John Danaher, a Keele University law school lecturer with an interest in the ways human life may be enhanced by robots and the ethics problems that stem from that, published a paper that examines whether sex work might one day be dominated by robots rather than human sex workers.
He also offers this easily understood summary of it for the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies.
The paper lays out two contrasting hypotheses: one in which robots dominate the sex industry; and another in which robot use actually leads to an increase in human sex work.
In both scenarios, Danaher argues, a “basic income” policy would be helpful — either to fund newly unemployed prostitutes or to provide an alternative to people who have lost their jobs to robots so they don’t end up as prostitutes. “Basic income” is an idea that economists have toyed with for years. It’s the notion that the majority of government welfare payments ought to be abolished in favour of a single, unconditional cash payment that everyone gets regardless of their employment status.
So, yes, he’s literally arguing that in the future, sex robots may finally make the case for a basic income scheme:
The displacement hypothesis says sex robots will eventually push human sex workers out of a job. It’s served by two other ideas called “the transference thesis” and “the advantages thesis.” The transference thesis argues that people will successfully be able to project their sexual desires onto robots, or as Danaher puts it, “the fact that there is demand for the former suggests that there will also be demand for the latter.”
The second leg of the displacement hypothesis — the advantages thesis — simply suggests that robots designed for sex work will have advantages over human sex workers. For example, sex robot manufacture is legal in many countries where prostitution is illegal. There are also ethics and health advantages, as sex trafficking and objectification need not be a concern for robots. And as long as sanitation is maintained, STDs would largely not be a concern.
In this scenario, human sex workers — already often the victims of economic dislocation — face mass unemployment. Thus the need for a basic income policy.
The resiliency hypothesis represents the other side of this coin, arguing that human prostitutes are here to stay, regardless of the existence of sex robots. It’s similarly built upon two theses — the “human preference thesis” and “increased supply thesis.” Human preference posits that when we’re given the choice, humans will overwhelmingly prefer a human-on-human encounter to one with a robot. Danaher’s theory is that it’s our “ontological histories” — our inner life and experiences — that make us interested in each other for all reasons, sexual and otherwise. Robots lack this and this simply might be a turn-off/dealbreaker for us.
The increased supply thesis somewhat humorously suggests that there will be a spike in human prostitution because robots will edge people out of otherwise conventional jobs and force them to seek new employment. When people look for new jobs, Danaher writes, they “are likely to be attracted to forms of employment: (i) in which there is a preference for human labour over robotic labour; (ii) with low barriers to entry; and (iii) which are comparatively well-paid” and that “prostitution satisfies all three of these conditions.”
In this scenario, assuming that society will still regard sex work as a bad thing, a basic income would prevent dislocated workers from falling into prostution.
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