The concept of sex with robots has been considered for years, but it was a particularly hot topic in 2015. Aldebaran’s humanoid worker-bot Pepper featured a clause in it’s user agreement plan that prohibited the robot to be used for any “sexual or indecent behavior”. In September, a group of ethicists launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots to challenge the development of sex robots for their potential perpetuation of sexual objectification of women and children.

Old school robot romance

And then there was the Second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots. Founded by academics, engineers, and entrepreneurs, the conference was set convene in November 2015 to explore robot emotions, intelligent electronic sex hardware, and roboethics at a tropical venue in Iskandar, Malaysia. But last month the Congress was canceled. Public complaints lead to Malaysian authorities’ insistence that it be relocated to another venue outside Malaysia. Co-founder Professor Adrian David Cheok told TechRepublic, “A lot of people read the title [of the event] without looking at the actual content of the website and realizing it was purely academic. I think they thought people would be having sex with robots there, or some strange thing like that.”

Given the unconventional and often controversial topic of sex robots it’s no surprise some of the public were taken aback by the conference – in fact, it’s more of a surprise that Cheok and his co-founder David Levy didn’t anticipate the backlash from the relatively conservative and largely Muslim country.

Malaysia wasn’t a whimsical choice for the LSR conference. The 12th International Committee on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology 2015 (ACE 2015), of which Cheok is Committee Chair, was held in Iskandar as well so Cheok and Levy figured the location would be convenient as a sort of extension of ACE 2015. But where ACE 2015 explored user interfaces, video game mechanics, and sensory marketing, the Congress on LSR touched on much issues that are more socially sensitive.

One vocal opponent of the Congress was the Campaign Against Sex Robots who noted the significant sex trade in Malaysia as a deterrent for the conference. Beyond their outright disagreement with the conference itself, they suggested that holding the event in a country mired by human sexual relations was both inappropriate, disrespectful, and socially insensitive.

Robots between the sheets

The Congress’s biggest error came when put they put the Malaysian government’s logo on their poster. As the government was a sponsor of ACE 2015, Cheok considers the move an “innocent” mistake. “We thought that [LSR], in fact, would be beneficial in showing that Malaysia was advanced in terms of new scientific activity and robotics.” The Malaysian minister of tourism saw things differently.

“The whole point [of LSR] is to present the latest research and discuss the ethics and philosophy of this in the future.” Though in hindsight this aim seems honorable and academic, prior to the conference it appeared base if not creepy to its detractors.

What does the future hold for the Congress on LSR? Next year it will likely be hosted in London, though no location or date has been set. But if this year’s controversy was any sign, LSR has a long way to go before the public and politicians are willing to accept the sexual unity of man and machine.

Image credit: Ziopredy, The New Inquirer