Scientists discuss making childlike robots for paedolphiles

During a robotics conference last week, ethicists discussed the moral implications of using childlike-robots to help treat paedophiles.

The theory is that these machines would help provide a non-harmful outlet for an individual’s sexual inclinations as part of a treatment programme. It’s like providing methadone to heroin addicts, the reasoning goes.

Ronald Arkin, the mobile robot lab director at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was one of the participants at the conference who is in favour of pursing the idea. He told Forbes magazine’s Kashmir Hill:

“There are no presumptions that this will assuredly yield positive results – I only believe it is worth investigating in a controlled way to possibly provide better protection to society from recidivism in sex offenders. If we can save some children, I think it’s a worthwhile project.”

Vice’s Arielle Pardes says the logic of such arguments is straightforward:

“We realise that paedophilia isn’t going anywhere, so we ought to find a way to deal with the lust for children in a way that keeps actual kids out of the equation. Hence, robots. It’s child molestation, without the children.”

But just because the idea may be good in theory, she writes, doesn’t mean it could ever be implemented. First of all, current technology just isn’t sophisticated enough to create a robot that “would be a passable substitute for real children”.

Next is the concern that a child sex robot could encourage paedophiles to act on their impulses instead of serving as a safe outlet for them.

“If science fiction has taught us anything, it’s that robots can be evil, but they don’t have to be,” she concludes. “People with deviant sexual desires are the same way. But we’re not going to get anywhere with rehabilitating paedophiles if we treat them like monsters by encouraging them to go at it with weird, childlike sex bots.”

Other commentators are less philosophical about the idea.

“As a mom and a woman I find nothing more vile than child predators and rapists, and even the idea of using metal and silicone computer humans to reform paedophiles upsets me,” writes Eve Vawter for the Mommyish blog. “I’m not sure anything can be used to reform these people, and I have been known to say we should send them all to rat island where they can victimize each other and eat rats.”

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