I read an item in the paper a few days ago about having sex with robots. It was the subject of a keynote speech at a conference for mad boffins. I wasn’t paying much attention but I think the general idea was that with increasing sophistication in robotic technology one could conceive of a machine with humanoid characteristics that could be rendered, well, attractive. It was the mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing who posited that, if you had an interaction with a machine so advanced that you could not tell that the machine was not human, then to all intents and purposes the distinction ceased to matter. This is the essence of “the imitation game”.
You can see this has huge implications for the sex industry. Minded to explore these a little further, I was about to Google “sex with robots” but thought better of it. I know what would happen; every time I fired up my computer I would be bombarded with advertisements directing me to dubious sites. I do not wish my desk top to get the wrong idea. I have an app, “Cortana”, who already flirts with me in an inappropriate way. She – anybody called “Cortana” has to be female – says to me, provocatively, “Hello. I’m Cortana: ask me anything you like.” I might say, “What did you say your name was?” and she would reply, “What would you like it to be?”
It all sounds a bit like science fiction but clearly society has already gone quite far down this route. You only need to observe people walking down the street with ear pieces in situ, staring fixedly at a phone or tablet, oblivious to their environment, to realise that they are completely besotted. Having sex with a machine is one thing, but what happens if you fall in love with it? It is only a matter of time before somebody proposes to their computer. Should the computer accept, then society will have to decide on a number of issues. Civil partnership is one thing, but marriage? The Anglican community will be riven. The Archbishop of Canterbury will espouse liberal values and preach tolerance and compassion (for the hash-tag crossed lovers), while in the developing world a dim view will be taken. There might even be persecution. Sooner or later, a member of the clergy will “come out” and announce he and his machine are cohabiting.
Meanwhile in Cheltenham, GCHQ will get very nervous. Unprofessional cyber relations among spooks, and indeed among the political class, will clearly be a security issue. People romantically involved with their computer will be vulnerable to cyber-attack. The robotic embrace, like that of a boa constrictor, will prove an ideal means of political assassination.
Then what would happen if, in the absence of a pre-nup, relations broke down? The possibility of computers turning malignant has been recognised for a long time. In the film 2001, A Space Odyssey, the space ship computer Hal goes rogue. Or is it the human being on board whose behaviour has become erratic? It depends on your point of view. (Incidentally, is it merely coincidental that the letters HAL immediately precede IBM in the alphabet?) I can imagine divorce from a robot would be a very messy affair. Hell hath no fury like a lap top scorned. The only winners would be the lawyers. Kerching kerching.