Kathleen Richardson

TALK: Property Relations: Sex Robots, Chatbots and the Rights of Machines

Human rights are premised on the view that persons are not things to be treated like, traded or transacted as goods or services. Though what it means to be human is not constant across time and space (and certainly not held to account in countries that laid down human rights in law), a recurring theme in the demand for human recognition is resistance to use of persons as property by powerful others, epitomized by rebellion, revolution and protest. Do robots and AI chatbots require us to rethink and extend rights to them? Do machines (aka property) need rights and recognition? Moreover, as capitalism creates new markets, the bodies of persons have been off-limits to market exploitation except for example in cases of prostitution which is still rife in Europe and the Americas where bodies of persons are transacted as commercial goods. I want to propose that pro machine rights arguments are a new way of extending the rights of property owners and reinforcing the dominant mode of existence – property relations.

KATHLEEN RICHARDSON is a Senior Research Fellow in Ethics of Robotics, School of Computer Science and Informatics, De Montfort University, and part of the Europe-wide DREAM project (Development of Robot-Enhance Therapy for Children with Autism) and Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots. She is author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines (Routledge, 2015). She draws attention to problematic effects on new technologies on human relations and their potential impact to create new layers of inequalities between men and women and adults and children. She advocates a compassionate and violence free technology based on freedom ethics and is critical of coercive and violent models of human lived life that are transferred to the making of new technologies. Richardson is developing a theory of robotics inspired by abolitionist feminism.

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Panel Discussion on Sex Robots with Kathleen Richardson, Kate Devlin. ABC Lateline, Nov 2016 (link)

Sex Robots: A symptom of a much more disturbing cause – prostitution/sex trafficking/modern slavery. Trieste Next Festival. 27 Sept 2016. (link)

Love and Sex With Robots! No! Ideacity. Toronto, May 2016 (link)

Robots and Ethics: The Future of Sex. TED xULB. Brussels, May 2016 (link)

Robot Sex May Be Coming Sooner Than You Think. Huffington Post Live Discussion (link)

Robot Ethicist Calls for Ban on Sex Robots. As It Happens, CBC Radio. 16 Sept 2015 (link)

Ex Machina’s Portrayal of Gendered Robot Perpetuates Stereotypes. The Current, CBC Radio. 24 April 2015 (link)

Killer Robots: Ethics in the Age of Co-Robotics. The Current, CBC Radio. 6 May 2014. (link)


Campaign Against Sex Robots warns of danger to women and children. ABC News. J. Om & Y. Parry, 25 Nov 2016 (link)

Can ‘sex robots’ replace relationships with human beings? SkyNews. T. Cheshire, 13 Sept 2016. (link)

Are Sex Robots Unethical or Just Unimaginative as Hell? Jezebel, Edwards, S. “4 July 2016. (link)

Prospect of sexual relationships with robots poses moral dilemmas. Financial Times. M. Palmer, 4 May 2016 (link)

Man makes robot which looks like Scarlett Johansson – why do we keep making creepy female bots? The Telegraph. H. Horton, 5 April 2016. (link)

Humans get ‘aroused’ when touching robot buttocks. WIRED. E. Reynolds, 5 April 2016. (link)

Is It OK to Abuse, Trust or Love a Robot. Asian Review. R. Hanada, 20 Mar 2016. (link)

Having sex with robots is really, really bad, Campaign Against Sex Robots says. Washington Post. J. Moyer, 15 Sept 2015 (link)

Intelligent Machines: Call for a Ban on Robots Designed as Sex Toys. BBC News. 15 Sept 2015. (link)


An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines (link)

[From the cover] This book explores the making of robots in labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It examines the cultural ideas that go into the making of robots, and the role of fiction in co-constructing the technological practices of the robotic scientists. The book engages with debates in anthropological theorizing regarding the way that robots are reimagined as intelligent, autonomous and social and weaved into lived social realities. Richardson charts the move away from the “worker” robot of the 1920s to the “social” one of the 2000s, as robots are reimagined as companions, friends and therapeutic agents.