Cognitive Daily

Will humans marry robots in 50 years?

The idea of a human falling in love with a creation made of steel and silicon seems rather far-fetched today — even the most “realistic” robots seem more creepy than endearing. But people already do form attachments to their robots. People treat Roombas like pets, and soldiers form strong bonds with their minesweeping robots.

Men have purchased inflatable dolls as sex-toys for decades, and those toys are becoming increasingly realistic. Will artificial intelligence and animatronics actually make these dolls so appealing that people will want to marry them? An MSNBC report cites one scientist who thinks they will:

“My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots,” artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience. Levy recently completed his Ph.D. work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it.

At first, sex with robots might be considered geeky, “but once you have a story like ‘I had sex with a robot, and it was great!’ appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I’d expect many people to jump on the bandwagon,” Levy said.

My first instinct upon reading this is to believe that people won’t get as much satisfaction from such relationships as from “normal” human relationships, but I’m not sure this will be the real problem with human-robot marriage. People need much less feedback in a relationship than you might think. They assign emotions to their pets (and robots) that these creatures simply don’t possess.

I think the much more powerful force rallying against robot-human marriage will be social stigma. Just as sex toys and dolls are hidden in closets and under beds, robot-human relationships will be part of a clandestine subculture. Sure, there will be a market for robot romantic partners, but there will also be considerable social backlash. Even in Massachusetts.


  1. #1 Freud Wore A Slip?
    October 15, 2007

    And women buy vibrators.

  2. #2 HP
    October 15, 2007

    My first instinct on reading it was that it was a lame attempt at making a joke about Massachusetts.

  3. #3 NJ
    October 15, 2007

    …and where is Lester DelRay when you really need him?

  4. #4 MW
    October 15, 2007

    The crack about Massachusetts colors my reception of this scientist’s analysis, though being from Mass., I’m oddly flattered. And we’re a ‘commonwealth’, not a ‘state’. Hu-rumph!

  5. #5 Matu
    October 15, 2007

    I wonder if we’re going to have real AI by 50 years…? In that case, why not? (Except for the obvious reason of no offspring…)

  6. #6 bar
    October 15, 2007

    Fantastic topic, but a bit premature.

    First I would want that my “wife” should pass the Turing test, have citizenship, and I don’t see why she shouldn’t be able to get pregnant. (She could probably create an egg by then, with whatever genetic heritage she wanted.

    Come to think of it, why should such a paragon want to get hitched to me???

  7. #7 P-A
    October 15, 2007

    A few view points, from a non-scientist with no background whatsoever in sociology or psychology. Here is what I believe is necessary for these robots/dolls to fly

    1/ I see the acceptance of “relationship” with robots in countries where religion holds a secondary place in the culture. For instance several countries in western Europe, Japan, China, etc. By this I mean that individual values are less resulting from the local religion than from environmental pressure.

    2/ Difficulties to start relationships: especially in countries such as China (commitment) and Japan (shy). A small portion of the western population would be part of this group, but likely to a lesser extent.

    3/ Culture where challenge in the relationship is not essentional. In most western societies, both members of the coupls are looking for sounding boards, for confidents, for rational and emotional support. In other cultures, the relationship is more based on obligation (deliver child) and less on emotions. In these cultures only, I do see a possibility that the (female first, maybe later male) Doll/Robot replaces the human partner for long term relationships.

    so in summary for consideration: 1/ Religion < --> Value base 2/Difficulties to start/handle relationships 3/Expectations from relationships

    That would put the question of sustainability of the human race an interesting one, doesn’t it? Coping with the lack of new birth would be an interesting issue.


    (blog not in english)

  8. #8 tom B
    October 15, 2007

    I’m guessing in Utah you could have several robots, and some could be underage?


    Another perspective: I suppose followers of Ray Kurzweil could set up a dating service: “Don’t approach the singularity single”.

  9. #9 Der Bruno Stroszek
    October 16, 2007

    For shame! Does no-one remember the SpacePope’s advice on this issue in that episode of Futurama?

  10. #10 LH
    October 16, 2007

    The answer is yes.

    Humans will marry robots, so that robots will marry robots. .

  11. #11 Nick
    October 16, 2007

    Sorry, but this is just isn’t going to happen. Sex, sure. Emotional attachment? Sure. Spending lots and lots of time with a sex robot? Sure. Marriage? No.

    The most that anyone is saying about the human attachment to robots is that it mimics human and animal relations, and as far as I know, even the most optimistic zoophiles don’t expect legalized marriage with animals any time soon.

    And what about consent, contracts, divorce, property ownership, and other legal issues tied up with marriage? Are we really just 43 years from having robots so sophisticated that they can decide who they want to have sex with, sign contracts, hold power of attorney for their spouses, have custody of children, and receive alimony payments after divorce?

