Let’s talk about… sex robots and teledildos

| Rense Kuipers

Intimate technology, sex robots and teledildonics. It sounds exciting – maybe even arousing to some – but what is it all about? This evening, UT scientists share different points of view on the topic of intimate technology, during the ThingsCon Salon event in the DesignLab.

Philosophy researcher Nicola Liberati (BMS faculty) is one of the researchers who will speak during the event. He’ll focus on the role of sex robots and teledildonics (technology for remote sex).

What is intimate technology all about?

Liberati: ‘That’s a tricky question, because there is no clear definition of what intimacy really is. It depends on how you define it as a person and as a society. For instance, it could mean that standing close to someone is an intimate situation. On the other hand, a sex worker could also see his or her job as just a job, with no real feelings of intimacy involved. Sex isn’t necessarily the highpoint of intimacy.’

You mainly focus on teledildonics. How does intimacy apply with this kind of technology?

‘You could say it’s just friction, being passed over a distance from one person to another. But it’s also a way of communication; to exchange tactile stimulation and being close to somebody while also being separated. There is definitely a human interaction there, opposed to an actual sex robot. When you interact with a sex robot, it’s like when you’re gaming and interacting with a bot. You know it isn’t real. With teledildonics, you’re actually interacting with another person using technology. So it’s basically like a single player mode versus multiplayer.’

Who benefits from these kinds of technology?

‘Well, Japan has a large consumer market for it. But what I think the technology is about, is helping people. Think of old, lonely people and people who are handicapped or in hospitals. And these kinds of technology can also help people who have suffered a traumatic sexual experience to recover from it.’

There is some criticism, regarding the objectification of (mostly) women, who are mimicked. What’s your point of view?

‘I don’t really agree with it, you have to think about the people who benefit from the technology. The interesting aspect of these technologies is that they will change how we think of intimacy and sex. In a way, I think objectification can help. If you look at the strange fetish requests prostitutes get from customers, it’s a good thing there can be a substitute to create a difference between people and robots.’

It can get out of hand, right? Last week, several media reported on a sex robot being ‘molested’ and ‘badly soiled’ at a festival.

‘True, it does make you think. In a way they raped the robot, but can you actually rape something that is not a living being? In a close-minded way, it’s just an object. I don’t think it’s important to ask the question if raping a robot is good or bad. In the grand scheme of things, it’s more important to ask ourselves how we think about rape in general. The way this technology is used, changes the way we view the world.’

So the way we perceive technology is what this event is all about?

‘Exactly. For example, when the condom was invented, it also changed human behavior. Condoms are not just about safe sex, but also about trust. I do think intimate technology has become more normal for society. I mean, you can buy teledildonics on Amazon, so it’s maybe already part of it. It’s interesting to see which way these kinds of technology will evolve and how we will respond to it. Technology shapes the way we perceive things around us. We have a good opportunity to talk about that this evening.’

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