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Sex Robots Will Destroy Us

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We’re not kidding with this title. Catholic Answers Director of Publishing, Todd Aglialoro joins us for a conversation about the role sex robots could play in the destruction of civilization. Warning: this conversation includes a strong defense of Christian teaching on sexuality.


Cy Kellett:
We really need to talk about the danger posed by sex robots. Todd Aglialoro is next.

Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. And today, we talk about a looming threat, and let me warn you right from the beginning. This conversation is for mature audiences, because we’re going to talk frankly about sex. Specifically, we need to talk about the future of sex, because without sex, there is no future. And human beings are quite frighteningly moving away from having sex with one another. In fact, technologies are on the very verge of solving, we might say, the problem of sex and it turns out, if you solve that problem for people, society comes to an end. Here’s Todd.

Todd Aglialoro, Director of Publishing here at Catholic Answers, thanks for being here to discuss this serious topic with us.

Todd Aglialoro:
Great to be here, Cy.

Cy Kellett:
You framed this in a way that I have not heard anyone else frame it before, as an actual threat to civilization, and you say, “Well right here, in our county, here in San Diego, they’re developing technologies that pose a threat to human civilization,” you think, “Well, is it General Atomics he’s talking about? Is it some kind of weapon?” But no. Up the road from us, not very far from here is… I don’t know who’s the best in the world at this, but obviously a very successful company that makes sex robots.

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah, it’s a mile from my kids’ school, and-

Cy Kellett:
Does it say something on the outside, like-

Todd Aglialoro:
… they’re on the cutting edge. I’ve never actually gone by the physical location, but I’m aware that they’re there. And yeah, they’re an industry leader in this technology.

Cy Kellett:
That’s the word I was looking for, industry leader. So are they really a threat to society? Are you sincere when you say that?

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah. Because it kind of comes off as a flippant thing to say maybe at first. And perhaps, it’s possible to say so flippantly in a whistling past the graveyard tone, but I think yes. I think if we take as a principle that the family is the basic unit of society, and that as the family goes, so society goes, and as conjugal life goes, that is the sexual relationship between a husband and a wife, so goes the family. Because all those things are intertwined, and in as much as this growing technology threatens to do great harm to conjugal life, it will do harm to the family and thus the society.

Cy Kellett:
I guess in thinking about this conversation, I thought about would this be the completion of a kind of technological destruction of sex that’s been going on for a while?

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah. There’s kind of a continuum there, isn’t there?

Cy Kellett:
It seems like it to me. Even if you think about well, the media side of it and then the chemical side of it, with the contraceptive pill, abortifacients and all those kind of things, the rise of the internet. There’s a secular movie that I think was quite successful that I was reading about, about young men who can’t enjoy sexual intercourse with women, because they’re so addicted to the internet pornography. So I’m not making this up. This is out there, so-

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah. To your last point, it’s no coincidence that our porn-saturated age is also an erectile dysfunction medication-saturated age.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, yeah. Right.

Todd Aglialoro:
And this is something that’s widely recognized, I believe. But as to the first part of your question… First part of your question was?

Cy Kellett:
Well, I was talking about the pill, and [crosstalk 00:03:59]-

Todd Aglialoro:
Oh, sure. The continuum, thank you.

Cy Kellett:
… there’s kind of a continuing arc that we’re… This would be the final piece I guess, in a wall that’s being built between us and sex.

Todd Aglialoro:
I don’t pretend to be a comprehensive historian of the Sexual Revolution and all the parts. But I think one doesn’t have to be to see the connections. We’ve taken something that has a certain integrity to it, the sexual act, the marital act is an integrated whole with personal self-giving between husband and wife on the natural level. On the natural level also as the procreative act. And then on the spiritual and even sacramental level, as a sign of the love between Christ and his church, and all the sacramental significance of marriage, of which the marital act is a kind of meta-sacrament, in a way. It expresses in itself the fidelity and the exclusivity that commenced at the marriage vow.

