Artifical bodies and unreal violence

Bree Anderson

Violence against artificial bodies is increasingly normalised in film texts and the sexual economy. It is tempting to dismiss representations of sex with robots as the product of fantasy, relegated to the realm of science fiction. However, the use of artificial bodies for sexual gratification has ‘jumped’ from screen to real life, prompting new ethical concerns for what it means to not only make but use artificial bodies. Using the lens of popular criminology, my honours thesis interrogates how the increasingly blurred distinctions between human and machine demand a reckoning of the ontology of the body. With reference to actor-network theory, post humanism and psychoanalysis, my research consults the depiction of artificial bodies in HBO’s Westworld and other documentary film texts. I propose that the sexual economy has produced a ‘hierarchy of harm’ that codes sexual encounters with companion dolls and sex robots as amoral and without consequence, producing enclaves for sexual transgression outside the scope of law. As an exercise in popular criminology, my research engages with fictional texts as ‘thought experiments’, in which future moral dilemmas can be explored outside of traditional criminological methods. These ‘future’ readings have enormous utility to the fields of development ethics and crime policy, functioning as ‘test-tube’ experiments for the crime problems of tomorrow. As our society embraces automated technologies, the scope of criminological inquiry must expand to accommodate the ethical and legal implications of human-robot interactions. My research contributes to this discussion by proposing a new vocabulary for engaging with the shifting legal principles of consent, harm and victimhood. Additionally, my research exposes the challenges that artificial agents pose to the criminalisation of aberrant sexual offending. After all, can a robot consent to sex? What are the ethical implications of ‘raping’ a robot? These questions warrant further scholarly inquiry so that our legal framework will be ready to address the needs of our increasingly automated technological society.



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