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Art, ethics and the future of sex robots

Aimee van Wynsberghe visited Human Futures on September 6th

2018.09.12 | Miriam Yasmin Tarp Yamil

The exhibition End-User. Photo by Kåre Viemose

The exhibition End-User. Photo by Kåre Viemose

Aimee van Wynsberghe

Human Futures hosted the seminar: Come Closer? Aesthetics and Ethics of Machine Intimacy on September 6th at Kunsthal Aarhus. At the seminar, Keynote speaker Aimee van Wynsberghe, from the Technical University of Delft, presented various perspectives on the topic of sex robots, ethics, and the future of machine intimacy to a both entertained and amazed audience.

Sex robots have often been showcased in the mass media, and mostly in one-sided dystopian ways. Recently, sex robots made the headlines with the disturbing news that users were now able to simulate rape by choosing a specific ‘frigid’ setting in the sex robot. Reality, however, is much more nuanced and complicated. In her keynote, Wynsberghe thematised the problem of de-skilling – the question of whether humans lose basic competences such as sympathy and compassion, while engaging in intimate relationships with robots. Wynsberghe also touched on the problems of security: what happens when the sex robots collect data from their users? Who owns this private and intimate data? And how can this data be used (and misused) by the companies producing the robots?

Two researchers from Aarhus University were also giving their field’s perspective on sex robots at the seminar. Lasse Blond gave a sociological perspective on robots in the context of health care, discussing how robots become part of human social practices. Jacob Wamberg, on the other hand, gave an art-historical view on the depiction of robotic bodies in art, integrating an analysis of Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s exhibition End-User, which can be viewed at Kunsthal Aarhus. Hansen’s exhibition posed a framework to the Human Futures’ seminar at Kunsthal Aarhus, and through her artworks, using VR (Virtual Reality), sculptures and pictures, she gave a sensuous and artistic perspective on the topic of machine intimacy.