IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2016 - 52

a human being belongs to another whatever in
spite of being a man, he is a piece of property, i.e.,
a tool having a separate existence and meant for
action [[2, p. 65, 1254aI], my emphasis].
However, rather than see the contemporary development of robots as akin to Aristotle's slaves, I want to
suggest that Aristotle's view of persons as property is
driving robotics today, enabling researchers in the field
to make a case for robot rights and machine ethics.
These views are supported by neoliberal capitalists,
who want to create new markets, but keep coming up
against difficulties called Human Rights. There is a widespread movement today, to have a free market in all
areas of life, even if this includes the sexual exploitation
of children and organ harvesting [36], [40].
For neoliberal free market proponents, laws restrict
the capacity of markets to develop. This is why the language of decriminalizing prostitution is so frequently
framed in neoliberal language of "free choice," and
"agency," but this agency is detached from any sociopolitical context of power and inequality [62], with
some claiming it is feminist to be a prostitute and/or
employed in the pornography industry [63]. As an
aside, Aristotle also promoted rules for being a "good
slave," and it was not enough that one was subjugated. One also had to embrace that subjugation. Extending rights to machines has the potential to reduce the
idea of what it means to be human, and to begin to
redefine the human as an object, as Aristotle thought
of his slaves.
As David Levy himself has explained (as cited in [44,
p. 15]), prostituted humans are not very good at showing their enjoyment in the act, and he has proposed this
as a reason for robot prostitutes:
More obvious reasons why the robot experience
will be more appealing than visiting a prostitute
include the utterly convincing manner in which
the robots will express affection and other emotions, simply because their emotions will be programmed into them, to be part of them, instead
of being make-believe affections acted out by a
prostitute with little genuine enthusiasm for the
need to convince [44, p. 15].
If we consider this proposition seriously, even Levy is
acknowledging that a non-reciprocal and non-empathetic encounter takes place between the buyer and seller of
sex. The seller of sex cannot accurately convince the
buyer they are genuine, suggesting instead that the
"make-believe" actions of the robots could be "programmed into them." The ethical model underscoring
Levy's promotion of sex robots is dangerously

52

disturbing. What Levy ignores is that prostitution relies
on having those with power view those without power as
objects of their sexual gratification, which means the
real experience of the human Other is not considered in
the encounter. In the sex-buying encounter, the seller is
expected to become something they are not, to switch
off their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations temporarily through the encounter. As the buying and selling
of sex involves more than one person, if one gives over
their body to another there is no amount of money that
can compensate for it. Subjectivity is non-negotiable
and present in every human being, which makes us
inherently different from things, robots, and AI. According to Levy, a robot prostitute by contrast would show
the buyer that they are valued and adored. The robot
prostitute will cater to the buyer's every need, which is
what a prostituted person is expected to do in the selling of sex. The proposal is that males can be gratified
exclusively in the way they desire without any concern
for reciprocity and a mutual empathetic relationship.
This logic only makes sense if someone believes
humans are things, and if they think instrumental relationships between persons are positive with no resulting
impact on social relations between persons.
We should contextualize sex robots within the context
of a wider attempt to build machines as companions. The
robot is imagined to become a direct-object of an interaction, but humans are not machines and cannot engage
with their full humanity when confronted with a machine.
Only when confronted with another human can we experience our humanity, our identity, and our mutuality as
enshrined by the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

Author Information
Kathleen Richardson is Senior Research Fellow in the
Ethics of Robotics, Centre for Computing and Social
Responsibility, G5.33 Gateway House, The Gateway, De
Montfort University, Leicester, LE1 9BH, U.K.

References
[1] United Nations, "Universal declaration of human rights," U.N. General Assembly, 1948.
[2] Aristotle, The Politics, T.A. Sinclair, trans., rev. and re-presented by
T. J. Saunders. London, U.K.: Penguin, 1992.
[3] G.T. Barker, C. Ricardo, and M. Nascimento, Engaging Men and
Boys in Changing Gender-Based Inequity in Health: Evidence
from Programme Interventions. Geneva, Switzerland: World
Health Organization, 2007.
[4] BBC, "Oxfam says wealth of richest 1% equal to other 99%,"
[Online] Jan. 18, 2016.; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35339475,
accessed Mar. 6, 2016.
[5] H. Belting and E. Jephcott, Likeness and Presence: A History of
the Image before the Era of Art. Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press,
1996.
[6] D.B. Davis, "Slavery and human progress", New York, NY: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1984.
[7] J.J. Bryson, "Robots should be slaves," in Close Engagements
with Artificial Companions: Key Social, Psychological, Ethical
and Design Issues, 2010, pp. 63-74.

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

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june 2016


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