Will Artificial Intelligence End Parents’ Work-Life Struggles?
If robots can watch your kids and self-driving cars can get them where they need to go, marriages may be more egalitarian
The second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots ended a few weeks ago, and there has been a flurry of articles talking about marriage between humans and robots and how sexbots might impact marriages, for better or worse.
For every robot enthusiast, like artificial intelligent expert and Love and Sex With Robots author David Levy, who predicts human-robot marriages within in the next few decades, there’s a naysayer, like Kathleen Richardson, founder of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, who worries that “the creation of such robots will contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women and women.”
Which sounds similar to the warnings about how marriage between interracial couples, or same-sex couples will ruin the institution of marriage. Of course, neither ruined the institution of marriage — in fact, it’s just added to the number of people tying the knot.
But robots are surely going to be part of our future, and not only when it comes to work and self-driving transportation. Even if you have no desire to have sex with — let alone marry — a robot, easy access to artificial intelligence may impact how we approach our relationships, and create and re-create family.
Caregiving is an essential part of society but typically seen as women’s work, thus undervalued and underpaid — if paid at all. In fact, more and more working women over the age of 50 are leaving their careers to care for an elderly family member — at great personal loss, financially and emotionally. What if a robot could do that for us? Would robotic caregiving be a bad thing? Would it be better than putting an ailing parent in a nursing home? Would it free up adult children — again, overwhelmingly women — from that responsibility so they wouldn’t have to disrupt their career?
What about caring for your own child? Would you choose a robotic nanny to help raise your kids so you wouldn’t have to opt-out — or struggle with work-life issues? What if a self-driving car would pick up your kids from school and take them to their various after-school sports and activities? Would that relieve some of the parental duties, again overwhelmingly the women’s role, that make having a career and a family seem so daunting? Will having a robotic caregiver make marriages more egalitarian? Would the robotic caregiver have a gender — and will that just perpetuate gendered caregiving?
What if you’re a single person who wants to have a child but hasn’t found a romantic partner to have one with, or perhaps isn’t even interested in having a romantic partner; would having a robotic caregiver make your life easier, or perhaps even make you more likely to have a child on your own? And, if so, would that mean fewer people would actually choose to marry, or even cohabit, given how “there is evidence of a certain fatigue with the difficulties of dealing with people,” as Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes.
Freaking out about sexbots is obscuring other discussions about how robots likely will be intertwined in our relationships, romantic or not, and how they might change marriage. Those are probably the discussions we should be having.