The sex robots that beg you to stop
Posted: 20 July 2017 | By Charlie Moloney
True Companion, a sex robot retailer, claim to have created a machine woman, named “Frigid Farah”, that is programmed to reject users’ advances, a controversial feature which commentators say is intended to simulate rape, as argued in a think piece in the New York Times this Monday.
The Roxxxy True Companion sex robot “helps give men and women a safe and healthy outlet to engage in sexual relations”, according to the company website, where bots are sold for $9,995, and customers can request custom colours and styles for hair, eyes, nail polish, lipstick, and pubic hair.
Some media outlets have suggested that the Roxxxy bots feature artificial intelligence (AI), but there is nothing to suggest this on the company website. The Guardian revealed in April that a sex bot has been created which utilises machine learning (ML) to learn facts about its owner and their preferences, but the Roxxxy bot doesn’t appear to have the same capability.
A bot that is programmed to say no
The “Frigid Farah” model is one of five crude personality types, and five crude stabs at alliteration, the others being: “Wild Wendy”, “S&M Sally”, “Young Yoko” (who we are told is “oh so young (barely 18)” – another highly contentious talking point), and “Mature Martha”.
The website informs customers that if they touch the “Frigid Farah” type model “in a private area, more than likely, she will not be to appreciative of your advance”, implying that the robot will make a show of resistance, either physically or verbally.
The NYT think piece, written by Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, warned that creating a robot which can simulate the conditions of non-consensual sex is to “risk normalizing rape by giving it a publicly acceptable face”.
“Rape is not an act of sexual passion”, Bates said. “It is a violent crime. We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab”.
In an open letter posted today on their blog, the True Companion team state that, “Roxxxy, our True Companion sex robot is simply not programmed to participate in a rape scenario and any suggestion that she does, is pure conjecture on the part of others”.
“When our sex robot, Roxxxy, is using her Frigid Farrah personality”, the post argues, “she provides her opinion or feedback, just as any person would on a date. For instance, you would not immediately passionately kiss a person (male or female) that you just met on your first date. Likewise, Frigid Farrah would also tell you that she just met you if you try to “move” too quickly”.
The post went on to say that, “Frigid Farrah can be used to help people understand how to be intimate with a partner”, in what might be seen as an overly optimistic evaluation of their target audience (or a lie).
The jury is out
The contrast between the stance of Bates and that of True Companion illustrates the fierce disagreement in the public sphere as to whether these robots are masturbatory tools or substitute humans that will fuel rape fantasies.
Kathleen Richardson, director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, told Access-AI that the discussion over whether “Frigid Farah” can be ‘raped’ is a distraction from addressing the “already terrifying” reality of sexual violence against women and children. She urged thinkers in the tech space to take this threat seriously.
“We urgently need more non-porn using perspectives in robots and AI”, Richardson said. “These technologies cannot benefit women if they are connected with fields that dehumanise women and girls (remember all the dolls/robots are primarily of this kind)”.
Jenny Kleeman, the Guardian journalist who investigated sex robots in April, has said on Twitter that the Roxxxy bots could be “marketing puff”. “No one has seen any of Hines’s [referring to Douglas Hines, the creator of Roxxxy] robots since 2010. It’s very unlikely the robot exists at all”.
Douglas Hines showcasing the Roxxxy True Companion in 2010. Credit to Asylum Channel