Machines are indeed what we make them. This means we have an opportunity to avoid assumptions and prejudices brought about by the way we project human feelings and desires. But does this ethically entail that robots should be able to consent to or refuse sex, as human beings would?
The innovative philosophers and scientists Frank and Nyholm have found many legal reasons for answering both yes and no (a robot’s lack of human consciousness and legal personhood, and the “harm” principle, for example). Again, we find ourselves seeking to apply a very human law. But feelings of suffering outside of relationships, or identities accepted as the “norm”, are often illegitimised by law.
So a “legal” framework which has its origins in heteronormative desire does not necessarily construct the foundation of consent and sexual rights for robots. Rather, as the renowned post-human thinker Rosi Braidotti argues, we need an ethic, as opposed to a law, which helps us find a practical and sensitive way of deciding, taking into account emergences from cross-species relations. The kindness and empathy we feel toward Samantha may be a good place to begin.