Are sex and intimacy intrinsically related? The proliferation of virtual relationships is changing traditional perceptions of desire worldwide. In Japan, a low birth rate is raising serious concerns over whether virtual partners are replacing relationships between humans altogether and, in Barcelona, a sex doll brothel has recently opened.

The ability to separate emotional pleasure from physical pleasure in virtual relationships is an ethical minefield. On one hand, sex robots could potentially reduce crimes such as rape and human trafficking, but, on the other, they could lead to the further objectification of human beings or skewed attitudes towards consent.

Our panel of specialists, digital culture expert, Trudy Barber, and Reader in Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI, Kathleen Richardson, will examine the possibility that virtual and human relationships could exist side-by-side in modern society, or whether the rise of the sex bot will change the face of human sexual relationships forever.

About The Speakers

Trudy Barber

Trudy Barber created the UK’s first immersive Virtual Reality Sex environment during her undergraduate Fine Art Degree in 1992. She lectures and write on various aspects of Digital Culture and her specialist subject areas include cybersexualities, deviant leisure and theories of love and attachment. She has lectured and broadcast worldwide for over 25 years on her interests.
Photo by Russell Squires.

Kathleen Richardson

Kathleen Richardson is a Reader in Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI. In 2015 she and her colleague launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots to draw attention to problematic effects on new technologies on human relations, and their potential impact to create new layers of inequalities between men and women and adults and children. Richardson is developing a theory of robotics and AI inspired by anti-slavery abolitionist feminism.

About The Chair

Oliver Balch

Oliver Balch is a UK-based writer and journalist. He is author of Viva South America!, India Rising and Under the Tump, all published by Faber. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian and is currently completing a PhD in Latin American Studies at Cambridge University. He lives in Hay-on-Wye.