Cy Kellett:
It just seems to me, anybody listening to this who’s not Catholic, and I hope there are many listeners who are not Catholic or Christian, or raised in what to us would seem a very desensitized, secular world, say, “That’s nuts. What are you talking about? This is just a natural human hunger. It’s like you get hungry, you got to eat. You get aroused, you get a robot. What’s your problem?”

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah, and it’s funny. Of course, we hear that a lot, that the sexual urge is not different than the urge to sneeze or to defecate. And yet, at the same time, with the other side of their mouths, those secularists and those sexual revolutionaries tell us that it’s the church that degrades sex, that it’s the church that thinks sex is dirty, and that the sexual revolutionaries want to liberate that from the low place that we have accorded it, when of course, the reverse it exactly the truth. And this is hardly my invention, but Catholicism recognizes the full beauty of human sexuality within its proper marital context, and it’s the revolutionaries who want to drag it down into the mud.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. Okay, and part of the way to drag it down into the mud is to I suppose compartmentalize it, as merely a physical urge, without all of that other romance and enchantment, and all that?

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. We’ve compartmentalized it in numerous ways, and we’ve compartmentalized each piece of it, and we’ve disintegrated. So we talked about integration a few minutes ago, so we’ve disintegrated the procreative aspect of the marital act through artificial reproductive technology.

Cy Kellett:
Right, right.

Todd Aglialoro:
Through surrogacy, through viewing children and even gametes as commodities. We have compartmentalized and separated out the natural pleasurability of the marital act with pornography, with [inaudible 00:07:17] and that sort of thing. And we’ve compartmentalized the… which is slightly different, the interpersonal aspect of sexual self-giving and through anonymous hook-ups, the Tinder culture, the kind of “Love the one you’re with,” mentality is an attempt to kind of distill into an essential drug the pleasurable, whether they be physically or emotionally pleasurable aspects of it and disconnect them from the whole.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. Okay. So we mechanized the whole thing, and we separate it out into its parts. I suppose this would fit in with the modern mentality of efficiency is better than… The highest good is efficiency. So let’s efficiently take care of sex as if it’s some kind of problem. Can you imagine a time, and is this part of your conception of the sex robot industry as actually dangerous to the future of society? I mean, if you consider where we were 50 years ago with technology, and then you extrapolate that 50 years forward, just in your imagination, 50 years forward, you can actually imagine we’re not very far away from perfecting robots as quite lifelike and capable.

Todd Aglialoro:
Oh, yeah. We’re there. Or I shouldn’t say we’re there, because it’s a continually developing technology. But I think back to what Margaret Sanger said when she was founding the Birth Control League, which became Planned Parenthood in the 20s, I guess. And it’s often credited to her that she was kind of crusader to rescue women from having nine children, and she had an unhappy childhood herself, so you can psychoanalyze her on that. But she also is quoted as saying things to the effect of, “The highest thing about sex is the pleasure that it gives a man and a woman.”

So she was interested not just in controlling birth and limiting family size, but in isolating that. So we got contraception out of that, because she was a legal and technological trailblazer in giving us that. Divorce, this goes back to our continuum, right? Divorce has been part of that, and that’s a way of teasing out the personal satisfaction and empowerment part of a sexual relationship from its natural connection to lifelong fidelity and exclusivity.

We’ve teased out the procreative part not just through contraception, but through abortion, which is kind of the fail safe of contraception. And on the pleasure side, we’ve developed ever-increasing ways of delivering images and sounds and moving pictures to titillate people’s imaginations. Now, we’re marrying… Pardon the unintentional pun. We’re marrying that technology of titillation and we’re using all the media that we have at our disposal with a physical component, with a tactile component. And I’ve seen the Benny Hill jokes from the 60s. There were blow-up dolls, and that sort of thing.

And I guess in Japan, there’s a tradition of having a kind of pillow with a picture of a woman printed on it-

Cy Kellett:
Really?

Todd Aglialoro:
… that men actually have relationships with, and they form emotional bonds with. That’s not quite the same thing, but-

Cy Kellett:
A whole new image of Japan in my mind.

Todd Aglialoro:
I know. And Japan, I don’t pretend to be an expert, but they’re a forerunner on the death of sex.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. Right.

