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How Do We Regulate Artificial Intelligence? Seriously, How?

In general, I don’t pay much attention to doomsayers who claim the end is near and we should all cower, tremble, and give them our credit card number. Don’t get me wrong. I still believe there are serious existential threats facing humanity today. Some are worth taking seriously and dedicating resources to addressing. Others are not. Some simply require a more balanced perspective.

There’s a long list of failed apocalyptic predictions. The fact we’re surviving and thriving by most measures shows just how resilient, adaptable, and capable humanity is. There are some threats that I believe humanity will eventually resolve, thanks largely to our accelerating progress in science, technology, and logistics.

Others, however, have me more concerned. While some are more immediate than others, one in particular continues to confound me, as well as some of the smartest people in the world. It involves artificial intelligence, an emerging technology that’s as promising as it is unpredictable. Given the complexity of this technology, it’s difficult to explain in totality, but it can be best summed up by one simple question.

How do you regulate artificial intelligence?

That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s not a thought experiment either. It’s a serious, honest question that people far smarter and far more capable than me are just starting to ask.

Elon Musk is one of them. Very recently, he called for more regulation on artificial intelligence. That, alone, should be both telling and worrying. This man is a billionaire. Usually, billionaires are more inclined advocate removing regulations. Whenever they make an exception, that’s a sign they know it’s serious.

Even though Musk is one of the top advocates for solving big problems with technology, he still has concerns about the problems associated with artificial intelligence. In AI circles, it’s often called the control problem. It’s not a very creative name, but it gets the point across.

How do you control something that is potentially as smart, if not smarter than a human?

How do you manage something that thinks, adapts, and evolves faster than any machine or living thing?

How do you regulate an artificial intelligence that was built by humans, but isn’t at all human?

These are all difficult questions to contemplate, let alone legislate. Even Musk doesn’t provide specifics. Chances are he doesn’t know any more than the rest of the non-billionaire population. That’s a problem because if we’re going to try and regulate this technology, we need to understand it. On top of that, politicians and lawmakers have a long and embarrassing history of failing to understand technology.

However, this isn’t just about writing laws that protect citizens from being exploited by tech companies. Artificial intelligence, especially the kind that exceeds human intelligence, has capabilities that go beyond sending text messages from bathroom stalls. If handled improperly, it wouldn’t just be an existential threat. It could destroy humanity in ways we literally cannot contemplate.

Now, I try to be an optimist in most things involving emerging technology. Humanity has found a way to manage dangerous technology before, namely with nuclear weapons. However, artificial intelligence is a different beast entirely. Regulating it isn’t as easy as simply controlling the materials that make it. The very concept of regulating this technology lacks precedent.

The closest we have to date is Isaac Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics, which were introduced in 1942. Asimov was a brilliant writer and very ahead of his time on some concepts, but this is one issue where we need more than just three simple tenants. We need to think bigger and bolder. If we don’t, then an advanced artificial intelligence will quickly leave us behind.

After that, it won’t matter what kind of regulations we try to pass. It’ll be smart enough to circumvent them. That doesn’t mean humanity is doomed at that point, but we’ll be distressingly vulnerable. I know it’s in our nature to procrastinate on things we don’t see as vital, but if ever there was an issue to make an exception, this is it.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, philosophy, technology, Thought Experiment

Laws Regulating Sex Robots: A First Draft

Sex robots are coming, literally and figuratively. That’s not just a bit of dirty innuendo from someone who often writes sexy stories around it. That’s an objective fact. Bill Maher’s recent rant about it was just the latest. Rest assured, there will be more.

There will be a lot of doom-saying and fear-mongering. There’s already an organized campaign against sex robots. That’s to be expected. There’s always that kind of rhetoric when new technology or trends emerge. I’m old enough to remember when parents, politicians, and pundits thought TV was going to ruin an entire generation. If someone told them about social media, they might have had a heart attack.

As sex robots get more advanced and become more mainstream, expect to hear from those same people. They’ll bemoan how this latest trend will destroy the culture. Unlike jazz, rock music, Elvis’ hips, MTV, cartoon violence, and marijuana, this might actually do it. If I could write that with any more sarcasm, I would.

As annoyingly absurd as these comments are sure to be, I don’t deny that sex robots raises some serious issues. I’ve covered a few of them in discussing this issue. I’m sure there are plenty more that I’ve yet to explore. In the meantime, I’d like to try and confront some of those concerns that I’m sure the doom-sayers of the near-future will bring up.