  12. #12 Cuttlefish
    October 16, 2007

    She’s my little bit of heaven, even better than real life,
    She’s the version 2.7 motor-actuated wife.
    When I come home from the office, she’s a sympathetic ear,
    With the faintest scent of silicone I catch as we draw near.
    “Here, let me take your papers, Hon, and let me rub your back;
    You must have had a stressful day–come on, let’s hit the sack.”
    Her lips are warm and supple, with a kiss that shows desire–
    A brilliant application of a bit of memory wire.
    She trembles gently at my touch, as strain-gauge sensors feel,
    And as she starts to moan and gasp, you’d swear that she was real.
    But she’s better than a flesh-and-blood–For one thing, she has codes
    Allowing me to choose from seventeen vibration modes!
    She never has a headache; there’s no in-laws to avoid;
    Heck, I’ve never even had the need to change a solenoid!
    She’s my little bit of heaven, even better than real life,
    She’s the version 2.7 motor-actuated wife.

  13. #13 Sanguinity
    October 16, 2007

    Nick, thank you.

    As someone who is fighting for the right to marry my partner, and thus is spending entirely too much time having to deal with propaganda that marrying my partner is equivalent to marrying a dog, I am dismayed that this article is equating our relationships with our partners to affection for Roombas.

    Nowhere does this article, nor the MSNBC article, suggest that in fifty years robots will be capable of being consenting persons with free will. The articles only suggest that robot-simulation of human emotions will be convincing enough that some people will prefer interaction with robots to relationships with people. To say that Massachusetts will legally recognize such a simulated relationship as a marriage, just as Massachusetts has recognized marriage between same-sex partners, is a statement that gays and lesbians are emotionally crippled people who are choosing faux relationships over real relationships.

  14. #14 Gelf
    October 16, 2007

    Agreed, Sanguinity. Invoking Massachusetts is a transparent attempt to conflate this with gay marriage.

    To the religious people who oppose gay marriage, marriage is nothing more than formal permission from God to have sex. Gay people won’t be expecting or asking Jehovah’s approval. Neither will future robo-sexuals (if anyone asks, you’re my debugger). The issue is irrelevant all around from this point of view.

    To the state, marriage is a legal arrangement by which one assigns certain rights and obligations. Marriage reassigns “next of kin” relations for medical and financial purposes and confers property and survivorship rights. Any individual entering into a marriage should be legally competent to fulfill such obligations and must be able to own property. Gay people fill this requirement. Robots and dogs do not, and will not absent a great deal of clever engineering (computer and genetic, respectively). Show me a dog or a robot that can convince a court it is competent to enter into a contract and then we can (and will) worry about whether people can marry them. Don’t hold your breath. As things stand, there is no compelling legal reason to stop gay people marrying or to expect that doing so will lead to people marrying assorted organisms and objects that are not legally competent to fulfill the role of a spouse.

    Beyond the religious or legal definitions of marriage, really there is nothing stopping individuals from staging whatever ceremony makes them happy to wed themselves to robots or dogs or whatever. Not saying I necessarily approve; just that there’s nothing stopping them. The legal definitions are inapplicable, and the religious definitions will not be applied, so neither institution needs to be involved if people want to form a personal commitment to a future talking Roomba with special attachments.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    October 16, 2007

    This is the story which got TR Gregory to stop reading LiveScience.

    This is not science, it is not news, and it is not something I want cluttering up my aggregator feed. So long, LiveScience, it’s been a slice.

    I have to agree: it’s a piece of speculation which is far behind the curve, science fiction without the exploding spaceships. Asimov’s The Robots of Dawn came out in 1983, people!

  16. #16 Dave Munger
    October 16, 2007

    This is not science, it is not news, and it is not something I want cluttering up my aggregator feed. So long, LiveScience, it’s been a slice.

    I have to agree: it’s a piece of speculation which is far behind the curve, science fiction without the exploding spaceships. Asimov’s The Robots of Dawn came out in 1983, people!

    I agree, to a certain extent. That’s why it comes under the “news” rather than “research” heading. But I still think, from a behavioral perspective, it’s not unlikely that people will find themselves in relationships like this by 2050. To a certain extent, they already do.

    Whether these robots are themselves given marital rights is a separate issue, and as several commenters have pointed out, this part of the story does seem rather ridiculous. But depending on your conception of consciousness, the idea of “rights for robots” may seem rather less ridiculous at some point in the future.

  17. #17 Glenn
    October 17, 2007

    It has been posited–by medical/scientific researchers–that in the not too distant future, humans will be able to “download” their consciousness into an artificial construct. For all intents and purposes, this construct could be called a “robot”. Due to advances in miniaturization and a goal of creating more life-like prostheses, in 100 years such a robot may be indistinguishable from a “real” human. Either way, mustn’t a consciousness that began life as a human still be considered human regardless of where that consciousness now resides? Wouldn’t such a medical advance be a good thing? as would an artificial heart? or an artificial hand or eye?

    A lot of people would like to “live” forever. If all it would take is a steady supply of replacement parts, then who has the right to say that their definition of “life” is the only correct one? (Answer: every self-righteous, holier-than-thou bastard you can imagine)

  18. #18 Amy
    October 21, 2007

    I think it depends on the sophistication of the robot. If eventually there are robots with unique personalities that are pretty much indistinguishable from humans, why wouldn’t there be human-robot marriages? Was it really odd that Data had some romantic relationships during Star Trek’s run?

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