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Whether and how governments regulate sex robots will depend on what we learn – or what we assume – about the effects of sexbots on individuals and society.In 2018, the Houston City Council made headlines by enacting an ordinance to ban the operation of what would have been America’s first so-called robot “brothel.” At one of the community meetings, an attendee warned: “A business like this would destroy homes, families, finances of our neighbors and cause major community uproars in the city.”But dire predictions like this are pure speculation.Humans, of course, can navigate both sexual and nonsexual contexts adeptly. How do we conceptualize and govern a robot that can switch from “play with kids” mode during the day to “play with adults” mode at night?Consumers can order silicone sex dolls from a catalog for a base price of US,150.
Yet the Supreme Court has also held that the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 was overly broad in its attempt to prohibit “child pornography that does not depict an actual child.”Childlike sex robots are robots, not humans.In Alabama, the only state that still has an outright ban on the sale of sex toys, the government targets devices “primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”The problem with applying this definition to sex robots is that the latter increasingly provide much more than sex. They will use self-learning algorithms to engage their partner’s emotions.Consider the “Mark 1” robot, which resembles the actor Scarlett Johansson.Unlike sex toys and dolls, which are typically sold in off-the-radar shops and hidden in closets, sexbots may become mainstream.A 2017 survey suggested almost half of Americans think that having sex with robots will become a common practice within 50 years. DEFINING ' SEX ROBOT' There is no universally accepted definition of “sex robot.” This may not seem important, but it’s actually a serious problem for any proposal to govern – or ban – them.