Technology progresses rapidly, but the law rarely keeps up. Given how many laws there are regarding sex, some more archaic than others, it’s inevitable that sex robots will be subject to some form of regulation. It’s hard to contemplate how far that regulation will go. Some might go so far as to try and ban sex robots altogether. I doubt that will ever fly, if only because there’s way too much money to be made.

Even if sex robots are illegal, they’ll still arise. Human beings are just too horny, too lonely, and too greedy to ignore their potential for ever. For that reason, I’d like to propose a first draft for appropriate regulations regarding sex robots. Now, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not at all qualified to make legal arguments.

However, someone will have to take this seriously at some point. When it comes to a technology as disruptive and groundbreaking as sex robots, we need to be proactive. As such, here are my preliminary laws for the regulation, sale, and use of sex robots. If anyone has any ideas to tweak or add to them, please present them in the comments.

Also, if you’re a lawyer or a lawmaker, please take this seriously. Do not let the discussion be guided by the same people who claimed Elivs’ hips would ruin America’s youth.

Law #1: The law shall hereby distinguish sex robots from sex dolls insofar as a sex doll is considered a sex toy, and subject to all current laws governing their sale, but a sex robot is classified as a robot with measure of intelligence that is designed specifically for engaging in sexual activity with another person.

Law #2: No individual under the age of 16 shall be permitted to purchase a sex robot.

Law #3: The production, sale, and distribution of sex robots shall be subject to common industry standards that are to be agreed upon by all producers and subject to approval by the courts.

Law #4: The production, sale, and distribution of sex robots that resemble children or individuals of a pre-pubescent appearance is illegal and shall be punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Law #5: The production, sale, and distribution of sex robots that facilitate the act of rape, assault, or coercive conduct against another person is illegal and shall be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Law #6: The production, sale, and distribution of sex robots programmed to cause serious harm, injury, or death to a person is illegal and any person, persons, or organizations that create such items are henceforth liable.

Law #6: The production, sale, or distribution of sex robots designed to resemble a specific person without their explicit consent and/or fair compensation is illegal.

Law #7: It is unlawful to engage in sexual activity with a sex robot in a public area or any area that would constitute a disturbance of the peace. Violators will be subject to local ordinances governing indecency.

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Filed under sex robots, Thought Experiment

Should Teenagers Be Allowed To Use Sex Robots?

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There are certain products and activities that society prohibits from teenagers. For the most part, there’s a reason behind that. Teenagers are young, inexperienced, and not mature enough to handle certain things. It’s not an insult, although I don’t blame any teenager for taking offense. It’s just an acknowledgement that most young minds aren’t ready to process the adult world.

That said, things get exceedingly tricky when sexuality enters the picture. Unlike smoking, drinking, or wanting to drive a car, sex is an innate desire that every teenager is wired to seek. You don’t need peer pressure, subversive advertising, or heavy metal music to make a teenager think about sex. Chances are they’re already thinking about it. For parents and teenagers alike, it makes for many awkward conversations.

Pictured are two people who do NOT want to have that conversation.

Thanks to the hormonal onslaught of puberty, a teenager’s sexuality is often in a state of chaos. They have thoughts, feelings, and desires they don’t entirely understand. Their bodies are changing and they’re just trying to keep up. On top of that, the most common refrain from parents and teachers is to repress all those feelings and shame anyone who doesn’t.

It’s an awkward situation, to say the least. I’m not a teenager or a parent, but I think most would agree there’s a lot of room for improvement. Improving comprehensive sex education, providing accurate information, and helping teenagers develop a mature understanding of sexuality will go a long way towards this effort. These are all things we can and should be doing now.

However, what happens once sex robots enter the picture?

It’s a serious question. While I’m sure it’ll elicit awkward laughter from some, I believe this issue is worth contemplating. As I’ve noted before, sex robots are coming. I know that’s a poor choice of words, but it’s true.

Some models are already available for purchase. While nobody will mistake them for actual people, the fact you can buy one today shows the market is there. Sex still sells and, like cell phones before it, the technology will improve. Even if we’re decades from something as lifelike as the model in “Ex Machina,” we’re not that far from something that provides realistic sexual experience.