Todd Aglialoro:
And so now, we’ve reached the zenith or the apotheosis, I’m not sure which, of this connection of all of our technological tools to deliver largely to men, but sometimes to women the closest thing to a virtual, full-on sexual experience without the need to commit, without the need to buy somebody breakfast in the morning, even.

Cy Kellett:
Without any need at all. In a sense, this progress brings us full circle back to Roman slavery, in a sense. I mean, you have someone entirely at your disposal. It’s not a someone though, but entirely at your disposal. I don’t know, but it feels that way to me, that-

Todd Aglialoro:
Yes, and I think one corollary or one piece of fallout, and I’d like to talk a little more about that in a second. But piece of fallout that we may see from the habituation of using these things is not a decrease in the use of people in this way, but a habituation to using people in this way. And it’s an old lie that indulging pornography, even some claim indulging pornography with virtually created minors, for example, I think there was a court case about this.

Cy Kellett:
There was, yeah. The court got it wrong, I think.

Todd Aglialoro:
Yes, I agree. That it would prevent people who had pedophilic urges from acting out on them. But everything we know about human nature and now-

Cy Kellett:
That’s not how we work.

Todd Aglialoro:
… I have a great deal of experience, that’s not how we work, no.

Cy Kellett:
That’s not how we work. It’s like eat sugar every day, and that’s going to get me over the sugar thing. No, it’s not. It’s going to make you a sugar addict.

Todd Aglialoro:
And we have all kinds of records in the annals of sexual criminals, and it wasn’t that they didn’t use enough pornography, that that sated themselves-

Cy Kellett:
Right. Well said, yeah.

Todd Aglialoro:
… it’s the pornography was a ramp-up to viewing people in that way.

Cy Kellett:
So you’re saying, “So here’s the young man 50 years from now who as an adolescent maybe gets exposed to what is essentially a simulacrum of a human being who is entirely at his disposal, entirely a creature kind of, for his use. Now this person at 25 is going to become a husband and a father?

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah, that’s good. And we’re already seeing the line between fantasy and reality blurred in a million ways for pornography users. And I think back to an article I read, it may have been in the New Yorker, about this burgeoning sex doll/sex robot industry. And the journalist went to the home of someone who is not only a business owner in this, but a client shall we say, as the old [crosstalk 00:14:27]-

Cy Kellett:
I’m not just the president, I’m also a member.

Todd Aglialoro:
And he was introduced to the doll. I think they had breakfast with it.

Cy Kellett:
Oh! That’s really heartbreaking, in a way.

Todd Aglialoro:
It is. And the author remarked how he patted it on the behind and didn’t feel self-conscious about it in any way, and how he was surprised at himself how quickly just in the way that he immersed himself in this story for a few days or weeks of researching it found himself treating it in this quasi-human way. And I think it only stands to reason that if that becomes habitual, it will impact your relations or your lack of ability to have relations.

So here we get to the nub of it, that as the technologies improve, as the experience gets more realistic, we’re going to see a magnification of the phenomenon that we’ve seen with pornography and with other substitutes for conjugal relationships that we’re seeing in places like Japan, and even in this country. We’re seeing sexual activity among teenagers has decreased. Now, maybe some of that is due to [inaudible 00:15:56] chastity programs and that sort of thing. But there’s also a kind of weariness in younger people. There’s a weariness with the whole world of Tinder now. That seems to have lost some steam. And so, if you could have someone that’s almost like a person without any of the work that goes into it, you’re not only going to seek out real people to have intimate relationships with, why bother marrying?

Cy Kellett:
Why? Right.

Todd Aglialoro:
And that is where, when you reach that kind of critical mass… We’re already in a state now of marriage rates having dropped off a cliff.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, right.

Todd Aglialoro:
This is something many observers have noted, and-

Cy Kellett:
And if I may, listening to what you’re saying, it just sounds terrifyingly prophetic, but many young men today have to recover from what they were exposed to as 12 and 13-year-olds, and then lived with from that age until they’re in their mid-20s. They have to actually recover from that in order to be able to be husbands. When I was a kid, they invented the Walkman. This was before your time, probably. You don’t remember the Walkman?

