12th IFIP TC9 Human Choice and Computers Conference Takes the Theme of  Technology and Intimacy: Choice or Coercion?”

Robots and sexuality will come under the microscope at the 12th IFIP TC9 Human Choice and Computers (HCC12) Conference at MediaCityUK in Salford, Greater Manchester from 7-9 September this year.

The conference, which will be the first to explore how technology is influencing the ways in which humans create and express intimacy, will feature a keynote by Professor Charles Ess from the University of Oslo on: “What’s love got to do with it?  Robots, sexuality, and the art of being human”.

IFIP TC9 is the group focused on Social Accountability and Computing within IFIP, the global professional association for the ICT sector. HCC12 Program Committee Chair, Dr David Kreps of Salford University, said the event will consider the latest research and theories about how humans engage with robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other forms of technology to explore issues of intimacy and sexuality.

There are strong arguments on both sides. David Levy’s 2008 book, “Love and Sex with Robots” suggests that humans will fall in love with and even marry social robots in the not too distant future.  Robotics ethicist, Kathleen Richardson, is campaigning to ban sex robots because she believes these kinds of robots are potentially harmful and will contribute to inequalities in society.

Dr Kreps, who wrote a 2013 paper entitled, “Performing the Discourse of Sexuality Online”, believes there is a world of difference between the picture painted by science-fiction and the reality we face today.

“You have to ask the question – how genuinely human can any robot ever be?” he said. “Love takes two people – it’s about human beings. A very large part of the physical and chemical connection between humans relies on eye contact and you’re never going to experience that with a machine, no matter how much AI there is.”

Dr Kreps said new advances have increased the level of intimacy in which human engage with technology.

“Increasingly, we can wear technology to monitor our health or enhance access to information, we engage with social media in a highly personal nature and can even implant technology devices in our bodies to track movement or communicate. Sex robots are simply another way in which technology is being developed to enhance pleasure,” he explained.

“There are genuine and real concerns about the oppression of women in the porn industry and some suggest that the use of human looking robots as sexual tools might encourage men to treat women in a similar way. I think this stems from a misconception of what these robots are since they can’t replicate the level of eye contact or intimacy that is possible with a human. However, it’s important to explore and debate these issues.

“A key consideration with all these more intimate applications of technology is that humans understand the implications of their involvement, such as who might access or use the data being collected about them from wearable devices, and have given their consent for that.”

Dr Kreps said many people today share intimate details of their lives on social media or post video of themselves on dating sites. “The kind of chatter that used to be shared just with close friends or family is now being harvested online by global corporations and used to target us with advertising – that’s the level of intimacy that technology has established.

“Add to that the global availability of online porn and the use of social media and dating sites to make connections and engage in sexual discourse, and it’s clear that technology is both enabling and shaping new forms of intimacy and sexual expression. And those are definitely issues worth discussing,” he said.

The 12th IFIP TC9 Human Choice and Computers (HCC12) Conference will take place at MediaCityUK in Salford, Greater Manchester from 7-9 September 2016. For more information or to register to attend, visit http://hcc12.net/