Future Tense

Future Tense Newsletter: How Sex Robots May Remake Marriage

The Shadow Robot company's dextrous hand robot holds an apple at a robotics event in London.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Greetings, Future Tensers,

As with other social institutions, marriage has always evolved alongside changes in technology. Electric appliances gave rise to wives pursuing paid work outside the patriarchal burdens of homemaking. The latex condom and other birth control tech offered both partners more choices and provoked society to reckon with the idea that women, too, seek sexual gratification from their relationships.

Now, argues economist Marina Adshade, another technology seems poised to radically transform this age-old practice: sex robots. She explains how titillating androids of the future might disentangle our association between sexual intimacy and marriage—and, in doing so, remake our matrimonial unions for the better.

Of course, whether sexbots and other emerging technologies really transform our societies for the better depends on the people who make and use them. Elsewhere on Future Tense, we’ve been hitting hard on this question. Victoria Sgarro explored whether those in the tech industry making appeals for “ethics in design” are being clear about what that means. Joelle Renstrom asks the same question about what the U.K. government means when it claims it wants to become a world leader in “ethical A.I.” Aaron Mak covered the news that Sacramento officials had been using license plate readers to monitor welfare recipients. And Daniel Benaim and Hollie Russon Gilman explore how China aggressively exports its authoritarian-minded surveillance technology outside of its borders—and what that means for liberal democracies that want limits on these digital tools.

Other things we read between stressing over the most terrifying device hacks from this year’s Def Con:

Merch before the storm: How the QAnon conspiracy theory went from the fringes of the internet to themed T-shirts, hats, jewelry, and mugs for sale on Amazon and Etsy.

DDoBS: In the days before the Federal Communication Commission’s controversial repeal of net neutrality last year, the organization asserted that a cyberattack had crashed its public comment system. Aaron Mak covers the official report released last week that identified a different culprit.

Dr.
Robot
: Artificial intelligence may provide a huge step forward in the treatment of diseases like diabetes. But making smart decisions as a patient will still be hard.

Alexa, what’s the news?: Rachel Withers wrote about those worried that getting our news from smart speakers might threaten media diversity.

Bot or not: New legislation in Congress and in the California State Legislature aims to regulate social media bots. Easier said than done, writes Madeline Lamo.

Desinformación: Mia Armstrong rounded up the most popular fake news that spread ahead of Mexico’s presidential election this summer—and explained what it tells us about the global fight against digital disinformation.

Leaving talk of “meddling” to the Hardy Boys,

Kirsten Berg
for Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.