The potential widespread use of sex robots could soon help to keep lonely and elderly people company, allow couples to enjoy long-distance sexual relationships and provide a whole host of other benefits, says the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR).
However, the organisation, which released a report looking into the matter, has also warned that certain moral and ethical issues need to be addressed, as the use of sex robots becomes increasingly common.
While it has been suggested that so-called 'pleasure-bots' could be used as a means by which to rehabilitate rapists and paedophiles, many see this as morally reprehensible and say that it has the potential to exacerbate the problem.
As Patrick Lin, Philosophy professor and robot ethicist puts it: "Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not."
Professor Noel Sharkey. Credit: PA
Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sheffield, and co-founder of the FRR, said that the clock was ticking and that the public and government must decide how this new form of technology should be regulated.
"I can tell you that robots are certainly coming," he said at the launch of the new consultation report in central London.
"The concern is that this is going on and nobody is talking about it. People snigger about them, but they are actually shipping quite a lot and we are going to see them a lot more.
"They are being proposed for the elderly in care homes, which I think is controversial. If you have severe Alzheimer's you can't really tell the difference.
"We need to think about, as a society, what we want to do about it."
Pris Stratton, Blade Runner's 'basic pleasure model' android. Credit: Warner Bros.
Professor Sharkey also warned of the dangers pleasure-bots could cause in terms of people becoming isolated, or even addicted to the robots.
"It's very sad because it's going to be a one-way relationship," he said.
"If people bond with robots it's very worrying. You are loving an artefact that can't love you back, and the best they can do is fake it."
Perhaps even more worrying are the traits and features that some dolls already in production are being given.
Japanese company Trottla has started selling underage schoolgirl robots for paedophiles. The company was founded by self-confessed paedophile Shin Takagi, who says that he has never harmed a child because he is able to use the doll.
Experts are also concerned about manufacturers programming in 'shy' or 'reluctant' personalities to their robots and the moral implications and dangers it could pose.
Aimee van Wynsberghe, assistant professor of ethics at the University of Delft, and co-founder of the FRR, said: "There isn't a conversation happening in the general public about what is acceptable, permissible and what should be promoted.
The report suggested that it may be necessary to criminalise 'robotic rape' and to build in 'handled roughly' sensors, in order to prevent users developing violent sexual tendencies.
They also called for a complete ban on child sex dolls.
Aimee van Wynsberghe commented that this was "a preliminary step to engage policymakers, academics, the tech industry and the general public."