When Michael Crichton’s futuristic Westworld made its cultural debut in 1973, sex was still an activity of the flesh, and robots were relegated to the realm of sci-fi. It was a simpler time! But the Westworld reboot — premiering on HBO in October — will be unleashed on a very different society. The sex robots causing mayhem in the show’s futuristic wild-west theme park are already very real — and, just as Crichton’s original film imagined, we humans are having a hard time figuring out how to deal with — let alone keep up with — our sexy robot “hosts.”
Here’s the crucial implication in Westworld: Sex with robots is good. Almost too good. Now that we’re discovering this to be true IRL, some scientists have become especially concerned that we might all dive right into a real-life Westworld, given the chance. In an interview with Metro UK on Tuesday, robotics expert John Snell of Iowa’s Kirkwood College argued that robot sex could become so refined that it becomes more appealing than human sex. “Because they would be programmable,” he explained, “sexbots would meet each individual user’s needs.”
Snell is not the only one who thinks so. Visions of robot bordellos, minus the western trappings, were described by researchers at the University of Victoria Management School in a seminal paper entitled “Robots, Men, and Sex Tourism.” Predicting that Amsterdam’s red light district will be filled with android prostitutes, not people, the researchers argue that the futuristic brothels they imagine could become a reality by 2050.
Wary of the implications laid out by shows like Westworld, academics are hoping to erect guidelines for robot-banging before the droids become too sophisticated for our own good. Currently, leaders in the field are debating the ethics of sex robots at the Human Choice and Computers conference in Manchester, England, a meeting centered around the “constantly evolving intimate relationships” between humans and technology. There, they’ll likely address the issue of robot sex addiction — another issue that Snell imagines as a result of superlative robot sex — and whether having droids that can’t refuse our advances will only make the addiction worse.
Teased with promises of gratuitously explicit, HBO-worthy robot sex scenes — Deadline reported that the show’s “background actors” would have to be down for genital-on-genital touching — it’s no surprise that fans have been so thirsty for more leaks from Westworld’s producer J.J. Abrams, desperate to catch a glimpse of the sexed-up, robotic theme park he envisions. What so many of them have failed to realize, however, is that we’re already living in it.