Previous attempts to poll public opinion on sexbots have usually asked just several basic questions about whether or not people would have sex with a robot. Scheutz and Thomas Arnold, a research associate at Tufts University, went for a more complex survey by having people rank answers to a wide variety of questions on a 7-point Likert scale with 1 meaning “completely inappropriate” and 7 meaning “completely appropriate.”
The university researchers recruited 57 males and 43 females through the Amazon Mechanical Turk online service in an effort to get a more representative national sampling of the U.S. population. Their work was presented at the International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2016) on March 9.
One of the greatest differences in opinion came up regarding use of sex robots for sex offenders. Women showed disapproval on average by giving an “inappropriate” rating of 3.7 on the 7-point scale, whereas men gave a more favorable “appropriate” rating of 4.88 on average. Men and women also diverged in their “appropriate” versus “inappropriate” ratings for the case of using sex robots to practice abstinence.
On the other hand, both women and men generally agreed that using sex robots was more appropriate than hiring a human prostitute. They also agreed on sex robots being appropriate for use by disabled people and for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
In terms of sex robot form and appearance, both men and women strongly agreed that sex robots should not look like a human child. That finding may reflect general disapproval of pedophile behavior. But more significant gender differences emerged for every other possible form of sex robots presented in the survey. Once again, men consistently gave higher ratings than women to every possible form of sex robots.
Sex robots that look like an adult human received the highest approval ratings from both men and women. Men gave a very high “appropriate” rating of almost 6.5 on the 7-point scale. Women also gave such sex robots a reasonably high rating of almost 5.2.
The adult human form of sex robots was followed in descending order of approval rating by “a fantasy creature,” “any recognizable life form,” “a celebrity” and “one’s current partner.” All those sex robot forms generally received an enthusiastic approval rating of more than 5 from men.
But women gave a much more tepid response with most ratings hovering between 4.5 and 4. The average rating from women even dipped slightly below 4—more disapproval than approval—for sex robots that resembled celebrities. It’s not entirely clear whether the female ambivalence about celebrity sex robots directed more toward Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe character from “A.I.” or the idea of men lusting after robots shaped like Hollywood’s latest female stars.
The differences of opinion were even greater for other possible sex robot forms. Men gave fairly high approval ratings above 5 for sex robots shaped like “one’s deceased spouse” and “one’s friend.” Women seemed to disapprove of such sex robots with average ratings between 4 and 3.It's interested that the incest and pedophile reaction is reflected so strongly, even when the sex partner is a robot, with no genetic relationship, and no real biological age.
Besides the child sex robots, only two other sex robot forms drew universal disapproval from both men and women. Sex robots shaped like “one’s family member” had ratings of 3.3 from men and just below 2.2 from women, which suggests neither gender seems to approve of sex robots resembling siblings or parents. Similarly, sex robots shaped like animals drew general disapproval with an average “inappropriate” rating of 3.7 from men and an even lower rating of 2.6 from women.
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