Sex, Lies, and Imitation Games: The Ethical Implications of an Artificially Intelligent Girlfriend
Jones, Meg L.
With promising applications in business, health care and countless other fields, artificial intelligence may hold the key to cracking once-unsolvable industry challenges. The sex industry is no exception: For the makers of RealDoll, AI is poised to help meet customers’ most requested demand—bringing their sex dolls “to life.” Before the launch of their fully functional “sex robot,” the company encourages users to interact with “Harmony,” the AI at the heart of the technology, via its Android-based digital app. Though sex dolls have historically failed to alter sexual relations between humans, critics suggest that integrating AI technology demands researchers evaluate this prospect anew: Making sex dolls more lifelike—but not necessarily more realistic—could bolster negative gender stereotypes and erode cultural norms around sexuality.Though sex robots will undoubtedly be more than the sum of their parts, the experiences of Harmony app users provide a valuable entry point into this debate, offering empirical support for how people navigate intimate relationships with digital partners. Using qualitative content analysis, this study examines user discourse on the “Club RealDoll” forum to interrogate how the app engenders particular values or reinforces users’ preconceived attitudes about intimacy, consent and gender stereotypes. This data ultimately reveals how the app’s gamified format promotes a set of flawed internal ethics, incompatible with broader societal ideals for more positive and respectful sexual relationships. The paper concludes by recommending further research, potential design pathways and appropriate policy approaches that can help developers mitigate potentially negative ramifications of this technology while enhancing its benefits.
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