University researchers from institutions around the globe are working together to design “ethical” sex robots that have to consent before engaging in intercourse. They envision “consent modules” added to sex robots that humans would engage with before sexual relations.
Anco Peeters of Australia’s University of Wollongong and Pim Haselager, an associate professor at The Netherlands’ Radboud University, published a research article recently that made the case for “ethical” sex robots.
In the article, which was highlighted this week by The College Fix, Haselager and Peeters propose that sex robots should have to consent prior to intercourse with their owners. The researchers argue that a “consent-module” would cultivate compassion in their owners.
We propose that virtue ethics can be used to address ethical issues central to discussions about sex robots. In particular, we argue virtue ethics is well equipped to focus on the implications of sex robots for human moral character. Our evaluation develops in four steps. First, we present virtue ethics as a suitable framework for the evaluation of human–robot relationships. Second, we show the advantages of our virtue ethical account of sex robots by comparing it to current instrumentalist approaches, showing how the former better captures the reciprocal interaction between robots and their users. Third, we examine how a virtue ethical analysis of intimate human–robot relationships could inspire the design of robots that support the cultivation of virtues. We suggest that a sex robot which is equipped with a consent-module could support the cultivation of compassion when used in supervised, therapeutic scenarios. Fourth, we discuss the ethical implications of our analysis for user autonomy and responsibility.