To suggest that the state can regulate robot dancers because they may stir erotic feelings is to say that the government may control the imagination. — Robert Corn-Revere
Dateline Pornotopia. The very thought of it would have made Doctor Freud blush, this new pleasure-principle frontier. As for Anthony Comstock, he would be in moral shock. What about Aldous Huxley? He would have said, “This is something right out of my Brave New World.” And most assuredly Professor Fred Schauer would view such eroticized acts as well beyond the First Amendment pale of protection. Then there is The Death of Discourse (1996), which predicted that the new technologies would serve the libido of future generations.
Well, make of it what you will, but it is nonetheless now a fact: Robotic strippers have come to Las Vegas at the 50th Consumer Electronics Show. Side-by-side with real dancers, the robotic strippers gyrate with erotic pulsation. (Video here).
As reported by Kurt Wagner of CNBC: “The Sapphire Gentleman’s Club, a strip club right off Vegas’s main drag, paid to showcase the robots as a way to drum up interest from press and customers. . . . The robots were as advertised: They gyrated on a stripper pole to music from 50 Cent and Pharrell, with dollar bills scattered on the stage and the floor. A half-dozen human dancers, most of whom were dressed in tight, shiny robot costumes, repeatedly took pics in front of their metallic colleagues.”
Inventor: “They’re the work,” adds Wagner, “of an artist named Giles Walker, a 50-year-old Brit who describes himself as a scrap metal artist with a passion for building animatronic robots. One of his other projects, The Last Supper, features 13 robots interacting around a table.”
“Walker says he got the idea for pole-dancing robots more than seven years ago, when he noticed the rise of CCTV cameras being used as a way to surveil people in Britain for safety purposes, what he called ‘mechanical peeping Toms.’ He was inspired by the idea of voyeurism, or watching others for pleasure, and decided to try and turn the cameras into something sexy on their own.”
So, are these robots art? Well, they could be. Again, consider Corn-Revere’s reply to this question: “If stationary sculptures are expressive art that the First Amendment protects – and they are – then moving sculptures can be as well.”
Question: what does this all portend for the future of eroticized expression and the First Amendment? For openers, consider Collins & Skover, Robotica: Speech Rights & Artifical Intelligence (Cambridge University Press, June 2018) — Robotica Erotica may be the sequel. Stay tuned!
Nude Dancing: Assuming that erotic robotic dancing is covered under the First Amendment, might a state either ban or regulate such dancing? Recall in this regard the line of First Amendment cases ranging from Schad v. Mount Ephraim (1981) to Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. (1991) to City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc. (1986) to Erie v. Pap’s A.M. (2000).
See also, David Hudson, “Nude Dancing,” First Amendment Online Library (“Nude dancing is a form of expressive conduct that when restricted, requires First Amendment review. However, the Supreme Court has upheld restrictions on totally nude dancing based on the secondary effects doctrine. Thus, in many cities and counties, dancers must don a modicum of clothing, arguably tempering their erotic messages.”)
Sex Toys?: Are such erotic bots akin to “sex toys” such that they might not qualify for any First Amendment protection? Consider Noah Feldman, Courts playing with the constitutionality of sex toys, Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2016 (“There’s no constitutional right to sex toys — yet. That’s according to a federal appeals court, which declined to strike down a Georgia city’s ordinance that prohibits selling sexual aids. But the three-judge panel invited the full court to rehear the case and strike down the law, stating that it was “sympathetic” to the claim but constrained by precedent. Eventually, the right to sex toys is likely to be accepted in all jurisdictions, as it already is in some. The basis will be the right to sexual intimacy recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas. And that raises a question about the evolving nature of constitutional rights: How did we get here? How does a decision framed around the autonomous right of two people to create an intimate sexual relationship come to cover access to toys? And should it?”) See Flanigan’s Enterprises v. City of Sandy Springs Georgia (11th Cir., en banc, Aug. 24, 2017).
→ Meet “Harmony” – the sex robot with a Scottish accent (considerably more “appealing” than her Las Vegas mechanical counterparts) (YouTube video here)
→ Aurora Snow, Sex Robots Are Here, and They’re Incredibly Lifelike. But Are They Dangerous?, The Daily Beast, July 22, 2017
→ Eric Lieberman, Sex Robots Are Here And Could Change Society Forever, The Libertarian Republic, July 17, 2017