Slavoj Zizek on sexbots and rights

by | April 24, 2018

Slavoj ZizekSlavoj Zizek is a Slovenian cultural critic who has been described as ‘the most dangerous philosopher in the West’. Last week he penned a lengthy op-ed for Russia Today asking – ‘Do sexbots have rights?’. His piece is in response to the recent and very controversial proposal of the European Union to grant robots ‘personhood status’. As Zizek correctly points out, it legislation appears to be a sleight of hand effort to introduce a law that would effectively ban sex robots in Europe.

You can read the full article here and here’s a snippet below :

Although these ideas are just a specific application of a proposal for the EU to impose the basic “rights” for AI (artificial intelligence), the domain of sexbots brings out in a clear way the implicit presuppositions that determine such thinking. We are basically dealing with laziness in thinking: by adopting such “ethical” attitudes, we comfortably avoid the complex web of underlying problems.

Indeed, the initial suspicion is that the proponents of such demands do not really care about the AI machines (they are well aware that they cannot really experience pain and humiliation) but about aggressive humans: what they want is not to alleviate the suffering of the machines but to squash the problematic aggressive desires, fantasies and pleasures of us, humans.

This becomes clear the moment we include the topics of video games and virtual reality: if, instead of sexbots – actual plastic bodies whose (re)actions are regulated by AI, we imagine escapades in virtual reality (or, even more plastic, augmented reality) in which we can sexually torture and brutally exploit people – although, in this case, it is clear that no actual entity is suffering, the proponents of the rights of AI machines would nonetheless in all probability insist on imposing some limitations on what we, humans, can do in virtual space.

The argument that those who fantasize about such things are prone to do them in real life is very problematic: the relationship between imagining and doing it in real life is much more complex in both relations. We often do horrible things while imagining that we are doing something noble, and vice versa. Not to mention how we often secretly daydream about doing things we would in no way be able to perform in real life. We enter thereby the old debate: if someone has brutal tendencies, is it better to allow him to play with them in virtual space or with machines, with the hope that, in this way, he will be satisfied enough and not do them in real life?

Further resources :

Wikepedia page of Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek Amazon page

EU draft resolution on robots and personhood

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