Hookerbot 5000 from Futurama

If you’re feeling the pinch of student debt, at least you can comfort yourself in knowing that your money contributed not only to the professional education of innumerable future contract attorneys, but to the overall advancement of legal scholarship. The academy requires those tuition dollars to keep law professors researching and writing for the betterment of all.

And then handing it over to a bunch of apple-polishing 3Ls to validate and publish.

So the next time you get your tuition or student loan bill, ask yourself if funding research on the nature of sexbots is worth it….

If you’re wondering what a sexbot is, you never saw A.I. And that’s probably a good thing. The movie raised poignant and thought-provoking ideas about the nature of humanity and then resolved them all in a trite and uninteresting manner. Anyway, sexbots are, as the name suggests, robots used for sex. In A.I., Jude Law played one named Gigolo Joe.[1]

John Danaher, a law school lecturer at Keele University (which is in the U.K., so the nature of his funding might not be as student-centered as it is in U.S. law schools), recently completed a major scholarly examination of the question: will sexbots increase or decrease human prostitution?

Is sex work (specifically, prostitution) vulnerable to technological unemployment? Several authors have argued that it is. They claim that the advent of sophisticated sexual robots will lead to the displacement of human prostitutes, just as, say, the advent of sophisticated manufacturing robots have displaced many traditional forms of factory labour. But are they right? In this article, I critically assess the argument that has been made in favour of this displacement hypothesis. Although I grant the argument a degree of credibility, I argue that the opposing hypothesis — that prostitution will be resilient to technological unemployment — is also worth considering. Indeed, I argue that increasing levels of technological unemployment in other fields may well drive more people into the sex work industry. Furthermore, I argue that no matter which hypothesis you prefer — displacement or resilience — you can make a good argument for the necessity of a basic income guarantee, either as an obvious way to correct for the precarity of sex work, or as a way to disincentivise those who may be drawn to prostitution.

Well there you go. He also blogged a simplified version of his research. Basically prostitution is going to have a push and pull (heh) effect when sexbots show up, because some people will lean toward the robots with no risk of STDs, and put prostitutes out of business. On the other hand, the availability of sex robots may enhance the appeal of a human sex worker. Indeed, it may be impossible to feel the same feelings toward robots, rendering human prostitution resilient. Which would be good news if you’re looking to score some office supplies.

Now researching hookerbots seems snicker-worthy and a waste of resources, but is it really? Prostitution is a crime, for better or worse. And our prostitution policy affects human trafficking, drug dependency, poverty, and public health. To the extent that anyone sees technological advances in nookie as a solution to prostitution-related ills, someone needs to consider the impact of these bots.

This is the conundrum of funding academic research. For all the easily mocked projects out there sucking up university resources, there’s usually a colorable defense of the scholarship. In this case, Professor Danaher’s work will likely be cited in future discussions over the regulation of sexbots because they are coming (heh). Scientists have already built some models and are working on more because why cure cancer when you can have a literal sex machine?

The fact that a study’s value may not be obvious at first blush doesn’t mean it hasn’t made a meaningful contribution to the broader policy discussion. And that sort of inquiry deserves support.

But why exactly do students just trying to get a professional degree have to be the ones paying for it?

This Law School Professor Believes Robots May Lead To An Increase In Prostitution [Business Insider]



[1] I considered suing Spielberg for stealing my nickname, but I let it go.


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