Will robots get married?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, staff writer here at HowStuffWorks.com. With me, as always, is Charles Chuck Bryant, also a staff writer here at HowStuffWorks.com. What up staff writer, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Well Josh, I think as you can see I'm just snuggled up with my real doll here, Samantha.

Josh Clark: I did notice, Chuck. I wasn't going to bring it up. She is a looker.

Chuck Bryant: She is.

Josh Clark: I'll give you that. But she is what, polyethylene, maybe?

Chuck Bryant: I don't ask. And she doesn't answer, so it works out great.

Josh Clark: I'm sure she doesn't. That reminds me of a movie I haven't seen yet. I've been told by several people to definitely see it, Lars and the Real Girl.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I've seen it. It's really good.

Josh Clark: How is it?

Chuck Bryant: It's a good little ending. It's got Ryan Gosling, who is a really great actor.

Josh Clark: No spoilers, Chuck. I haven't seen it yet.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: Okay, go ahead.

Chuck Bryant: But the basic plot outline is that he plays this lonely guy who gets a real doll.

Josh Clark: It's a real girl doll, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Is that what they're called? And I'd ask Samantha, but she wouldn't answer. And so he has this doll and the town kind of just accepts it as being his girlfriend.

Josh Clark: And is worth seeing.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it sounds really creepy, but it's actually kind of a sweet movie.

Josh Clark: Well you know that's actually not too far off from what some people are predicting is going to be part of the future of humanity.

Chuck Bryant: Right, not too far off at all, actually.

Josh Clark: Robot-human weddings.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And we're not even talking real girls here. We're talking about real girls that move or talk.

Chuck Bryant: Super deluxe real girls.

Josh Clark: Yes, exactly. And ap parently, there's this guy named David Levy who's, I think, some sort of futurist, maybe a roboticist. But he wrote a paper based on research he did in philosophy, sexology, which to tell you the truth, until I read his article, I didn't realize was an actual discipline, robotics of course, all sorts of other stuff. Sexology, it's like the greatest word ever.

Chuck Bryant: Right. It sounds like an MTV show and not a real thing.

Josh Clark: It definitely does, or like a drink you get in Cancun.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So Levy combines all these disciplines together and comes up with the notion that by 2050, some states, starting with Massachusetts, he posits, will allow human robot weddings, marriages.

Chuck Bryant: I know.

Josh Clark: Legally recognized.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, in fact I believe he said, "It is inevitable."

Josh Clark: Yes, he did. Even before that, though, another roboticist predicted that by 2011, which we're not too far off from, people will be having sex with robots.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Which, I mean, once you start having sex with something, somebody eventually wants to marry it. We are a moral species.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. You could argue that we're not, but yeah, generally you're right. Just like in Lars and the Real Girl, he had a lot of respect for his real doll and I don't want to ruin it for you.

Josh Clark: Please don't, Chuck. I'm serious.

Chuck Bryant: It was a relationship, based on, if not mutual, at least one way respect.

Josh Clark: Right, right. But with this, it's - with a robot, it's going to be much more mutual. I don't know about, necessarily, feelings for robots. I don't think we're going to reach that point, but it will appear a lot more mutual.

Chuck Bryant: Right, because they can program respect or at least things that you can say that would indicate respect.

Josh Clark: Right, right. One of the things that's leading the way that's going to be allowing things like robots that people would want to have sex with or marry is like this skin that's being developed. There's a guy who used to work for Disney who's a roboticist who created this skin that bunches and wrinkles. When you have life-like skin, you can convey emotions through life-like facial expressions, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Once you start having that, you've got a really, realistic looking robot.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I don't think I'll ever go to the Hall of Presidents again with the same eyes.

Josh Clark: No, exactly, Abraham Lincoln, the head of Abraham Lincoln. This whole issue of possibly marrying robots and definitely having sex with robots has brought to the attention of some people, the concept of robot rights. Have you heard of robot rights, the movement behind it?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I know Japan is kind of at the forefront of this whole thing.

Josh Clark: They are now, but they were lagging for a little while. At first, it was just South Korea and Europe. Basically, Japan was conspicuously absent from the table. And they're at the forefront of robotics. They needed to be there. So they finally caught up and now they're all about robot rights. And a lot of people are kind of like well what is this. Why would we even have robot rights? This is ridiculous. This is silly. And to those people, proponents of robot rights, say have you ever heard of animal rights?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I've heard of that.

Josh Clark: Isn't that technically a silly idea in the same vein? But if you really think about it, these are animals. But we humans have established rights for how we interact with them, how we allow them to interact with us.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, and it's accepted now. And I think a lot of people, years ago, might have thought the same thing about animal rights as they do about robot rights.

Josh Clark: Right. And I think with robots, especially with robots that can give a life-like appearance, really awful things are going to come out of humans.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: If you have a robot that can recoil in horror or wince in pain, there's going to be people out there who are going to want to kill them, like a drifter or something like that.

Chuck Bryant: Right. The potential for abuse is big.

Josh Clark: It's real big.

Chuck Bryant: It's abuse on a robot, but there's still something sociopathic about it.

Josh Clark: Definitely, but I predict that once life-like robots are available and produced en masse, I think there's going to be a lot of awful stuff.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And I think that it's good that we're preparing for this now because I think the first half of the 21st Century is going to see an explosion in advancements in robotics.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I think South Korea said a robot in every house by the year 2020.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and that same year, actually, the U.S. has said that it plans to supplement one-fifth of its battalions with robots.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Which raises a whole other question? Do robots that kill people or designed to kill people, are they afforded any kind of rights? Should they be free from harm, that kind of thing?

