Science fiction has long dealt with the subject of robots, love and marriage. Sometimes, as in the works of Asimov, the stories are quite serious.
Sometimes, as in the movie Heavy Metal, the stories are intended to be humorous. In 2007 David Levy’s book Love and Sex With Robots was published and stirred up the discussion once again.
Levy puts forth the hypothesis that someday humans will marry robots. This is something that has been discussed over the years in science fiction and does raise various philosophical concerns.
Discussing marriage is a rather problematic thing. There are, of course, the obvious emotional issues regarding marriage which makes it a subject that many find difficult to discuss rationally. There is also the more philosophic problem that arises because the concept of marriage itself is rather controversial and difficult. The following discussion will try, in a small way, to sort out robot-human marriages.
The legal question is easy: the legality of human-robot marriage will be whatever the law states. Currently, tradition and law tend to forbid humans from marrying non-humans. As such, in most cases laws would have to be changed to allow humans to marry robots. But, this is something for lawyers, judges and lawmakers to hash out.
The philosophical aspects of the matter are, of course, rather difficult. In something as short and informal a s a blog, I can only broadly paint some of the issues and concerns.
One important matter is the definition of marriage. If we take marriage as being between two humans, one male and one female, then robots cannot marry humans. Of course, this view of marriage would also prevent humans from marrying aliens. While this is not of concern now (or so it seems), humans might one day encounter a compatible species or species and desire to marry. Hence, this definition of marriage seems a bit too narrow.
One way to approach the matter of who should be allowed to marry is to consider the purpose of marriage. Obviously, this varies from person to person.
Some take the purpose of marriage to be the production of children. Humans and robots cannot produce children naturally, and hence on this view they cannot marry. Of course, on this view anyone who cannot have children or does not want to have children would also be forbidden to marry and this seems to be unfair. Anyone who wishes to take this view would need to provide a convincing argument as to why everyone who is married must have children and why those who cannot or do not want to have children must not get married (or must divorce if they are married now). Good luck with that.
Some take the purpose of marriage to be an expression of love between two people. In order for robots to marry humans, they would thus need to be people and be capable of love. However, the love requirement for marriage would also prevent many human marriages. People often marry for reasons other than love. If robot-human marriages are to be banned on this basis, then human-human marriages would require a love test as well. If it is merely a matter of saying the words, then robots could pass the test. If the existence of a true and metaphysical love must be proven, then no one would be able to pass the test. The person requirement does seem to be reasonable, though. Perhaps it is better to turn away from the purpose of marriage and instead focus on whether a robot can be the sort of being a human should marry.
So, the question is: can a robot be the sort of being a human should marry? Interestingly, a similar question can be asked about humans. After all, people ask themselves: “is she the sort of woman I should marry?” What then, is the sort of being that a human should marry?
One basic requirement would seem, as noted above, to be being a person. After all, toasters and Xbox 360s are not the sort of things that people marry. They are, after all, things and are not capable of entering into the sorts of relationships that serve as the basis for marriage and they are not people.
Of course, many people fail miserably at providing the sorts of relationships that should be the basis of marriage. As such, the requirements for marriage will have to be kept fairly low. Unless, of course, we want to take steps to eliminate low quality marriages across the board. This might actually make the world a happier place.
So, if a robot can be a person and meet the minimal marriage requirements, then it would seem that robots could marry humans.
There is also a further consideration. A modern view of marriage is that those involved should comprehend the situation and be able to give their consent to marriage (the “I do” thing). Of course, human-human marriages do not always involve these two elements. Arranged marriaged and forced marriaged have long been practiced and do not involved consent. Sometimes they involve children who do not comprehend the situation. However, from a moral standpoint, these two factors seem imporant in distinguishing a marriage from the mere acquisition of property (which is how some marriages actuall are).
So, for a robot to enter into marriage, it would need to comprehend the situation and also be able to provide consent. This would require that the robot be intelligent and a free agent. Obviously, a machine could be programmed to say that it understands and to say “I do”, but for it to be a marriage the robot would have to, it would seem, be a person and acting freely. Thus, if a robot can be truly married, it must be capable of freely choosing the marriage.
Then again, as noted above, if marriage is regarded as merely an economic arrangement, a human could simply take possession of a robot and consent and comprehension would not matter. While those of a more liberal mindset might not regard it as a real marriage, it would be on par with many human marriages. After all, many humans have been quite content to have a spouse as a possession.
There have also been various concerns raised about the consequences of allowing human-robot marriages. One concern, which was parodied in Futurama, was that men will find robot women so appealing that they will abandon their attempts to win over human females. Naturally, dire consequences are supposed to follow-such as the fall of civilization. Interestingly enough, this sort of thing is already happening. Some Japanese males prefer to have hassle free “relationships” with virtual women (software).
In many ways, this is nothing new. Some males ( especially those known as dorks, nerds and geeks) have become involved with technology (computers, video game consoles, etc.) and end spending far more time with their tech than with women. This is often seen as both sad and problematic. Obviously, if nerds could buy or build their own wives, then they might never leave their house (or their parents’ basement).
While this might seem comedic, there are some grounds for worry. Relationships with people are often messy, annoying and costly. Now, imagine if you could get an ideal spouse-one literally made for you to be just what you want. That would seem to be rather appealing.
But, one might ask, what impact would this have on individuals and society? I doubt that it would lead to the collapse of civilization. But, I suspect that it would have some harmful consequences-mostly an extension of the harms arising from spending too much time with technology and not enough time with other humans.
But, one might reply, what if the machines can supply us with the “human” contact we need? What if they were so human that we could not tell the difference? What if having the “perfect spouse” made people happy?
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