By: Nicholas Gamotis

Robots are becoming increasingly advanced and lifelike, their influence is becoming increasingly pervasive in our lives, moving from science fiction to reality, and researchers continually make advances towards realistic artificial intelligence. We are seemingly accepting of the introduction of apparently benign robots in situations where they provide added convenience or efficiency to our lives. Recently, Walmart began implementing self-driving floor scrubbers which freed personnel to perform more important tasks within the store.[1] While this implementation was met with some criticism about the potential negative impact on the workforce at large, it was not met with outrage or calls for policies preventing such implementation.[2] Similarly, Robo Sushi is the first restaurant in North America to replace human wait staff with robotic servers who seat patrons and deliver food, while sushi chefs prepare patron’s meals.[3] This implementation of robots to replace human labor for such routine tasks has not been met with public outcry or legal challenges to such implementations.

However, when the services provided by the robots are not of a routine type such as those provided by Walmart’s self-driving floor scrubbers,[4] or Robo Sushi’s robotic wait staff,[5] but are instead sexual the reaction is quite different. Recently efforts by Canadian company KinkySdolls to open a try before you buy Robot Brothels in Houston, Texas, resulted in public outcry calling for a prohibition on such businesses.[6] In response to the public outcry the Houston City Council updated an ordinance to prohibit patrons from having sex with a device resembling a human at a business.[7]

The idea of robot brothels has met mixed reactions and policies around the world.[8] It appears that technology and entrepreneurs are moving faster than society and policy can keep up with. While robot brothels exist in Europe,[9] this is an issue that the United States will have to deal with. Whether Robot Brothels will take root in the United States or not will likely be determined by challenges to local ordinances, such as the one that the Houston City Council passed in response to the public outcry over the proposed business by KinkySdolls.[10]

As the technology used in these sex robots advances and legislatures try to decide how to handle this new twist on the sex trade competing interests will clash. Municipalities potentially stand to capitalize on increased tax revenue if they treat these robot brothels as a legitimate business and chose to only regulate for health and safety. Conversely, the groups that are outraged by the brothels will pressure the legislatures to ban the establishment of these robot brothels. All the while the robot brothel industry and its patrons will likely advance arguments about personal liberty, highlighting how sex with a robot should not be considered prostitution and should be legitimate legal businesses.

 

[1]See You’ll Never Believe Who’s Scrubbing the Floors at Walmart, Walmart 0606(Oct. 4, 2018), https://blog.walmart.com/innovation/20181004/youll-never-believe-whos-scrubbing-the-floors-at-walmart.

[2] See Mallory Locklear, Walmart is Testing a Self-Driving, Floor-Scrubbing Robot (Nov. 22, 2017), Engadget, https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/22/walmart-testing-self-driving-floor-scrubbing-robot/.

[3] See Robo Sushi North York, Facebook(Sep. 13, 2018), https://www.facebook.com/pg/robosushi.northyork/about/?ref=page_internal.

[4] See Locklear, supra note 2.

[5] See Robo Sushi North York, supra note 3.

[6] See Ciaran McGrath, First Sex Robot Brothel to Open in US: Outrage in Houston as ‘No Law Can Stop It’ (Sep. 28, 2018), Express, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1024027/sex-robot-brothel-houston-texas-mayor-protests-petition.

[7] Joel Shannon, Proposed ‘Sex Robot Brothel’ Blocked by Houston Government: ‘We Are Not Sin City’(Oct. 4, 2018), USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/10/03/sex-robot-brothel-blocked-houston-texas/1518298002/.

[8] See e.g., Chelsea Ritchel, Controversial ‘Consensual’ Sex Robot Brothel Claims to be World’s First (Nov. 8, 2018), Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/sex-robot-brothel-consensual-ai-california-flirt-virgin-first-consent-a8624201.html (discussing concerns about hygiene and operation of “consent-focused” robot brothel);

[9] See Jon Lockett, Robot Phwoars World’s First Brothel Staffed Entirely by Robot Sex Workers Now Looking for Investors to go Global(Jul. 30, 2017), The Sun, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4131258/worlds-first-brothel-staffed-entirely-by-robot-sex-workers-now-looking-for-investors-to-go-global/ (company opened first robot brothel in Spain).

[10] See Shannon, supra note 7.

Image Source: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/827479/Sex-robots-ethics-legal-morals-professor-Robin-Mackenzie.

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