While there will be plenty of adults who celebrate this technology, as well as a few who condemn it, what will it mean for teenagers? Will they be allowed to legally purchase sex robots? Even if they cannot purchase one, will they be allowed to use one? If not, then how will we go about policing it?

These are relevant questions and the answers don’t entirely depend on logistics. As I noted before, society prohibits teenagers from doing all sorts of activities. There are legitimate legal, social, and even medical reasons for these prohibitions. There are serious, long-term harms associated with teenagers who smoke and drink alcohol. For a healthy society, these prohibitions make sense.

With sex, it’s a lot trickier. While there is some research to indicate that viewing pornography affects teenage sexual behavior, it’s not as conclusive as the harms of drug addiction. Some of those harms have more to do with stigma and poor sexual education than the content itself. Once sex robots enter the equation, though, things get even more complicated.

Porn, for all its quirks and kinks, is a fantasy on a computer screen. A sex robot is a tangible, human-like figure that people can interact with. On top of that, if the robot has a human-like measure of intelligence, it can also provide a realistic sexual experience that the user can share. Robot or not, this experience can be as intimate and satisfying as anything someone might experience in their personal life.

For teenagers, as well as their parents and teachers, this creates both opportunities and risks. Let’s say, for instance, that sex robots are legally accessible for any teenager who wants one. These robots look and feel like any other person. They have a measure of intelligence that allows them to interact and form healthy, beneficial relationships with teenagers.

In this environment, every teenager has a sexual outlet, no matter how awkward or unattractive. They have a sex robot who can provide them companionship, teach them about their sexuality, and even help them learn what they want in an intimate partner. Maybe they even help teenagers struggling with their sexual orientation gain a better understanding of who they are.

Since these are robots, the risks of pregnancy and disease is not an issue. If these robots are sufficiently intelligent, they’ll be capable of guiding teenagers through their sexual maturation, regardless of gender, orientation, or disposition. Instead of hearing some teacher or parent just lecture them on all these awkward issues, they have a chance to experience it first-hand.

For parents, I imagine I’ll still be distressing to think about their teenage son or daughter having sex of any kind. Whether it’s with a person or a robot, it’s going to cause plenty of stress. That’s unavoidable, no matter how much the technology matures. At the same time, sex robots could ultimately be the safest and most satisfying way for a teenager to learn about their sexuality.

The ultimate sex ed teacher.

All that said, there are risks. In a perfect world, sex robots would ensure that every teenager navigates their adolescence with the benefit of a fulfilling, mature understanding of sexuality. Everyone from the most attractive athlete in high school to the ugliest kid in neighborhood enjoys intimate, satisfying experiences through these sex robots. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.

There’s certainly a chance that sex robots could lead to potential harm, which would only be compounded for teenagers. In some situations, sex robots could cause certain individuals to dissociate themselves from other flesh-and-blood people. They may ultimately prefer the company of their sex robot over anyone else, including close friends and family.

This could lead to an entire generation of men and women who reject relationships with non-robot partners, intimate or otherwise. They would see sex with other people as this needlessly complicated, needlessly risky endeavor that offers few benefits. Beyond stagnating the population more than it already is, it could make people more distant from one another than they already are.

On top of that, there could be issues with the sex robots themselves. Ideally, every sex robot would be calibrated to foster healthy attitudes towards sex, intimacy, and relationships. Since computers are rarely perfect and prone to glitching, it’s a given that a sex robot will malfunction at some point. What will that do to the teenager who uses it?

In that case, a faulty sex robot fosters some very unhealthy attitudes in a young, impressionable user. If it’s not caught in time, this person could grow into someone with a very skewed understanding of sexuality. That already happens today with teenagers who are poorly educated on sex. With sex robots, the problems could escalate quickly.

Then, there are the parents, teachers, and authority figures themselves. This is one aspect of sex robots that might be the most difficult to contemplate. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the adults of the world decide that teenagers shouldn’t use sex robots for the same reason they shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. That may just be the path of least resistance at first.

Where would you put the warning label?

At the same time, it’ll be adults who program, sell, and regulate sex robots. Who’s to say that they’ll do so in a way that has the best interests of teenagers in mind? If anything, people will be more tempted to use sex robots to exert a measure of control over teenagers that even more powerful than controlling their cell phone.

