Dr. David Levy
Founder and author of
Love & Sex with Robots
2021 David Levy Best Paper
RECIPIENT: Lara Karaian
Lara Karaian is an Associate Professor in the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Dr. Karaian’s interdisciplinary research examines the intersections between sexuality, technology, representation, bodily experience, and legal regulation. Her current research project, “Sex/Crime in the Era of Immersive, Interactive, and Intelligent Technologies: A Study of Sextech, Affect and Law” (funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council 2020-2025), examines how sextech—new technologies developed or applied to enhance, innovate, or disrupt human sexual experience—affects us, and how these affects sustain or destabilize legal and cultural constructions of ‘sex crime’. Professor Karaian has served as an Expert Consultant for national and international studies on youths’ digital sexual expression (Australian Law Reform Committee’s International Consultation on Sexting; and the Canadian House of Commons’ Standing Committee’s study on Violence against Young Women and Girls), and as an expert consultant on numerous criminal cases involving youths’ distribution of intimate images. She is a Senior Fellow and blogger at Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, and an editorial member of the journal Porn Studies. Her research has been published in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal; Theoretical Criminology; Law, Culture and the Humanities; Social and Legal Studies; and Crime Media Culture, among other publications.
2021 Best Presentation
RECIPIENTS: Alexis Smiley Smith & Kenneth R. Hanson
Alexis Smiley Smith is an American writer living in Berlin. She recently co founded the sex tech start up, Cybrothel Berlin, where she utilizes her fierce imagination and pro sex feminist perspective to merge the human experience with technology. She is responsible for the character development and voices of Kokeshi and the other sex dolls living at the Cybrothel - a futuristic doll brothel where sex and technology connect with human consciousness.
Kenneth R. Hanson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oregon where he studies the cutting edge of technology and sexuality. His dissertation work, The Silicone Self: An Ethnography of the Love and Sex Doll Community, features content analysis of more than 100 social media profiles, observational data from two leading doll community forums, and in-depth interview data with a range of doll owners, industry employees, and more. His research is informed by a strong queer theoretical lens that incorporates symbolic interactionism, poststructuralism, and intersectional frameworks. Empirically motivated and intellectually adventurous, his work leads him wherever sexuality and technology are willing to go.
2021 Best Rapid Talk
RECIPIENT: Ellen M. Kaufman
Ellen M. Kaufman, M.A., is a doctoral student in Informatics at Indiana University and a Graduate Research Assistant at the Kinsey Institute. Her research focuses broadly on emerging sextech and its implications for erotic labor and interpersonal relationships. Her current work explores how intimacy is “engineered” in technology-mediated contexts with both human and artificial or virtual partners.
Sex Robots and Digital Infidelity: Attitudes toward Technology-mediated Extradyadic Sexual Behavior
Ellen M. Kaufman, MA (Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, Indiana University; Kinsey Institute, Indiana University), Justin R. Garcia, PhD (Kinsey Institute, Indiana University; Department of Gender Studies, Indiana University), Amanda N. Gesselman, PhD (Kinsey Institute, Indiana University)
sexological approaches, extradyadic behavior, technology-mediated relationships
Despite the rapid innovation of technologies that facilitate sexual pleasure across physical boundaries (e.g., online pornography, erotic webcamming, teledildonics), a consensus about these behaviors in the context of monogamous relationships remains ambiguous. Scholarship on infidelity has historically distinguished between physical and emotional dimensions, with technology-mediated behaviors (e.g., phone sex) largely falling into the latter category. But as the boundary between physical and digital sexuality is blurred (e.g., via innovations like erotic webcamming, teledildonics, and virtual reality pornography), the nuances of different modalities have become particularly relevant to conceptualizations of infidelity but remain underexplored. Sex robots, for example, represent a truly embodied form of digital intimacy. As a simultaneously physical and non-human (digital) entity, however, they evade most existing paradigms for human relationships, particularly in terms of infidelity. This study (N = 2,343) explores how sex with a robot compares to other modalities of extradyadic behavior, focusing in particular on conceptualizations of other technology-mediated sexual behaviors. We explore whether there is a distinction between physical extradyadic behaviors (sexual intercourse with another person, oral sex with another person, and sex with a sex worker), behaviors that do not involve another person (watching pornography alone), and physically distanced but social behaviors (online sexual chats or webcamming). We also consider potential differences in attitudes towards these behaviors along the lines of both gender and sexual orientation. Ultimately, we find that sex robots provide a barometer for measuring how attitudes towards infidelity are being transformed amidst the dissolution of boundaries between physical and digital sexual engagement. As virtual relationships and online sexual behaviors become more pervasive, understanding attitudes towards this spectrum of digital extradyadic behaviors offers insight into the emerging implications of intimate technology use.
