David Levy's book is divided into two and unequal parts, both in length and in interest. Most readers, I would imagine, if told that a book was divided into a longer section about future emotional relations between humans and robots and a shorter section on sex with robots would guess that the more interesting would be the latter. For me, at least, the opposite was the case. I was barely able to stay awake while reading the sex chapters, while I found the chapters dealing with potential emotional connections with robots to be fascinating. Levy makes, I believe, a convincing case that robots will play an increasingly important and essential role in human social life. If nothing else, the comparison between pets and robots is telling. There is no question that millions of humans treat pet animals as friends and have strong emotional connections with them. That we will feel similar ties to robots when the A.I. has developed to an extent to make genuine interaction possible seems to me to be impossible to debate. Or, rather, some may debate it, but many others will nonetheless employ robots as companions or more.
Much of the book is dedicated to detailing the reasons why humans and robots will before the end of the 21st century - indeed, Levy believes it will be around the midpoint of the century - humans will fall in love with and have sex with robots. He addresses issues such as the grounds for attachment, the technological hurdles that remain to be overcome, and the status of work on artificial intelligence. The sex portion of the book is a rather dull catalog of the use of inanimate objects to achieve sexual climax. After all these chapters I can't believe that many would have many doubts THAT these things will happen, quite apart from any issues of whether they SHOULD happen.
Curiously and sadly, Levy ducks all the tough issues and questions. In a way, he almost acts as an apologist for human on robot love. But he persistently and doggedly refused to deal with the many troubling moral issues that attach to his subject. This makes what could have been very good book a marginally useful one.
Let me give some examples of the issues Levy simply ignores. In a very few years we will be able to make amazingly complex robots with whom humans can fall in love and even have relationships with. They will be objects of sexual desire. But what of someone who wants a robot made in the image of a 12-year-old girl? Or a 9-year-old boy? Is this something that we as a society will in any way want to permit or tolerate? Will we want to prohibit the manufacture of robots that look like and behave like young children? What kinds of limits will we wish to place on the treatment of robots? What if someone wants to beat and batter their robot? What if part of their sexual desire involves the willful destruction of one? Will we make such things illegal? If so, what will be the punishment? Will it be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony? Will it be treated primarily as an offense towards the robot or as a kind of behavior that could provide a transition to abuse of humans? Levy seems to assume that relations between humans and robots will be unproblematic. It seems to me that they will be enormously problematic and that our interaction with robots - especially if the A.I. gets to the point where robots can be said to be self-aware or autonomous - will generate a host of new and major moral and legal issues. And I think it is a major flaw in any book purporting to deal with love and sex between humans and robots to ignore these tremendously important moral issues.
Levy also ignores other important issues, such as the social and cultural effects of humans effectively replacing relationships with humans with robots. If humans - male and female - turn to robots because of their physical attractiveness, their sexual prowess, and their pre-programmed uncritical acceptance of their human partners, then how will this affect human-human relationships? And what does it say about society that human-human relationships are so unsatisfying that robots could fill a major need. There is a deep sadness to Levy's subject that he as apologist simply ignores.
In short, I feel that this book was a missed opportunity. Levy introduces an important subject, but does not address many of the most obvious and pressing issues surrounding it. The book is very thought provoking because it deals with many societal and technological inevitabilities, but it also skirts a host of issues that will unquestionably arise.