Real Life

New 'Frigid' Setting On Sex Robots Simulate Rape, But Can You Rape A Robot?

A recent advert for a sex robot revealed male users can simulate rape by switching to the ‘Frigid Farrah’ setting. But does this legitimise violent fantasies? And could women be the key to ironing out the ethical dangers, asks Anna Silverman

In a world where technology plays an increasingly huge part in our love lives, the next step for some is sex robots, who can make up for a lack of contact and human affection in real life. But last month, when popular robot maker TrueCompanion announced a controversial new setting to its sex robot Roxxxy, called ‘Frigid Farrah’ (where Roxxxy is programmed to say no to hugs and is ‘not appreciative’ to being touched in her ‘private area’), it looked like the murky ethics of artificial intelligence and the rights of inanimate objects had given way to a robot which allows users to simulate rape. But would such a thing have been invented if more women were part of the programming process?

Tabitha Goldstaub, 31, is the co-founder of CognitionX, which aims to bring clarity to the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and she’s on a mission to make sure women are given an equal role in it. Speaking to Grazia, she warns of the dangers of excluding women from a technological revolution that’s happening quicker than anything we’ve seen before.

‘The vacuum of women in the manufacturing of these products risks allowing the next wave of technology to be biased or misogynistic,’ she says.

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Currently only 11 percent of people working in the industry are women. ‘AI needs to reflect the general population, not the male gaze. If there were more women in this industry, it’s unlikely the “Frigid Farrah” feature would ever have been invented.’

TrueCompanion describes the setting as Roxxxy being ‘shy and reserved’ and justifies it on their website with a study by psychotherapy professor Brett Kahr, which found 85% of adults have never shared their deepest fantasies or acted them out. ‘Roxxxy allows everyone to realise their most private sexual dreams,’ they boast. The CEO of TrueCompanion, Douglas Hines, has said he never intended Roxxxy to be a ‘rape robot’ and his aim was to simulate a first date, where kissing is not permitted. But a robot that resists sexual advances could clearly be used to fulfil rape fantasies and, if this is a commercial success, experts fear other companies might make more sophisticated versions.

Sex robot ‘Roxxxy’

More shockingly, sex robots are being designed to look like children – calls have been made for them to be banned in the UK, because it’s illegal to have sex with a child. By that logic, should it not also be illegal to have sex with a robot version of a woman who is not consenting? Alan Winfield, professor of robot ethics at Bristol UWE university, says we need to be careful about how we think of robots and avoid seeing them as ‘just a machine’.

‘It’s about what they represent,’ he says. ‘A fembot is a sexualised representation of a woman which not only invites abusive treatment, but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – so it deepens the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.’

Winfield says if women were in charge, he finds it hard to imagine a sex robot industry existing at all, let alone one where robots come with a ‘rape’ setting. ‘By building gendered robots there is a huge danger of transferring one of the evils of human culture – sexism – into the artificial realm.’

Some argue, however, that sex robots could help prevent sexual violence if rapists have a legal outlet for their fantasies. But the worry is that this could normalise rape culture and eroticise lack of consent. A similar debate hit the headlines this week when a charity came under fire for suggesting child sex dolls should be available for paedophiles, to stop them offending.

‘The concern is that rape enacted on a doll could encourage rape in real life,’ says Kate Devlin, an AI expert who specialises in love and sex with robots. ‘Legally, you can’t rape something that isn’t human, but ethically it has to be examined.’

Goldstaub adds that the only way to avoid perpetuating violent gender imbalances is by introducing more women into the field, otherwise unconscious bias will continue to seep deep into technology.

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