2021 Best Conference Presentation
RECIPIENT: Raven Faber
Raven founded EngErotics in 2016 in response to a clear lack of design standards and safety regulations in the sexual wellness industry. She has over a decade of engineering and sales experience and she is very passionate about using the fundamentals of engineering, math, and science as the basis for the design and development of high-quality sex toys as well as CBD infused intimate body care products. She is extremely passionate about normalizing the conversation surrounding sex and sex education and believes very deeply in the need for engineers and scientists to have a direct influence on how the world looks at intimate product design, formulation, quality, and safety.
HISTORY - David Levy
Love and Sex with Robots began to attract serious interest as an academic subject in 1983, when Dr. Neil Frude remarked in his book, The Intimate Machine, that:“Computer technology offers new possibilities in sexual stimulation, and since pornography merchants have never been slow to exploit new techniques for their industry, we can anticipate that the new potential will be thoroughly explored.”
The year following Dr. Frude's publication saw the birth of another ground-breaking book – The Second Self, by Dr. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT. Her research for that book was an investigation into the likely future effects of computers on society, on which she wrote:“We search for a link between who we are and what we have made, between who we are and what we might create, between who we are and what, through our intimacy with our own creations, we might become.”
In the book, Turkle quoted an MIT student, of whom she had asked how he felt about his computer. When I first read it, in 2003, that student’s reply hit me like a thunderbolt. He said that he had “tried having girlfriends but I prefer my relationship with my computer”. This quirky answer, dating as it did from the early 1980s, caused me to wonder to what extent such feelings existed two decades later, when computers were far more widespread than they had been in the early 80s. Had feelings of affection for computers become just as commonplace? Thus I was drawn to this challenging topic – intimate and loving relationships with robots.
My interest in this topic developed into a book, for which Love and Sex with Robots seemed like an ideal title. While I was in the process of researching and writing the book I discovered that a symposium on a new academic subject – Roboethics – had taken place in San Remo, Italy, in January 2004, and I was invited by those who had organized that symposium to speak at a follow-up conference – the EURON Roboethics “Atelier”, in Genoa, in February 2006. There I gave three talks, all based on my research material which had yet to be published. And the following year I presented at the ICRA Workshop on Roboethics in Rome, which formed part of the IEEE-RAS International Conference on Robotics and Automation. By virtue of the IEEE hosting the Roboethics workshop and its constituent parts, our subject had truly arrived as an accepted discipline on the academic scene.
As my book Love and Sex with Robots neared completion, I was invited by the University of Maastricht to submit an academic version of my research as a PhD thesis, with the slightly more conservative title “Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners”. On the day of my thesis defence there was a flurry of interest from the Dutch media, such a strong flurry that the university was happy to organize a conference the following year devoted entirely to the subject. As a result, for three years (2008, 2009 and 2010) the Netherlands played host to the International Conference on Human-Robot Personal Relationships, the proceedings of which were published by Springer. The kudos of having Springer publish those proceedings further enhanced the credentials of our subject as an academic discipline.