Perhaps parents in religious communities configure sex robots specifically designed to mold their teenagers’ sexuality to their liking. That means anything that may involve homosexuality or bisexuality would be strongly discouraged, shamed, or conditioned. The harm that would do to a teenager is difficult to quantify, although we do have some clues.

There could also be parents who don’t have healthy attitudes about sexuality themselves. Perhaps parents in abusive relationships program a sex robot to reinforce those relationships to their children. From their perspective, they’re not trying to harm or mold their teenager’s sexuality. They’re just conveying what they think is normal.

The (possible) future of normal.

There are probably plenty more risky scenarios I could contemplate. I’m sure those reading this have already imagined a few that I cannot put into words. Whatever the possibilities, the question remains. Teenagers are already thinking about sex. In every generation in every time period, part of being a teenager means contemplating sexuality and dealing with sexual urges.

It’s impossible to overstate just how impactful sex robots will be to society, sexuality, and how people relate to one another in general. Like it or not, teenagers will be affected. Sex robots can certainly do plenty of good. For some, they may be therapeutic. For others, they’ll be disruptive. For teenagers, it could be all of that and then some.

It’s difficult to say, at this point. It’s even harder to determine whether permitting teenagers to use sex robots will do more harm than good. One way or another, teenagers will continue thinking about sex and it’s still going to be awkward for them. No amount of technology will ever change that.

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Filed under futurism, human nature, psychology, sex in society, sex robots, sexuality, Sexy Future

Abortion Restrictions, Personhood, And The Difficult (And Absurd) Implications

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Imagine, for a moment, that an armed government officer shows up at your door and points a gun at your head. The officer informs you that for the next nine months, you will be injected with a generally non-fatal strain of flu that’ll make you feel tired, sore, and occasionally nauseous. Then, after that nine-month period is up, you’ll be given an infant child that you are henceforth responsible for.

Failure to comply with any part of that request will result in you or anyone who assists you going to prison for an extended period. You can protest it all you want. There’s no getting out of it. The government agent keeps the gun pointed at your head the entire time and if you want to avoid breaking the law, you just have to endure.

What I just described isn’t a perfect parallel to the strict abortion law recently passed by Alabama, but it helps illustrate what women are facing in light of such laws. While other parts of the world are liberalizing their abortion laws, certain parts of the United States are going in the other direction. However, the Alabama law represents a new extreme.

Now, even though I’ve discussed abortion before, I want to reiterate that I don’t like talking about this issue. It’s not because I’m a man or because I’m inherently skeptical of movements tied to organized religion. This issue affects everyone, regardless of gender. The principle alone of forcing someone to endure nine months of bodily rigor makes it relevant.

It’s for that reason that I tend to favor the pro-choice side of the debate. There are too many real-world examples of the dire consequences of a society where abortion is outright banned. I singled a former communist country one whose policy is quite similar to that of Alabama’s. However, my feelings on this issue go beyond just the consequences of these restrictive laws.

Even if I agreed with the idea that life beings at conception, I would still be in favor of keeping abortion legal in most cases. I just can’t support an effort that involves the government holding a gun to the head of women and their doctors, prohibiting them from making choices about their health and their bodies.

Now, I already know how the pro-life crowd will respond to that sentiment. They’ll point out that if life truly does begin at conception, then abortion is murder, by default. I’ll even concede that their reasoning isn’t entirely flawed. A fertilized embryo has many of the defining traits of biological life. It even has many traits we associate with personhood.

This idea that a fertilized embryo is a person makes up the bedrock of pro-life arguments. It’ll likely be the argument that’ll likely be used, should abortion access become an issue for the Supreme Court, which many pro-life groups are banking on. Considering how religious and logistical arguments rarely count much in a courtroom, this is their best bet.

There are a many flaws in the pro-life arguments, some of which I’ve touched on before, but this is the one I want to focus on because it’ll likely be cited more frequently as the debate intensifies. I believe that if abortion is ever banned in the United States, it’s because the law will recognize a fertilized embryo as a person.

However, with that distinction comes many implications, some of which lead to unavoidable inconsistencies. As the late George Carlin once so brilliantly illustrated, inconsistencies tend to reveal absurdities. To highlight just a few, here are just some of the questions that we’ll have to answer if we determine a fertilized embryo is a person.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then at what point do identical twins become two individual persons?

