The Congress on Love and Sex with Robots was set to discuss everything human/robot from ethics to teledildonics. Then Malaysian authorities shut it down.
The Congress on Love and Sex with Robots is the brainchild of David Levy (author of Love and Sex with Robots), who specialises in robotics software, and Professor Adrian David Cheok, who focuses on the hardware that will comprise future bots. "I'm developing hardware that would be used in robots that will become our friends and lovers and even sexual partners," Cheok told TechRepublic. In his work, Levy has suggested sexual relations with robots will be normalized by 2050.
The organisers foresee a world of advanced robotic companionship, and are keen to further unpack the many issues surrounding the subject. Their first conference, held in Portugal, drew about 40 participants who presented papers on the issues attendant with humanoid robots and human relationships with them.
Cheok and Levy were also interested in the Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology (ACE) conference, which seemed a natural crossover with their subject. Since ACE was being held in Malaysia this year, they planned the second incarnation of The Congress on Love and Sex with Robots to take place in Malaysia as well. Then Malaysian authorities got a load of the title. According to TechRepublic:
"It spiraled out of control," said Cheok. "A lot of people read the title without looking at the actual content of the website and realising it was purely academic. I think they thought people would be having sex with robots there, or some strange thing like that."
In response to the public backlash, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar ruled the conference illegal and effectively shut it out of Malaysia, which is a deeply religious country. "There's nothing scientific about sex and robots," Khalid announced at a press conference. "It is an offence to have anal sex in Malaysia, what more with robots."
It's not surprising that Malaysians would object to the LSR conference, especially once media-fed outrage kicked in, though it's ironic considering their very real struggle with high rates of actual human trafficking. Perhaps the Inspector-General should get in touch with the Campaign Against Sex Robots, which wants to ban sexbots predicated on the idea that they will dehumanize traditional relationships.
The LSR organisers probably should have rethought the title and location of the conference this time around. Yet the cancellation is a frustrating setback for those who find the field of robot/human study fascinating and also a fast-approaching reality. "The whole point is to present the latest research and discuss the ethics and philosophy of this in the future," said Cheok.
With questions about the place of robots in society fuelled by fears and misunderstandings, it's more important than ever to have a forum dedicated to developing and debating these ideas. Human/robot relations are bound to become a bigger and bigger part of our lives, and the best we can hope for is to examine the issues they raise in advance.
Top image via Leet.org