In 2011, I was contacted by Professor Adrian Cheok at the National University of Singapore, who invited me to act as external examiner for one of his PhD students, Hooman Samani, whose thesis, I felt, made a significant contribution to our nascent field. Partly because of Adrian’s own interest and research work in the field, we became good friends, we flew together to sightsee the Himalayas, including the top of Mount Everest, and in 2014, Adrian suggested that we start a new academic conference: The International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots.
Adrian’s suggestion came at the conclusion of a workshop, with that title, which took place at Goldsmiths University and was organized as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of AISB – the UK’s leading artificial intelligence organization. The workshop was a success in terms of the number of attendees (around 40), and because it provided further endorsement by academia of Love and Sex with Robots as an appropriate academic research discipline. The first conference in this new series took place soon afterwards in Funchal, on the beautiful island of Madeira and organized by the University of Madeira.
For the following year, 2015, Adrian and I planned to hold the conference in Iskandar, at the southern tip of Malaysia where Adrian had been appointed Director of the Imagineering Institute, a newly created research establishment funded by the Malaysian government’s sovereign wealth fund. But about two weeks before the conference was due to begin, disaster struck. The Malaysian Minister for Tourism suddenly discovered that the conference was scheduled to take place in his country and immediately took against the idea on the grounds that it offended against Malaysian culture. The Kuala Lumpur Chief of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, called a press conference where he described the event as “ridiculous”, adding that there is “nothing scientific about having sex with machines. It is not our culture. We can take action against the organizer if they choose to hold the event”. One of the journalists present at the press conference asked on what grounds Adrian and I could be arrested and charged if we went ahead with the event, and was told “Don’t worry. We will think of something.” Not wishing to offend Malaysia, and wishing even less to taste the food in a Malaysian jail, Adrian and I had no alternative but to postpone the second International Conference on Love and Sex with Robots to the following year.
Goldsmiths University in London proved an ideal venue for the second conference, and added yet further academic credentials to the series when the event took place in December 2016. All local arrangements were made by Kate Devlin, who subsequently authored the book Turned On: Science Sex and Robots.
The second conference was such a success that we initially decided to return to Goldsmiths for the third, in December 2017, but in the run-up to the event some credible intelligence reached the special branch of the police in Malaysia which caused us to change the venue for security reasons. Adrian is half-Greek, and was able at short notice to make suitable arrangements for the use of a hall and excellent catering facilities at the Greek Orthodox Church in Golders Green, north-west London. An innovation at the third conference was the inauguration of a “best paper” award in my name, which was presented to a Belgian PhD student.
The fourth conference had been due to take place in 2018 in Montana, but had to be postponed. Fortunately a PhD Student so enjoyed the third conference that he very kindly offered to take on the organization of the postponed fourth in the series, which duly took place in Brussels at the beginning of July 2019. It was a brilliantly organized event, very much enjoyed by all who attended, and in my opinion the best in the series so far.
Last year’s conference, the fifth in the series, we were in the process of discussing when and where it should be held, when the decisions were taken out of our hands by COVID-19. It was a case of “all hands on deck” to find a viable alternative, and in common with most other international conferences, we resolved to make that year’s event a virtual conference, taking place on December 7-8th. Thanks to the efforts of Bobbi Bidochka, CEO of Imagine Ideation, and Simon Dubé of Concordia University, we successfully delivered the conference on Zoom from Montreal, and the papers will, like those of previous years, appear in print.
So, the International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots is alive and well. The change to a virtual event has attracted significantly more registrations than we achieved in previous years, and once again, we are now moving forward with hosting the 2021 conference online on Zoom, with an amazing keynote speaker lineup.
New this year, is the possibility of sharing science and research conducted all around the globe via asynchronous poster presentations, brief communications, and data blitzes.
Building on last year's success, the organizing committee is, more than ever, committed to delivering a world class virtual event, with the aim of continuously improving the quality of the LSR conference and organization.