This question has implications of its own. Part of the principle behind saying life begins at conception is the idea that when the sperm and egg meet, it combines to create a unique strand of human DNA, which constitutes human life. That sounds good on paper, but when identical twins enter the picture, it breaks down.

Identical twins, by definition, have the same DNA. At some point during gestation, they split into two individuals. At what point does that occur? By what basis are they distinct? If the answer to that is arbitrary, then how is saying life begins at conception any less arbitrary? Once personhood status is granted to a fetus, this will be something the law and doctors will have to answer.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then does one that fails to implant on a woman’s uterus count as an accidental death under the law?

This happens to every sexually active woman, regardless of whether they’re in a monogamous marriage or working in a brothel. Even if an egg gets fertilized, it doesn’t always implant. The reasons for this are many, but if a fertilized egg is a person, then that still constitutes a death. As such, it would have to be treated as such under the law.

Most women don’t even know that a fertilized embryo has failed to implant. Most just end up getting flushed down a toilet, as part of their menstrual cycle. Under this legal definition of personhood, though, there’s no difference between that and flushing a live infant down a toilet. Given how Susan Smith was convicted of murder when she drowned her children, will other women face a similar sentence?


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then how does the state go about monitoring sexually active women to determine how many deaths occur because implantation did not occur?

This ties directly to the previous question. As soon as the law determines that an embryo is a person, it suddenly has a daunting challenge. It must now monitor and document every sexually active woman very closely to see how many fertilized embryos pass through her system, if only to determine how many deaths occurred inside her.

Even with advances in medical technology, it requires a level of invasiveness that even the most totalitarian state in the world can’t administer. There are over 150 million women in the United States. Is the government really equipped to monitor the activity inside every one of their wombs without breaking some very significant laws?


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then wouldn’t any woman who had a miscarriage be subject to manslaughter laws if her actions indirectly caused it?

This has already come up in a few states with restrictive abortion laws. Women who have suffered miscarriages are already being investigated as criminals. Ignoring, for a moment, the difficulty of determining whether a woman intentionally caused her miscarriage, look at it from a personal perspective.

A woman just suffers a miscarriage. She is likely distraught, distressed, and physically weakened. Now, government agents are going to treat her like a criminal and possibly prosecute her for a crime. While manslaughter is not on the same level as murder, it’s still treated as a crime and people do go to jail for it.

That means, for embryos to be considered persons, it must also be necessary to put women who suffered a miscarriage in prison. I don’t think even the most ardent pro-life adherent can comfortably stomach that.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then would that person be legally culpable if a woman suffers complications during the pregnancy and dies?

This is somewhat a reversal of the previous question. There are occasions where pregnancy actually leads to a woman’s death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 700 women die every year in the United States due to complications during pregnancy. In the cases where the infant survives, are they somehow culpable?

If an embryo is a person, then their actions can’t be entirely distinct from that of any child. There are cases in which children get convicted of murder and are punished for it. Even if an infant cannot have intent or malice, their presence inside the woman is still the cause of the complication. That means manslaughter or wrongful death could be applicable.

I know there’s plenty of inherent absurdity in the notion of prosecuting an infant for the wrongful death of his or her mother, but if they’re going to be defined as a person, then that includes the same rights and responsibilities. To do otherwise would just be inconsistent and require the same arbitrary distinctions of which pro-life individuals are so critical.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then would that person be culpable in the event that an identical or fraternal twin dies in utero, as can be the case in Vanishing Twin Syndrome?

A lot of things can happen inside the womb during gestation. Twins are just one of them, but there are instances where the presence of another fetus causes one to die or become unviable. Regardless of whether it involves an identical twin or a fraternal twin, the legal implications are the same. One person has died while the other has not. Like any other person, it would have to be investigated.

It could be the case that one infant hogged nutrient, causing the other to starve to death. There are also cases in which one twin will absorb the other. Technically, that would make the other baby both a cannibal and a killer. It would have to be investigated and prosecuted as such.


I concede that some of the scenarios I’ve described are absurd. That’s my underlying point. If the pro-life movement gets its way and fertilized embryos are treated as legal persons, then that has consequences that are logistically, legally, and morally untenable.

The bigger picture surrounding these questions tends to get lost among those who simply call abortion murder. However, if those same people got their way, then they would be unable to avoid these questions and their consequences.

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Filed under abortion, gender issues, political correctness, sex in society, women's issues