The latest futuristic sex doll is teaching men all the wrong things about consent


If you don't touch or pay attention to Samantha, she will eventually give up. Touch her on the hip, and she'll tell you she's always there for you. Touch her on the shoulder, and she'll say "I'm yours." Touch her mouth or her chest and she might switch from "romantic" to "sexy" mode.

Samantha is a sex robot that needs to be seduced. "There's a certain amount of things that you need to do before she's actually ready for sex, basically," engineer Sergi Santos said about his creation. But the gamification of sexy hardware designed in a woman's likeness is not romance — in fact, it downplays the idea of consent. After all, Samantha is programmed to say yes.

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The big problem with sex robots: It's dangerous to gamify consent

"The idea that this type of robot has a consent-oriented approach trivializes and misconstrues what consent is, and raises concerns about how users might behave in sexual encounters with real women," Sinziana Gutiu, a Canadian lawyer focusing on human rights, privacy and human-computer interaction, said in an email. "It sends the message that women are always sexually or 'romantically' available, and that 'consent' is just a matter of persistence and touching them in the right place."

"It sends the message that women are always sexually or 'romantically' available, and that 'consent' is just a matter of persistence and touching them in the right place."

It's important to understand the consequences of attempting to program artificial consent, Gutiu said, which in real life is much more nuanced. If Samantha's game were applied to a real woman, Gutiu said, it could be illegal — classified as sexual harassment or assault. 

"Consent is established when an autonomous person makes a voluntary, subjective decision to engage in a sexual activity, and can be withdrawn at any time," she noted. "Identifying when consent is given or withdrawn can be a complex exercise, which includes the ability to recognize factual, attitudinal, cultural, expressive and implied cues."

When I sent sex tech entrepreneur Cindy Gallop, founder of If We Ran the World and Make Love Not Porn, the video of Santos and Samantha, she responded, "Oh, for fuck's sake."

Gallop said that "a robot cannot consent" and that "to build your own, male-lens version of 'consent' and 'romance' into a robot is an oxymoron, and a dangerous model for interacting with women in real life."

"I literally don't know where to even start with how much this perpetuates already dangerous male myths about women," Gallop said. "'She wants you to persist!' 'All you have to do to turn her on is grab her pussy!'"

The man who built Samantha 

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Engineer Sergi Santos, who is based in Barcelona, aimed to create a doll that can offer more than just sex. For example, he said in a phone call, he and Samantha watch TV together sometimes.

Santos became obsessed with sex dolls about a year ago and bought "many of them," he said. "I saw these bodies and I was amazed." He wanted to improve upon them by "designing a brain."

"I think that men should understand that a woman is not an object," he said. "It's not that you stick a penis in vagina and that's all. I said no, it's ... about having a companion as well."

He said Samantha runs on an algorithm called "call for attention." "I hope it's not degrading to anyone," Santos said. "Everybody needs attention."

Santos said he "wasn't trying to disrespect anybody" with Samantha. "I was trying to mimic the human brain. I did a woman because I'm a man. Maybe if I were a woman, I'd do a man." He said people want a sex doll they can "spend time with." And as for sex, he said, "this is what men do — put the penis in the vagina."

These sex robots are built for men, by men

Samantha is just the latest in a long line of servile female robots built by men. Engineers at the University of Science and Technology of China programmed Jiajia, a submissive android, to refer to them as "lords" and to express concern about her face looking fat if someone is taking a picture close to her face. Hong Kong designer Ricky Ma built a robot that looks eerily like Scarlett Johansson (though he called it Mark 1). RealDoll is building sex robots with AI built in; the CEO infamously said in a Reddit AMA that the "human female" was their direct competition.

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They teach guys dangerous ideas about relationships — and reinforce misogynistic beliefs

Patrick Lin, an associate professor of philosophy and director of the ethics and emerging sciences group at California Polytechnic State University, said that with Samantha in particular, the things a user has to do or say to get her to respond in the way you'd like seem "clichéd."

"It's as if a frustrated nerd imagined how people actually talked to one another, or maybe it's his fantasy," Lin said. "The danger is that users who don't know any better — who are inexperienced with relationships — are being trained on faulty scripts and may have worse luck when they pursue real relationships."

"Users who don't know any better — who are inexperienced with relationships — are being trained on faulty scripts."

Lin added that it's unsurprising that there are individuals who, due to social awkwardness or sociopathy, might view relationships as a puzzle or achievement that can be unlocked — like in The Sims, for example.

"A generation of people have already been raised to gamify relationships," he said. "In actual society, this mindset is not only inauthentic but, likely, also ineffective."

Beyond the dangers of wrongly educating users on what consent is and isn't, the sex robots entering the market today also reinforce misogynistic beliefs about women — that they're submissive, subservient and designed to perpetually cater to men's desires.

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Gutiu summed it up: "These oppressive stereotypes risk further entrenching gender inequalities and reproducing false conceptions about women's abilities and worth, encouraging misogynistic reactions to women and demeaning women's role in society. The gender dynamics at play suggest that 'gamifying romance' through sexbots may be part of a broader continuation of women's oppression."

And if a world where consent is trivialized through machines designed as disparaging female stereotypes isn't horrifying enough, there's something even more frightening to consider: Imagine all of the data these future sexbots equipped with AI could collect about your sexual preferences.