Chuck Bryant: Right. It's too much for my brain, to be honest.

Josh Clark: Let me get in the driver's seat here, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: No problem.

Josh Clark: So basically, the main argument is that no, a robot that's programmed to kill should be able to have harm done to it.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Most robots that we're going to interact with aren't going to be designed to kill. If you see a robot that you know is designed to kill, you should turn and run, really fast.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, because it only is programmed to do one thing.

Josh Clark: Right, yeah, kill, kill, kill. So most of the robots we're going to interact with will be helping around the house.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Serving in the sex trade.

Chuck Bryant: Right. They already have those, not the sex trade, although they may. But the little robots that clean the floor and do things like that.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah, the Roomba and the Scooba and all that.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, same concept.

Josh Clark: Right. These things are going to look a lot more life-like. Like if you want -

Chuck Bryant: Right, and programmed to bring you a beer.

Josh Clark: One that looks like Mrs. Doubtfire, you could have Mrs. Doubtfire working for you.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: If you shell out enough cash. So let's say you have Mrs. Doubtfire as a household robot and Mrs. Doubtfire is bringing you a hot cup of coffee. Unfortunately, Mrs. Doubtfire trips and spills the hot coffee on you. And you get up and react by smacking Mrs. Doubtfire across the face. Should you be penalized for that? Should you be punished?

Chuck Bryant: Right, and I think that's what Japan and some others in South Korea are trying to work out are the parameters of what's allowed and what's not allowed and whether or not robots should have rights, just like you and I.

Josh Clark: Right. Now let's say Mrs. Doubtfire doesn't trip, but she walks up to you and pours the hot coffee on you.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Who's responsible for that?

Chuck Bryant: I would say the -

Josh Clark: What's the legality behind it?

Chuck Bryant: The manufacturer of the robot, in my mind. I'm no lawyer.

Josh Clark: No one has any idea. All these questions are totally up in the air right now and they're trying to hammer them out. And the whole thing kind of goes both ways, actually. Humans are going to also need protection from robots, which is where Mr. Isaac Asimov comes in, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, I think. He was really one of the first people to talk about robots and humans living together and getting along or not getting along. And he established the three laws of robotics, I think, in one of his short stories.

Josh Clark: Run Around, I think.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Run Around, which was actually in a collection of short stories called I Robot, which Will Smith, as you know, made into a pretty substandard film.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Which he borrowed from a couple of these and he actually used the three laws of robotics. They refer to those in the film, as well.

Josh Clark: Do you want to give them the three laws?

Chuck Bryant: I will. A robot may not injure a human being or through an action, allow a human to come to harm.

Josh Clark: Great first law.

Chuck Bryant: A robot must obey orders given it by humans, except to where such orders would conflict with the first law. And a robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.

Josh Clark: Right. And these laws just sound like there's no way around them. I was reading a critical analysis of Asimov. And basically, the author pointed out that he didn't think Asimov thought these things were watertight. He basically used to like to use them as a theme to show how even these really great, cohesive closed system laws could screw up.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Which is why nobody is going to go to Asimov to figure out how to program robots in the future?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: But we do need some level of protection, like are robots just kept from interacting with humans all together, like a robot cannot touch a human. Is that something that we would do?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: There's been casualties! There's been death by robot. It's happened already. The first one happened in 1982 when a guy was crushed on a factory line by a big robotic arm.

Chuck Bryant: Right, sort of like the Terminator.

Josh Clark: Not really, but yeah, kind of. And then since then, a lot of people have died, actually. One guy, the worst death by robot that I've heard so far was a guy had enough of an amount of molten aluminum poured on him by a robot that it killed him.

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: Terrible way to go.

Chuck Bryant: I wonder if he was trying to make a little robot buddy.

Josh Clark: I don't know. Maybe so! We're hoping not because we are talking about industrial robots. The thing is is these are isolated incidents. But what happens when there is a robot in every house, in not only Korea, but the world? These accidents could step up quite a bit.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: And we need to figure out how to address them now before it happens.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And also, I think a lot of roboticists are really worried about the moment when robots are equipped with systems that allow them to learn.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right when that happens, they lose all predictability, whatsoever. And we won't be able to tell what they're about to do, what they won't do. They'll be as unpredictable as humans. And you know when you're on the subway with somebody you don't really trust, you've got your muscles tensed in your ribs for a knifing.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: The same thing would happen with humans and robots.

Chuck Bryant: I think so. It would probably be even a little more creepy because while humans are unpredictable, robots, you don't know what they're programmed to do, if it's not your robot.

Josh Clark: Right and there's also issues of morality that would factor into that. You like to think that most humans would stop themselves from stabbing you, even if they wanted to.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Because they have some sort of moral judgment.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: How do you program morals into robots?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: It's a very big, sticky ball of questions.

Chuck Bryant: It is.

Josh Clark: I have to say I am pretty glad that the people who are trying to figure this out now are figuring it out now.

Chuck Bryant: Right and they're a lot smarter than I am.

Josh Clark: Exactly. It's kind of one of those situations where you just kick back and say go to it.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I would have no idea.

Josh Clark: Hopefully they won't use their advantage to make us their slaves, though.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. That would be bad.

Josh Clark: I agree. So that's about that for robot marriages. But there's even more in the article that I wrote on the site, "Will Robots Get Married" on HowStuffWorks.com.Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com.