Hit & Run

'Mobile Brothels' Could Be Enabled by Self-Driving Cars, But That Doesn't Mean They Will: Reason Roundup

Plus: Amazon goes to Washington (for good) and Chicago cops shoot man who stopped bar shooting.

|

Cover Images/Newscom

Wait, but why? Driverless cars for mass consumption are't a thing yet, so naturally now is the time to start fretting about how they could enable sexual activity.

That people may generally have more car sex on hands-free commutes does make some sense. But because 21st century America has gone collectively bonkers about possible prostitution, some academics and media are taking this one step further and worrying that self-driving cars will become mobile brothels.

"People are going to sell sex in driverless cars, researchers say," reads one Washington Post headline. The New York Post headline warns that "Self-driving vehicles will turn cars into brothels on wheels." And so on, across U.S. and U.K. press.

This prediction was but one small part of a larger study looking at how autonomous vehicles (AVs) will change tourism-dependent industries. It appears in the Annals of Tourism Research, and covers the competition AVs will give to "all industries tied to transport."

Most media coverage of the paper has focused on predictions about sex, particularly how AVs may be used by sex workers. Self-driving cars will "revolutionize red light districts, putting prostitution on wheels," chirps Fast Company.

The paper's authors are more temperate, writing that "the intersection of automated mobility and the urban night demands … analyses," and this "might include questions of how prostitution, and sex more generally, in moving CAVs, becomes a growing phenomenon." They suggest that "'hotels-by-the-hour' are likely to be replaced" by self-driving cars and while these will "likely be monitored to deter passengers having sex or using drugs in them, … such surveillance may be rapidly overcome, disabled or removed."

Their speculation seems somewhat sketch to me. Unless things get way more dystopian by the 2040s—when the authors predict AVs to be in full swing—there's little reason to think that homes, hotels, and other places where prostitution is currently common would give way to a roving red-light districts, staffed by a fleet of car-camera hacking sex workers. Even if automated cars are convenient and safe enough to set and forget, they're still not as comfortable or private as other options. And the potential for police intervention on the road is high (whether the sex would be otherwise legal or not).

At least a few folks have been pushing back on the idea. Here's sex worker rights activist Kate D'Adamo:

Quartz also offers a less credulous take:

Given a private, or semi-private, space, some people probably will have or sell sex in it. But we know that because they already do—in regular, hands-on-the-wheel vehicles, parked by the wayside or down some dark alley. The cars may not be moving, but the premise is the same: Sex on wheels, in a place that's convenient for purchaser and seller alike.

What's less convincing is that the advent of self-driving cars will lead to wholesale changes in where people pay for sex. In places where sex work remains illegal, engaging in it in a semi-public place, like a car, exposes both purchaser and seller to the risk of being caught and penalized. (High-profile examples include Eddie Murphy and Hugh Grant.) While it's true that a moving vehicle may be somewhat harder to locate than a parked one, it's still a car out on the roads, and therefore not an ideal venue for people trying to keep their activities a secret. Those who can afford it will likely take or locate their business elsewhere.

In places where sex work is legal, driverless cars also aren't an ideal solution. A hotel room or brothel is likely to be far less cramped, with any required accoutrements easier to come by. Sex in a moving vehicle might present a bumpier ride than desired. Perhaps more importantly for sex workers, an encounter that turned nasty would be hard to escape from—short of throwing themselves from a moving vehicle, which might be more dangerous still. And even if the sex work is legal, indecent exposure in public may not be—and there are other potential violations to consider, like removing one's seatbelt for an extended period of time.

And here's Reason's Jesse Walker, asking the important questions:

Speaking of sexbots, they provide another fine example of our urge to preemptively panic about tech-enabled sex.

Officials in Houston recently banned sex on the premises of a sex doll shop that many insisted on calling a "sex robot brothel." And though realistic, artificially intelligent humanoid robots are still a long way off, we've already seen years of research, ranting, and theorizing about the potential future of paid robot sex and public health harms.

FREE MARKETS

Amazon is coming to New York City and Northern Virginia. The company announced Monday that it will build its new headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, and Long Island City, Queens.

"The sad truth of the matter is that these new quasi-headquarters will probably hurt these cities more than they help," writes Cale Guthrie Weissman at Fast Company.

Politicians have bent over backwards to woo Amazon, offering copious tax breaks, shrubbery, and other enticing gifts. New York governor Andrew Cuomo even said he'd change his name to Amazon Cuomo, in a move that did not at all read as desperate and pitiful. Beyond the new jobs, all Amazon is really offering is more congestion and skyrocketing rents.

As Ron Kim and Zephyr Teachout write in the New York Times, "serfdom is the style of 'partnership' [New York City] should expect."

PROTECTING & SERVING

Police kill hero who stopped bar shooting:

QUICK HITS

• Good morning from the president:

• "What happens when you borrow the equivalent of your annual income and those low, low teaser rates start to increase? Congratulations, America, you're about to find out," writes Nick Gillespie.

• RIP Stan Lee.

• San Francisco sex workers fight back against the city's "Sex Worker Abatement Unit":