Love and Sex with Robots by David Levy is very sanguine about the idea that we may, in the near future, not only use lifelike robots as sex toys but actually fall in love with them - quite literally. Now I suppose it's possible that we could create robots that are just as much conscious, intelligent beings as we are, and if so I don't see any obvious reason why they couldn't be appropriate objects of love and partners in sex. I don't think, for example, that all sex should be procreative. There may or may not be other reasons to avoid creating conscious artificial beings - hey, we've all seen the Terminator movies (some of us ... ahem ... have even written material for the Terminator franchise) - but the inappropriateness of falling in love with conscious robots isn't one of them. Well, at least it's not high on my list.
Moreover, I'm disinclined to see carbon as a magic element. Assuming, as I do, that consciousness supervenes causally on the functioning of certain complex material things, such as human brains (and, I don't doubt, the brains of many other animals), there's still a question as to exactly what is required for consciousness. I'm betting that it's going to be to do with structure and functioning rather than the actual material involved, so, in principle, there could be conscious things made of other sorts of stuff than carbon compounds. If so, it seems possible in principle, however difficult it may be in practice, to make robots that are conscious, even though they will be made of different materials from our brains. (Once again, forget for the moment whether it's a good idea all things considered.)
The problem is, Levy isn't talking about robots of such intricacy as to match our brains and to possess whatever sort of structure and functioning we eventually decide (though how?) is necessary for consciousness. The robots he's talking about will pass the Turing Test for practical purposes - they will be programmed to profess feelings, including feelings of love, with such plausibility that it will be natural for ordinary people to believe them. Fine, I don't necessarily care if people are willingly deceiving themselves ... though it can become a complicated argument. But I'm aghast at the idea that we should accept that the feelings are real as long as they seem so.
Again, it might turn out that we can't create a robot that can pass the Turing Test, administered by someone truly expert, without that robot actually having the consciousness it professes to have (it will need to talk about its feelings and experiences if it's probed by even a moderately sophisticated interlocutor). That might turn out to be correct, I suppose, because a robot that can maintain a probing conversation with an expert interlocutor will have to very sophisticated and complex indeed. It will need to use language in highly novel and complex ways, and to discuss deep emotional responses to things that it can't know about in advance.
But Levy isn't talking about a machine that has some kind of structural equivalent to our tens of billions of neurons, connected intricately. From his description, he could be talking about something much simpler. Programmers will be able to use other methods to fool us, taking advantage of our tendencies to anthropomorphise. In that case, we could end up creating robots that are not conscious at all but give a very good impression of actually having the feelings they report. They might not stand up to interrogation by an expert, but they might sound sincere to the rest of us. After all, think how uncommunicative real people can often be. Surely uber-skilled programmers of love-and-sex robots could do better than that.
The mere ability of future programmers to fool us, in relevant situations, that we're dealing something with real feelings does not entail that feelings are really present, and I'm somewhat surprised at the suggestion that we will and should blithely act as if it does. If I'm right on this, a lot of Levy's book is far more problematic than he acknowledges or apparently realises. He's suggesting we fall in love with things that give a plausible appearance of loving us back but have no actual feelings for us or anything else. And when it's put that way, I doubt that it's what many of us want.