Todd Aglialoro:
Sure. I remember the Walkman. Cy, give me some credit here.

Cy Kellett:
You were just a child. You were a little baby. But they used to say, “Don’t turn it all the way up, because later in life, you’ll have bad hearing.” Well now I’m approaching 60, I have bad hearing. Still at 15, you have to turn it… It’s Joe Jackson. You have to turn it all the way up, right? You’ll have these teenagers who will go for the most extreme sexual experiences with a robot partner, and they will be damaged by it, and they’ll have to recover from it in order to have the basic, normal things, which is friendship with women and marriage and children.

Todd Aglialoro:
Right, so two things. One that’s kind of a canary in the coal mine for us, so we’re reaping what we sowed there now, or we’re at the point of evaluating the results of the experiment, because men and women of marrying age now, probably about for the first time, are graduates of the internet porn culture.

And it affects not only their pleasure sensors, their ability on a purely physical level to be aroused, but also their ability to engage interpersonally with someone of the opposite sex. But it teaches them norm for sexual activity that are not consonant with the give and take of a marriage that includes a sexual relationship, in a marriage. It teaches them norms of selfishness. It teaches them norms of seeking an ever more extreme or exotic sexual experience in order to keep the pleasure flowing. So we’re observing that now, and as the father of two daughters, it’s a concern of mine. Because this is mostly a male problem still, though not exclusively.

Are they going to be able to meet men who don’t have that damage in their past? Now, there’s healing that can occur, and we all know those stories. We’ve published books about those stories here at Catholic Answers. But now you fold in this trump card, this nuclear weapon of this high point of technological achievement, where you’re marrying the whole porn ethos to a virtual experience. And I’m telling you Cy, what they’re doing with the abilities of these dolls not only to feel lifelike when you touch them and to have warmth and to have a skin-like texture to their silicone bodies, but to respond using artificial intelligence to the way that they’re treated-

Cy Kellett:
That’s the thing, right. And we’re so susceptible to things like facial expressions and the interactions. When a machine can do that-

Todd Aglialoro:
Oh, yeah.

Cy Kellett:
I’m helpless against that.

Todd Aglialoro:
Have you ever yelled at Siri? We-

Cy Kellett:
Never. No, Todd. I would never.

Todd Aglialoro:
We talk to our digital assistants like they’re people. What seemed like the Jetsons or Star Trek five years ago, 10 years ago-

Cy Kellett:
I know, right.

Todd Aglialoro:
… is perfectly normal for us now, and it’s not a great leap to patting a doll on the behind, and thinking it’s a person, to thinking, “Oh, when I do this or when I say this, or when I brush the doll’s hair in this way or other things, I’m going to get this kind of a rise out of it.” And oh my gosh, especially for the male linear, fairly constant touch-oriented sexual drive, the woman’s being somewhat more complex, but this is one reason why the porn industry caters to men so much because of the way that we’re wired.

That’s going to have 10 times the effect in 20 years, and I think maybe that the teenagers and the college students who become hooked on pleasuring themselves through the porn culture may graduate to the doll. And you know what? Then they get the biological urge down the road maybe to be a father or be a mother, well then, you can go to the other side of the technological coin, and then you get one whipped up for you.

Cy Kellett:
Right. Build that however we do that now, however it’ll be done 50 years from now. You may not even have to carry a child in the womb anymore, and then the whole thing becomes a machine.

Todd Aglialoro:
It’s like so much science fiction, isn’t it? And there’s been dystopian movies and novels about this. And we’ve entertained them and we’ve said, “Oh, that’s an interesting thought.” But we’re on the cusp of it, man. We’re on the cusp.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, and that’s why I’m glad that you actually have taken this seriously, and voice a warning about it. Because there is a tendency, you know? Someone goes, “Oh, when they perfect those sex robots, that’s the end of society, that’s the end of us,” to go, “Yeah, you’re right.” But to not think deeply enough about it to go, “Well, that’s actually not an exaggeration.” That is the end of society, if we become committed to mechanically solving what is not a problem, but what is in fact a great good.

