Such uncertainty consigns robots to a liminal status in many people’s minds and in the eyes of the law. Linda MacDonald Glenn, a lawyer, futurist, and bio-ethicist, said in an interview that “the law is evolving to recognize that the property versus person designation is too rigid.” Not long ago women, slaves, and children were regarded more as property than persons. Glenn is particularly interested in people’s “evolving notions of personhood,” as well as how we as a society decide the “moral and legal status of personhood.” While “all humans are legal persons,” Glenn said, “not all legal persons are human,” such as corporations, municipalities, and ships. An EU Commission suggests granting advanced robots corporate personhood regardless of whether robots become sentient.

If one views a robot as property, then “sex with a robot isn’t any different than using a vibrator,” Glenn says, and thus, consent isn’t an issue. But if someone considers oneself in an intimate relationship with a robot—a being, rather than a tool—then the robot’s lack of free will becomes tricky. Is the robot a sex slave at that point? Sentience would make that question even more complicated.