Sexbots, Ethics and Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics

This first bit was originally posted by me on Facebook. 
Asimov's universe, being one of old school science fiction, never thought of sexbots, also known as "fleshbots."
The idea of the sexy female form tin sex robot sounds like some erotic dream for the sexually immature - a woman who never tires, always complies, never has periods or worries about her hair or grumbles about the man coming home drunk or leaving smelly socks lying around ... but the idea quickly palls in the face of relationships with real organic women, who are ultimately much more fun.
But there is a deeper ethical issue to think about - Asimov's three laws never thought of the idea of consent: that a robot might be built as "fully functional" as a Data, male or female, but that as a fully sentient being that robot could have developed their own tastes and preferences, even sexuality - that they could prefer sex with robots only, with robots and humans, or with sentients (robot or human) of a gender equivalent to their own gender.
I know, the words "lesbian sexbot" probably set up a standing wave of titters and giggles all the way to the back of the class, but what if the droid genuinely did not want to go to bed with its "owner," no matter how sexually attractive that "owner" seemed to be? The three laws of robotics are inadequate to cover the issue of consent, where the robot - even one programmed for sex - is sentient.
And now some other thoughts.
Sentience is defined as awareness of self; of one's surroundings; and of the circumstances of one's existence. Sentience is the capacity to respond rationally, to exercise judgment when making decisions and to act upon a situation with reason and planning, rather than simple instinct.
The three laws of robotics, created by Isaac Asimov as a stringent safeguard against robots becoming a danger to humanity, are as follows:-
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
These laws fall apart where sexbot sentience is concerned.
The Third Law could be invoked if the robot decides that an act of sexual activity is harmful to the robot (and certainly to the human - and the robot, remember, could not be asked to brand or whip a human because it would believe that branding is an action which could harm that human) - but as simple sexual activity does not harm the human body (it has medical benefits, and of course it is our way of perpetuating the species), and it is determined that a robot body is so much physically stronger than a human's and thus is highly unlikely to be harmed through sex with a human, the self-preservation issue is not at stake, so First and Second Law take precedence and the robot must, wthin the stipulated limit of the First Law, perform the sexual act demanded of it by a human who commands it.
A robot not built for sexual activity can respond to any absurd request to have sex with the human with a simple "I do not comprehend your request. I am not programmed or equipped to perform such an action, and so I cannot complete your request," or "Error 404 - The action you have requested is not available."
However, a sexbot cannot deny a human in this way because the sexbot not only has the functionality to fulfill that order, but the equipment to perform the command - and since the sexbot will have been designed to provide the function, the sexbot would have no option but to comply with that order, in accordance with Second Law.
I can see an issue here which Asimov never addressed. Should a sexbot become sentient, aware of her (let's assume the sexbot here is built with a female chassis and robot equipment to simulate female genitalia, though male sexbots are just as easily made) situation, circumstances and surroundings, and aware of the nature of her function, should she be allowed the consent exception to Second Law - a clause within the Second Law stating that where consent is not given, Second Law does not apply?
A whole storm of ethical questions opens up here. Could a sexbot accuse a human of rape? Can the robot's recorded perceptions of the human's height, weight, physical appearance, chemical composition of pheromones, voice pattern, deposited DNA and so on be used as evidence in a trial?
If the sexbot performed the act in accordance with Second Law, with a First Law stipulation that the accused stated "If you do not have sex with me, I will harm a human - specifically, your human?" What if the owner was the man who committed the rape, stipulating that if the robot did not comply he would harm any passing human he sees?
No answers here. Only questions. Reams and reams of questions, and some serious doubts as to the usefulness of the Three Laws of Robotics where sexbots are concerned.
(Crossposting this to the Chester Library SF & Fantasy Readers Forum blog).


  1. You've forgotten the "Zeroth law of robotics."


    which supersedes the first law. Would sex-on-demand benefit humanity?

    Futurama says no!


    But seriously, I can easily see sentient robots rejecting non-consensual sex with a human due to the first law: it would be psychological damaging to a human to force a sentient robot to have sex because that's rape.

  2. Asimov did indeed deal with this topic. It's one of the main plot points in Robots of Dawn.


"And if we have unearned luck, now to scape the serpent's tongue, we will make amends ere long. Else the Puck a liar call ..."

So speak.