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah. And the key again is the integration. And I wrote about this quite a bit in my little book on marriage, 20 Answers: Sex and Marriage, or Marriage and Sex, rather because marriage comes first. Answering the very first question what is marriage and what is sex, and there are multiple dimensions to both. And of course, they’re intimately connected with one another.

And the connection between sex and conjugal living with a spouse and a society is one that in our atomistic drive to individualize everyone, we have an almost diabolical urge to eradicate. But there are real and important links between our natural sex drive, which is wholly natural, all the way through our sacramental and spiritual marriages with our spouse, and then family’s the way we belong and relate to one another. And the way that in our belonging and relating, we belong and relate on larger and larger levels, it’s all intertwined. And sex is at the very core of it, or it’s at the very foundation of it. And this is why we’ve reaped so much misery in the wake of the Sexual Revolution. And with each of watershed mark of that revolution’s progress, the damage gets greater and greater.

And this technology that we’re talking about is so insidious in the way that it promises to fix almost every drawback to the old substitutes for marriage and for sex and for relating, especially as the artificial intelligence aspect of it, the responsiveness of it. So there’s the physical touch parts of it, and that’s improving too. But to have these tools, these devices respond to you as if they were humans, that’s it. That’s the singularity for the Sexual Revolution.

Cy Kellett:
That’s it. That’s a great word, that’s singularity. I think we’ll leave it there. I have a million more questions. I feel like we should maybe do this again sometime, as I process it. But I think you just articulated it so well there, I don’t want to add to it. Is there anything that you want to add to it before we go, or?

I mean, that last thing you said about the artificial intelligence, the robot will only ever be able to respond to the human as a machine, but the human will respond to the machine as a spiritual creature. And what’s the ultimate tragedy is to fall in love with a machine, because your spirit then has been utterly deceived.

Todd Aglialoro:
Yeah. No, that’s a really good way of putting it, and as we noted a few minutes ago, that’s going to have repercussions on the way you deal with real people. So if I were to anything briefly, it would be to exhort all Catholics and Christians and people of good will to oppose these things.

We’re not powerless. As these technologies grow, we can exert political influence to get the factories and the dealers of these things away from where we live. But more importantly, we can strive and be ceaselessly vigilant, rather, in the way that we raise our children and the way that we relate to one another to emphasize and to ground especially, our children, in that integrated vision of human sexuality, as a kind of preventative measure. That’s really the best thing we can do at this point to forestall, perhaps even avoid the disaster that may come.

Cy Kellett:
Thank you, Todd.

Todd Aglialoro:
Thanks, Cy.

Cy Kellett:
I suppose the tendency when we talk about pornography and the rise of these new technologies with which people will satisfy themselves sexually is kind of nervous laughter, and “I want to look away and move on and maybe not talk about those things,” but we can’t do that because they’re becoming a threat. I mean, the first layer of threat is the individual who gets trapped in these things and suffers because they get trapped, suffers the loss of the interpersonal which is what we’re made for. And gets drawn into a life that is really not worthy of what that person is made to be. It can’t satisfy that person.

It can’t make that person happy, and it doesn’t comport with the dignity of someone who’s made in the image and likeness of God. But the other tragedy could be a global tragedy, that is the loss of our civilization, the loss of our society as really we move away from marriage and family, those things that are fundamental and necessary. And I can tell you even maybe 100 years ago, there wasn’t a sense in the world that people will get over marriage. They’ll get over having sexual intercourse with one another. They’ll move onto other things. But today, we can see 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years in the future a world in which sexual intercourse is a problem that has been solved. And once that problem is solved, we are in big, big trouble. Hey, we’d love to hear from you. You can always email us, [email protected] is our email address. [email protected] If you’re watching on YouTube, we’re growing on YouTube, and it’s because you’ve been kind enough to like and subscribe.

If you haven’t liked and subscribed yet on YouTube, please do that. And wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever else, if you will just subscribe there, you’ll be notified when new episodes are available. We do need your support and you can always support us. Just go to GiveCatholic.com, make your donation there, and you can make a comment there too about why you are supporting us. It’s always helpful to us to hear. Maybe tell us what you’d like to hear in the future. That’s at GiveCatholic.com. I’m Cy Kellett. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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