Does Not Compute: Neil deGrasse Tyson Off-base on Robot Sex

Famed astrophysicist gives odd answer to question on whether sex with robots is cheating.

Andy Samberg asks Neil deGrasse Tyson about robot sex.

Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be writing this, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is wrong.

Okay, to be fair that’s more than a bit clickbait-ish. Watching his recent appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, though, I honestly have to say that while he might not be wrong, his answer to a question on robot sex was ill thought out—at best.

I have nothing but the highest regard for Dr. Tyson. Hell, he’s one of my heroes: brilliant astrophysicist, best-selling author, the go-to-guy for science education, host of the recent relaunch of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, one of the leading lights in the fight for a world free of superstition and illogic, a fast wit, and—most of all—thoughtful.

Which is why his answer to comedian Andy Samberg’s questions on The Late Late Show was baffling.

The good news: we are not alone

Sure, the first one—in response to “Are we alone in the universe?”—was what we always expect from Dr. Tyson: that the basic building blocks of life are abundant and the universe is vast , as he states it, so to think we are alone would be “inexcusably egocentric.”

Then comes his answer to “Is sex with a robot cheating?”, to which the man partially responsible for knocking Pluto from the solar system responds that sex with a robot that does not look like your wife or girlfriend is cheating.

Seriously, Neil?

The bad news: we don’t understand robot sex—yet

Agreed, is hardly known as a platform for serious scientific debate, but Dr. Tyson’s response still comes off, once again, as maybe not wrong but not exactly well thought out, either.

Others, of course, have chimed in on this issue—some whose expertise are actually directly connected with human and robot sexuality concerns.

As we have written before, you have people like David Levy, the author of Love And Sex With Robots, who takes the view that robot sex isn’t just a good thing but inevitable.It will perhaps even lead to a time when humans may very well tie-the-knot with android partners.

On the other side are the likes of Kathleen Richardson: a very vocal opponent to the basic idea of human/robot sexuality. Her views can best be summed up by her site Campaign Against Sex Robots.

‘Cheating’ with robots?

What’s interesting is that Neil’s statement strangely falls between the two views. Seemingly believing that sexual robotics is just a matter of time—he doesn’t say anything about it not being feasible—he accepts that human and robot erotic involvements will be common enough to address the idea of “cheating.

Where he approaches Kathleen Richardson is in the entire idea of “cheating” itself: that robot and human sexplay will need somehow, and for some reason, to be kept in check. Sex with a robot that doesn’t look like your partner? Bad. Sex with a robot that does look like your partner? Good.

Personally, the real disappointment in Neil’s answer is in the whole idea of “cheating.” For someone who spends a lot of time dispelling myths and promoting science and reason, it’s unfortunate that he would fall back on the idea of marriage being an almost-divine joining—but with ways to “get around it” for the creative.

It’s like Neil is looking forward and backward at the same time: the future will have sex robots, but we’ll still be trapped in outdated and flawed sexual beliefs as well as social structures.

My answer to the same question

Not to try to better the rightfully eminent Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, I’d like to put forth a different answer to the question: “Is sex with a robot cheating?”

It’s always up to the beings, human or otherwise, involved. First of all, was the sexual contact consensual? Second, if one or more of the beings involved was bonded to any others and the act was done without disclosure, then there’s an ethical decision to be made to share what was done—based on the terms and agreements of the bonding.”

In short: by the time we’re asking this question about real events , it’s my hope that humanity will have advanced toward having more thoughtful and caring social bonds, that we will have undergone a social evolution: to where we will match our emotional and sexual development with our technological ones.

In the meantime I wish the wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson all the best—and hope that he might think a just a bit more when answering questions about sexuality, robots—and love.

Image source: The Late Late Show with James Cordon