Monday, April 21, 2008

Sexbots, cyberporn and other wild animals

Some newslets have been discussing for a while that according to David Levy’s book we will all be soon bonding with robots as we bond with humans (and in many cases quite better). But what caught the attention of different publications is the fact that Levy predicts that some (actually a lot) people will prefer robots as sexual partners. We’ll have to read the book to see the whole analysis and the source of its conclusions, but it serves to repeat that according to Levy’s thesis “
Robots will be hugely attractive to humans as companions because of their many talents, senses and capabilities." Given rapid developments in technology, Levy believes that it is only a matter of time before machines will be capable of offering human-like traits. According to Levy, "love and sex with robots on a grand scale are inevitable."
And that “When it comes to sex, robots could soon supplant the original flesh-and-blood human experience”.
As somebody purportedly said, “it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future", but we can easily guess that if only part of what Levy predicts become true there will be plenty of legal issues to write about (taking into account the developments in sexbots we could argue that we are already there and Hajime Sorayama has been producing some really nice art making people to wish for one of those robots).
What will happen if a robot forces sexual intercourse? Will it be rape? The Sexual Offences Act 2003, in its Part 1 Section 1.1 clearly states that “[a] person (A) commits an offence if…”, so it seems clear that a robot could not commit rape. But what about section 2.1 of the same act, which reads “[a] person (A) commits an offence if (a) he intentionally penetrates […] with a part of his body or anything else…”, can the programmer of the robot be charged? In this case, will we have “processor rea” instead of “means rea”?
What about the use of robots to produce pornographic materials and then posting them online? In the case of UK it seems that the the test still will be Section 1 of the Obscene Publications Acts 1959, which says that:

an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article
comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if
taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely,
having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter
contained or embodied in it.

Now, can seeing a robot engaged in a sexual act be categorized as an activity tending to deprave and corrupt? It is important to remember that is has been established by the courts that the test refers not only to the type of material but also to the number of people that might be affected, especially if they are children or youg, and in Internet cases is where Lord Justice Kennedy dictum in R v Perrin [2002] EWCA Crim 747 can shed some light on the topic by saying that “it is precisely the sort of material which some young would seek in the privacy of their own bedrooms and it is they who have to be protected, so far as is possible, by the law”. However, it is not clear what the answer would be in this situation.
Could it be indecent instead of obscene? No easy definition of indecency exists and we could probably still use Lord Reid’s definition presenting it as “anything which an ordinary decent man or woman would find to be shocking, disgusting, or revolting” in Knuller v DPP [1973] AC 435. Indecency is easier to prove than obscenity because there is no defence of public good, there is no need to consider the article as a whole and there is no need to satisfy the "deprave and corrupt" test.There is probably a whole book to be written about the legal issues of sexbots and their use in cyberporn, without even going into what would happen when some weirdo starts using robots to satisfy some paedophilic appetite…

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Back to school (and in Cyberspace)

After more than a month where the million teaching hours, some consultancy preparations and a couple of book proposals (without counting all the references letters that had to be written) precluded me to pay attention to this page, Electro Mate is back like Sarah Green. The teacher that was suspended in January due to a video she made when being a student, which then somebody posted in YouTube and finally was found by her students, has been reincorporated because “there are no grounds for dismissal”. Still, in the digital age you need to be careful what you do, because what it seems funny and cool now may cost you your job when your students years are over but your cybertrail is not…