I did some research and found that the rumored sex doll bordello has a working website, an active e-mail, and a phone number, although it doesn’t list an actual address, claiming to be in Barcelona. Its Twitter account, however, looks like a ghost town with one tweet and 13 followers, most of which seem to be related businesses. It also links to a store where realistic sex dolls are for sale with price tags of $2,000 to $3,000 or so. From a cursory examination, it doesn’t seem like a brothel in the common sense of the word, but a showroom where men on the lookout for the closest thing to a sexbot they can buy today can, ahem, test drive their potential purchase. So as far as reporting goes, the tabloid actually didn’t make the story out of whole cloth but didn’t dig deeper so it could keep its narrative of robots threatening sex workers.
With that said, several sex doll makers say that AI and motors are coming to these dolls to turn them into full blown robots that will talk to customers in much the same way Siri, Echo, and Cortana talk to you now. In fact, it’s all too likely that future sexbots will use one of these APIs under the hood but with a more adult twist. It’s at this point where these dolls could actually be a very real threat to human sex workers who often say that a big part of the job is listening to and empathizing with customers. Since their clients often know they’re buying empathy and agreement, who would agree with them more than a machine built to only say yes? The philosophical question that surrounds the science of AI — is a sufficiently convincing simulation of your sought after behavior the same as the this behavior in nature — falls away if the person looking for this behavior isn’t really interested in exactly how or even if it’s authentic. We may be slowly headed towards something straight out of Ex Machina, just without all the existential questions.
So to answer the question I posed in the headline, the answer is not really, but it’s not unrealistic that it will in the foreseeable future and there’s a lot of work invested in making this happen, directly and indirectly. The bigger question is what it will mean for sex work and its customers. Already, there are communities of people who use hyperrealistic sex dolls as surrogates for human contact they claim they can’t get otherwise, so what will happen if a doll can move on its own and pliantly respond? Will it further commit them to their lifestyle or could these sexbots be used to coach them how to talk to flesh and blood humans? Can robot brothels be effective in fighting human trafficking or do many would-be customers in this trade just love the idea of power over another human being, and if they can, would that require them to enable humans to live out some twisted fantasies with a machine? And if it impacts legal, regulated sex work, will it change how we view it and force it to adapt as its practitioners are coming off the assembly line in bulk?