Every few years I hear a technology pundit predict that in a few years we’ll all have a robot to help with the housework. Strangely, although that day is getting nearer the claims made by those same people are getting less hyperbolic as the years go by. There’s a realisation that there are practical problems with robots, particularly humanoid robots, because of the complex engineering and computing resources required, plus the fact that even the most modern of batteries will not keep a walking humanoid robot going for very long.
So when the Japanese FemmeBot HRP-4C was shown to the world there wasn’t the huge fanfare that used to accompany the appearance of a new robotic research project. You can see her here.
HRP-4C is deliberately female in form and movement. This is an interesting decision because it can be seen as the expression of gender equality in robotic terms or the reinforcement of the female role as subservient to a (male) master. Or maybe the creator had just seen too many masculine robots and thought she should be a bit different. You decide.
Ultimately of course it could be possible that like in many science fiction stories robots could perform many if not all of the functions we and our fellow humans do. If that were the case would they have the same rights as us if we gave them genuine artificial intelligence and more importantly sentience? What about if a bot could have sex and was sentient, would it be able to enter into the same form of relationships, loving sexual and maybe even marital, just like a human? Would bots just go with bots or would humans and bots begin to get it on?
I suppose it depends how you define sentience, intelligence and feelings. To most of us emotions are what make us innately human, how could a constructed mechanism feel in the same way we do? And yet if you take a human as a biochemical machine it too is governed by rules, the world around it and the memories and experiences that we accumulate. Give a bot enough experience and free will and why couldn’t it love and lust as we do.
We could of course use bots as sex toys, which is fine if they are only mechanisms and provide relief for those who need it.
But if they began to feel as we do then we’d be guilty of the worst kind of exploitation.
All that is a long way off yet. The movements are still a little jerky, the battery life is very short and the AI simply doesn’t even approach that required to make a bot into what we would regard as a sentient being.
But it’s coming.