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In the excellent movie Lars and the Real Girl, actor Ryan Gosling plays Lars a socially awkward bachelor who believes that a plastic blow-up doll is his real girlfriend. His delusions allow him to carry on a relationship with the doll as friends and family react with different levels of consternation.

A real-life Lars might not seem so delusional in the near future.

Technology may soon be able to give him the working equivalent of a human sex partner. At the giant Consumer Electronics Show, CES 2016, a number of vendors were exhibiting wares that have the potential to make some lonely humans a little less lonely.

In fiction and film, there has long been a fascination with robots and their potential to replace and partner with humans. There has often been a thread of sexuality running through these relationships. Consider Star Trek: The Next Generation's android lieutenant commander Data, played superbly by Brent Spiner. One of the ongoing threads in the show, which ran for seven years, was Data's efforts to develop a more emotional connection to others. More recently we have seen characters develop bonds with artificial life forms in the well-regarded films Her and Ex Machina.

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Perhaps this reflects many individuals' ambivalence toward sex. It may also explain the widespread use of sexual devices, pornography and surrogates -- plastic dolls. More recent, popular technology innovations have included sex-cams and smartphone-operated sexual devices. Many people just want to avoid other people when it comes to "relieving their tension," to paraphrase the bi-sexual scientist Frank N. Furter in the risque, cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. Furter builds his own sex object, a beefcake blonde whom he proudly showcases. 

Now the world seems to be ready to make fiction reality with full-fledged robots functioning as sex partners. A company called True Companion has already had a robot sex doll called Roxxxy for a number of years, but the phenomenon hasn't taken off.

This year, however, has seen the appearance of a robot whose human appearance has been termed "sexy" by some observers.

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Japanese inventors have created a robot that looks like a woman, showcased in this video, suggestively titled, "Japanese Robot Girl Can Do Anything For You!"

The video starts by asking, "Tired of looking for a girlfriend? What should you do?" The inventors, it seems, have an answer for you.

This development has many potential implications. Pornography continues to play a major role in technology and business. It is a result, of course, of ongoing, robust demand. 

Consider that sex is expected to be a huge driver of the growing virtual reality sector. Now we have robots, and it would not be an overstatement to say that they could be the next killer app. For some people, the thought of controlling a ready sex partner via a mobile device could be appealing.

There are obvious concerns here. Pornography has historically been a complex and awkward subject as society weighs human desire against moral behavior. What's reasonable and what is too far when it comes to sex? When do we dehumanize the act of procreation to the point where it means nothing, or is simply mean spirited. A new organization, Campaign Against Sex Robots, has arisen and outlines some of the concerns (a selection from the campaign's website): 

-- The development of sex robots further sexually objectifies women and children.
-- The vision for sex robots is underscored by reference to prostitute-john exchange which relies on recognizing only the needs and wants of the buyers of sex, the sellers of sex are not attributed subjectivity and reduced to a thing (just like the robot).
-- The development of sex robots and the ideas to support their production show the immense horrors still present in the world of prostitution which is built on the "perceived" inferiority of women and children and therefore justifies their use as sex objects.

Ethicist and a leader at the Campaign Against Sex Robots, Professor Kathleen Richardson at De Montfort University in the U.K. has raised deep concerns the development of sex robots. "We think 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," she said.

Robots could exacerbate some problems in human interactions.

Marriage and birthrates have already been falling in many developed countries, the latter posing a potential economic threat. The growing use of sex robots could further undermine this weakening in the very relationships that enable us to endure.  

Humans anthropomorphize animals and even inanimate objects with great ease. We recognize faces in almost everything we encounter from clouds to door handles. In the movie castaway, Tom Hanks character seems to be able to live through great challenges by naming his volley ball Wilson and carrying on a dialogue through his four years of isolation.

According to PsychCentral, "Anthropomorphism carries many important implications. For example, thinking of a nonhuman entity in human ways renders it worthy of moral care and consideration. In addition, anthropomorphized entities become responsible for their own actions. That is, they become deserving of punishment and reward."

Undoubtedly, people would try to develop more meaningful relationships with their robot companions, particularly if robots could display some semblance of human emotion. Would such a relationship usurp human contact? In the movie Her, it does, and without the aid of a physical relationship. 

Aside from the cultural and moral implications, there are other questions to be answered. If people can marry horses or leave their wealth to dogs, could they do the same for robots? If a person uses a robot for sex, can the primary partner consider that infidelity and sue? How far will humans go to keep their obsolete robots still working?

India declared dolphins to be non-human persons in 2013 and banned dolphin-centered shows. More recently, Argentina said orangutans were non-human persons and declared they could not be held captive. It is not inconceivable that robots could receive similar status.

What then? Independent living? Wages? Retirement benefits? Perhaps robots will one day no longer be considered possessions. 

To be sure, robotics is taking science into gray areas. Medical device manufacturers and technologists are already producing prostheses that are more sensitive and integrate more finely with human (and animal) biology. The development of brain-enhancing circuitry may one day blur the distinction between humans and robots. When sex enters into the mix, things will only get more complicated. 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.