automated Intimacy An answer for aging, lonely Americans in the age of AI?

Could sex robots be an answer for an aging, lonely population? Dreamstime/TNS

Fear not the march of time. For you may be accompanied by a certain sort of clank — a sex robot to get you through your twilight years.

A University of Washington professor of bioethics and humanities has just published a paper saying that “sex robots” and artificial intelligence may be the breakthrough our ever-growing aging population needs to relieve social isolation.

“Alexa ...” Oh, never mind.

In a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled “Nothing to Be Ashamed of: Sex Robots for Older Adults with Disabilities,” Nancy Jecker of the UW’s School of Medicine connects society’s embrace of robotics, AI and senior citizens who may be living longer, thanks to medical advances, but who also suffer from physical disabilities or loneliness, especially in the time of COVID-19.

Many people in these circumstances would welcome a robot’s companionship and, yes, even its ability to provide sexual fulfillment, Jecker wrote.

“We apply ageist attitudes and negative stereotypes to older adults,” she said. “We assume they’re too old to indulge in sex and think that older adults having interest in sex is weird or dirty.

“Designing and marketing sex robots for older, disabled people would represent a sea change from current practice,” she continued. “The reason to do it is to support human dignity and to take seriously the claims of those whose sexuality is diminished by disability or isolation.”

The use of robots solely for sex “really misses the boat,” Jecker said, arguing that sex “is about something much deeper ... our identity and what we can do or be as human beings.”

Disabled people can use robots not only as caregivers, but friends who don’t judge, don’t have a problem repeating themselves, speaking more slowly or listening.

“They are a friend available 24/7 who doesn’t judge and accepts a person and interacts,” Jecker said.

And in this time of COVID-19, robots can be sanitary and safe companions for humans. They are loaded with information, can retain and recall what a human tells them and interact accordingly.

The field of “soft robotics” is creating robots that are soft and pliable, able to hold hands and touch, “and interact in a way that’s safe,” Jecker said, “especially for older people who are frail.”

Jecker called the paper a “bid” to the sex-robot industry to tap into what she considers a new and growing market — an aging society that is living longer than ever before, but with chronic disease and disabilities that impair sexual functioning.

“Really,” she said, “There are opportunities that have been unexplored.”

Right now, she said, sex robots are “rudimentary,” preprogrammed with “girlfriend personalities.”

But Jecker believes that robots can be designed for a broader range of clientele, including for older people who simply want companions, and, maybe, some sort of physical connection.

“It relates to issues of dignity,” she said. “The ability to be sexual at any age relates to your ability to have a life. Not just to survive, but to have a life, and do things that have value. Relationships. Bodily integrity.

“These things are a matter of dignity.”

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