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a robot hand holding a human hand, surrounded by hearts

Illustration by Kaitlin O'Toole

NY Times: Do you take this robot?

January 22, 2019 — 

As the New York Times reports:

We live in an era when rapid advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are colliding with an expanding conception of sexual identity. This comes quickly on the heels of growing worldwide acceptance of gay, trans and bisexual people….

In real life, pioneers of human-android romance now have a name, “digisexuals,” which some academics and futurists have suggested constitutes an emergent sexual identity.

Whether the notion is absurd, inevitable or offensive, it raises more than a few questions. For starters, in a world where sex toys that respond and give feedback and artificial-intelligence-powered sex robots are inching toward the mainstream, are digisexuals a fringe group, destined to remain buried in the sexual underground? Or, in a culture permeated with online pornography, sexting and Tinder swiping, isn’t everyone a closet digisexual?…

Neil McArthur, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Manitoba, and Markie Twist, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, published a paper last year called “The Rise of Digisexuality.” It appeared in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy and was picked up by media outlets as diverse as Vice and Breitbart.

The authors delineated between “first wave” digisexuality (online pornography, hookup apps, sexting and electronic sex toys), where the tech is simply a delivery system for sexual fulfillment, and “second wave” digisexuality. Those practitioners form deeper relationships through immersive technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and A.I.-equipped sex robots, sometimes obviating the need for a human partner altogether….

Their sexuality may seem boundary pushing or deviant. Every advance in cybersex has met with cultural resistance before it became normalized, Dr. McArthur said.

“Each time we have new technologies, there’s a wave of alarmism that follows,” he said. “It happened first with porn, then with internet dating, then with Snapchat sexting. One by one these technologies come along and there’s this wave of panic. But as people start to use these technologies, they become part of our lives.”

 

As CBC’s Spark followed-up:

Neil McArthur is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Manitoba, and co-author of “The Rise of Digisexuality,” which appeared in the journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy.

“Digisexuality is just anytime you’re using technology in sex or relationships,” he told Spark host Nora Young, “whether it’s through Snapchat or Skype, or meeting people online through Tinder or Bumble. Everybody’s more or less a digisexual in this first wave sense.”

Yet, McArthur has observed how digisexuality is also emerging as a sexual orientation due to intense sexual and emotional experiences provided by new advances in robotics and artificial intelligence.

“What distinguishes ‘digisexuals’ as a sexual identity is that they find their connection to their technology to be very close to those sorts of connections that we would make with human partners,” said the professor.

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