December 8th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: After the landslide: the challenges ahead

CULTURE: Dealing girls a raw and racy deal

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Has the Liberal Party any future?

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Can Australia avoid an economic downturn?

WATER: Vehement opposition to permanent water-trade

QUARANTINE: Horse flu inquiry exposes AQIS's abject failure

NATIONAL SECURITY: We have met the enemy, and he is us

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The WHY and HOW of Labor's victory / Now for the Delphic Oracle ...

CULTURE: Dealing girls a raw and racy deal

SCIENCE: People will marry robots, scientist predicts

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Abortion link to pre-term birth and cerebral palsy

MEDICINE: Dolly's creator abandons therapeutic cloning

OPINION: William Wilberforce's lessons for us today

Bad economics (letter)

Ten points for Kevin Rudd (letter)

DLP resurgence (letter)


BOOKS: PRINCE OF THE CHURCH: Patrick Francis Moran, 1830-1911, by Philip Ayres

BOOKS: CONJUGAL AMERICA: On the Public Purposes of Marriage, by Allan Carlson

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People will marry robots, scientist predicts

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, December 8, 2007
Humans will be having relationships with, and marrying, robots by 2050, according to a Dutch academic.

There are plenty of signs of civilisational collapse. They are easy to come by. Here I want to focus on just two, and discuss a recent case in which they converged into one ugly proposition. I refer to the ongoing process of dehumanisation and depersonalisation on the one hand, and the continued sexualisation of every aspect of culture on the other.

Of course, numerous other indications of cultural decline and social suicide can be offered, but these two came together in a recent news item. Either one by itself is a worrying trend, but taken together, they provide another indication that we may be losing our way as a civilisation much faster than we realise.

Dehumanisation and depersonalisation take many forms. Consider just one area: the new reproductive technologies. In the old days there was just one way of having children, and that was the fun way of doing it. Today, there may be 40 or more different ways of producing a baby. Many involve what can only be described as assembly-line production and commodification.

Sexualisation of society

And the sexualisation of society has now reached epidemic proportions. We are simply inundated with all things sexual, and there seems to be no end in sight.

These two harmful trends dovetailed in a recent news headline. The news item concerned a Dutch academic who suggested that soon we will see human/robot relationships, including marriage.

I kid you not. Let me offer a few snippets from the news item:

"Humans will be marrying and having sex with robots by 2050, an artificial-intelligence researcher has claimed. Netherlands university student David Levy, who recently completed his PhD on the subject of human-robot relationships, told LiveScience that robots would become so human-like in appearance, function and personality that many people would fall in love with them, have sex with them and even marry them."

The article continues, "In his thesis 'Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners', Mr Levy argued that psychologists have identified roughly a dozen basic reasons why people fall in love, and almost all of them could apply to human-robot relationships. 'For instance, one thing that prompts people to fall in love are similarities in personality and knowledge, and all of this is programmable,' Mr Levy said. 'Another reason people are more likely to fall in love is if they know the other person likes them, and that's programmable too.' "

He suggests that America may lead the way here (even though it seems to me that Holland would be an equally good candidate):

"Mr Levy said Massachusetts would be the first jurisdiction to legalise human-robot marriage. 'Massachusetts is more liberal than most other jurisdictions in the United States and has been at the forefront of same-sex marriage,' Mr Levy said."

Does this just sound like some nutter offering an extreme scenario, unlikely to even happen? For the moment, yes. But may I remind readers that when marriage was weakened by allowing de facto relationships equal footing, some warned that same-sex marriage would be next.

They of course were mercilessly ridiculed by critics who said this was just such an extreme and unlikely possibility. Today, of course, it has become mainstream around much of the world. So the robot sex and marriage proposal may not be all that far-fetched.

What we are witnessing here is the convergence of two large-scale developments: the continued secularisation of society and the moral suicide of the West, combined with an ever-increasing array of technological and scientific advances.

Now science and technology can be blessings to mankind if implemented and developed in a morally responsible climate. But in an age when anything goes, where absolute morality is scoffed at, and where people increasingly see themselves as the centre of the universe, the new advances are more likely to lead to Aldous Huxley's brave new world than to heaven on earth.

Indeed, we need to be cautious even about those with the best of intentions. Many at the forefront of these scientific and technological advances may say they have the well-being of society in mind. But often these projects aimed at utopia on earth end up otherwise. As Karl Popper reminded us, "The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell."

And if enough people become convinced that heaven on earth includes sex acts with robots, then we have indeed stumbled upon an earthly hell.

- Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures in ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at:

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