These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. – Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in Star Wars
I am blessed with a high degree of natural skepticism, and therefore see problems in prostitution-related news stories that most others fail to recognize. Take this story about robotic prostitutes, for example; a number of activists linked or “tweeted” it, but nobody seemed to notice the three glaring errors (and several smaller ones) that render it…well, to be blunt, trash. Those who remember the comment thread from my story of an eerily-human sex robot will already be familiar with the basic and highly flawed premise: that robot women could be competition for real ones to anyone outside a narrow segment of the population, roughly comparable in size to those who prefer animals to humans or those who find “living” in an online world preferable to the real one.
Machines have already changed the face of manufacturing industries, but what happens when prostitutes find themselves replaced by robots? Will machines populate our brothels instead of flesh and blood people? Will the social stigma of paying for sex fade? And how will the availability of robotic sex partners impact countries whose economies depend, in part, on sex tourism? In their paper “Robots, men and sex tourism,” which appears in the current issue of the journal Futures, Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars of the University of Wellington’s Victoria Management School explore how robotic prostitutes could provide a solution to many of the problems associated with the sex trade, namely human trafficking and the spread of sexually transmitting [sic] infections…
Right from the start, these “management experts” demonstrate their shocking ignorance of events in their own country. There’s already a solution to “many of the problems associated with the sex trade” that doesn’t require the invention of electric harlots; it’s called “decriminalization”. As I’ve demonstrated countless times, most of the so-called “associated problems” only exist due to regulation or criminalization, and almost entirely vanish when people are left alone. But the next portion of the article is even more clueless; it imagines a robot sex club in the Amsterdam of 2050 and is based on this astonishingly stupid premise:
…The Yub-Yum is a unique bordello licensed by the city council, staffed not by humans but by androids. This situation came about due to an increase in human trafficking in the sex industry in the 2040s which was becoming unsustainable, combined with an increase in incurable STI’s in the city especially HIV which over the last decade has mutated and is resistant to many vaccines and preventive medicines. Amsterdam’s tourist industry is built on an image of sex and drugs. The council was worried that if the red light district were to close, it would have a detrimental effect on the city’s brand and tourism industry, as it seemed unimaginable for the city not to have a sex industry…
As regular readers know, “human trafficking” is largely a false paradigm embraced by racists, xenophobes and prohibitionists as an excuse to criminalize or pathologize the normal international and intranational movement of migrants, many of whom work in informal sectors. In other words, it’s mostly a “problem” of definition; when a government puts arbitrary restrictions on border crossings and/or defines certain kinds of work as illegal or illegitimate, people who cross borders or do those kinds of work (and those who assist them to do either) are automatically defined as “criminals” regardless of whether there is any exploitation or coercion involved. The only way for there to be an “increase of human trafficking in the sex industry” in any decade is for restrictions on migration and sex work to increase…which is against the dominant international trend. To understand the full absurdity of this scenario, remember that “human trafficking” is just the new name for the “white slavery” hysteria of 100 years ago; then imagine a science-fiction scenario written in 1912 postulating a brothel in Berlin of 1950 staffed by eugenically-bred whores developed in response to an explosion of white slavery and Salvarsan-resistant syphilis in the 1940s. But it gets worse:
…The tourists who use the services of Yub-Yum are guaranteed a wonderful and thrilling experience, as all the androids are programmed to perform every service and satisfy every desire. All androids are made of bacteria resistant fibre and are flushed for human fluids, therefore guaranteeing no Sexual Transmitted Disease’s [sic] are transferred between consumers. The impact of Yub-Yum club and similar establishments in Amsterdam has transformed the sex industry alleviating all health and human trafficking problems. The only social issues surrounding the club is the resistance from human sex workers who say they can’t compete on price and quality, therefore forcing many of them to close their shop windows…
This ridiculous scenario is entirely dependent on not one but two hackneyed examples of prohibitionist propaganda. The first is of course the perennial myth that whores spread disease; as previously explained, STD rates in the developed world are as much as 160x higher in promiscuous amateurs as in escorts, and prostitution accounts for only 3-5% of all STIs. If these academics’ totalitarian utopia was truly concerned about such diseases, it would have to outlaw all sexual activity between humans and install omnipresent surveillance to enforce that law. And there’s a far cheaper and simpler means of preventing fluid transfer between humans than imaginary “bacteria resistant fibre…flushed for human fluids”; it’s called a disposable condom, and it has the additional advantages of being both real and widely available.
The second myth is much more subtle, and you may not have caught it. Prohibitionists (especially those of the neofeminist ilk) are fond of characterizing men’s interaction with whores as “use”; they constantly speak of hookers “selling their bodies” or clients “objectifying” us. But as every one of my readers who has ever participated on either side of the equation knows, this is pure bunk; the vast majority of men who hire prostitutes aren’t just looking for warm holes, but rather interaction with real women. Yeoman and Mars imagine their mechanical sex dolls as “programmed to perform every service and satisfy every desire,” but while the former might be accomplished the latter is a lot more than 38 years away. There is a vast gulf between successful mimicry of casual human interaction in an environment divorced from body language and other nonverbal cues (i.e. passing the Turing test), and a true human simulacrum indistinguishable from a woman in a sexual interlude; those who proclaim otherwise are in the same intellectual tradition as those who predicted flying cars and robot maids by the year 2000. It may be that centuries hence the erotic appeal of synthetic whores will exceed that of human ones, but nobody reading this will be alive to see it.
Furthermore, normal men don’t want predictable, “plastic” interactions with women, and in fact escorts with bland and uninteresting personalities are never as much in demand as those with complex, fascinating personalities. No artificial intelligence can be programmed to merely simulate the nuances of a personality; to pass that test it would need to be endowed with a personality, either by copying that of a human (as in “Ghost in the Machine”) or by creating individual robot brains so complex and intricate they could develop their own personalities (like Rayna Kapec in the Star Trek episode “Requiem for Methuselah”). But at that point we encounter an ethical dilemma; namely, what is a soul? Or expressed less metaphysically, what constitutes sentience and individuality for purposes of determining self-ownership? Any gynoid whose physical form and simulated functions (sweat, tears, scent, epidermal responses, etc) were indistinguishable from those of a human woman, and whose personality was sufficiently unpredictable and unique to pass as that of a woman in the close interaction of a date, would also be sufficiently human to pass any test a court might devise for granting human rights, and would almost certainly be interested in obtaining such. And then we’re right back where we started, except that the “trafficked slaves” would not be people mislabeled as such by moralists who disapproved of their choices, but sentient beings actually and wholly owned as chattel.
One Year Ago Today
“May Updates (Part Three)” comments on a bizarre neofeminist manifesto in The Wall Street Journal; looks at police fantasies about dangerous whores in Johannesburg and Pittsburgh; introduces the podcast Talk Geek To Me; and announces the end of Escorts.com.