Adrian David Cheok knows it’s the “sex” in the Love and Sex with Robots Congress that attracts attention, but the engineer, who runs the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, says it was a love robot that first drew him into the field of AI intimacy.

“I was trying to develop a robot that would have, in software, all the different components of human love,” Cheok says. “You have to have empathy, joint interests, and I was trying to codify this into some software. So we made a love robot which could fall in love with a human.”

His work led him to David Levy, an artificial intelligence expert who authored the 2007 book Love and Sex with Robots, from which the congress takes its name. They began an annual workshop, and after holding previous meetings in Portugal and the U.K., decided to present the recently announced 2018 congress in Missoula. They will be renting space from the University of Montana, but Cheok says the university is otherwise not involved with the congress.

Human-robot sexual and emotional interactions draw on a number of academic fields, including engineering (how will they work?), philosophy (can they consent?), computer science (how convincing is the artificial intelligence?) and ethics (is robot sex moral?). There are endless questions of logistics and theory to be parsed, many of which incite controversy. At last year’s congress, Belgian philosopher Marc Behrendt presented a paper titled “Reflections on the Moral Challenges Posed by a Child Sex Robot.”

“He was giving the argument whether child robots should be illegal or not, because they could be used by pedophiles, and if they were, is that as bad as real pedophilia with a real child,” Cheok says. “So it was more an ethical question that it was presenting. Still, it got quite controversial.”

Cheok’s co-chair, Levy, has also courted controversy with his predictions that human-robot marriage will be legal by 2050, and that humans and robots will eventually procreate, and protesters have targeted previous congresses on religious and ethical grounds.

Cheok says the first congress was held on Madeira Island, Portugal. “The second one we tried to have here in Malaysia, and it was actually banned by the Ministry of Police,” he says. “The last two congresses have been successfully held in London in Goldsmiths University of London, and last year we had it in a church hall” after warnings that there might be major protests.

This is why, Cheok says, organizers decided to have the congress in Montana in December 2018. “We wanted to go to Montana for a couple reasons. One is that it’s a little bit more isolated place. The last few years were quite stressful because we had some negative things, so a sort of isolated place would be better,” Cheok says. “And also Montana is a very beautiful state, so we think the delegates will really enjoy it.”

Staff Reporter

Susan Elizabeth Shepard lived in Missoula from 2008 to 2011 before returning in 2017 to work at the Independent. She is also a two-time resident of Austin, TX, and Portland, OR, with an interest in labor, music and sports. @susanelizabeth on Twitter.

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