UW professor proposes developing sex robots for older disabled adults

UW professor proposes developing sex robots for older disabled adults
FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 28: An elderly resident looks to a robot called "Pepper" during a presentation of two robots at the August-Stunz-Altenzentrum senior care facility on November 28, 2018 in Frankfurt, Germany. The Japanese robots are able to recognize people and are programmed to interact with them. Students from Frankfurt University of Applied Science are programming the robots 'Peppa' and 'Pepper' as a project to test their use in senior care centers during the European Robotics Week 2018. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images) (Thomas Lohnes /Getty Images)

SEATTLE — As social isolation continues to be a problem for those with disabilities ages 65 and older, a University of Washington professor is considering how robots could be developed to provide senior citizens welcome companionship and even sexual fulfillment.

Nancy Jecker, professor of bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, just published a paper on the topic: “Nothing to be ashamed of: sex robots for older adults with disabilities.”

In the paper, Jecker connects the current trend of robotics and artificial intelligence with the rapidly growing ranks of senior citizens who are living longer but are often lonely and disabled.

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She argues that allowing older people access to sex robots, which are usually portrayed as a product for younger people, is a reasonable way to support one’s sexuality for those who are disabled later in life.

“We apply ageist attitudes and negative stereotypes to older adults.  We assume they’re too old to indulge in sex, and think that older adults having interest in sex is weird or dirty,” Jecker said.  “Designing and marketing sex robots for older, disabled people would represent a sea change from current practice. The reason to do it is to support human dignity and to take seriously the claims of those whose sexuality is diminished by disability or isolation.”

But Jecker says it’s not all about sex.

“There’s a whole spectrum of human desires. It’s limiting to think only of sex bots or only of friend bots. Some older people want a companion that can provide both social interaction and physical affection,” Jecker said.