Monday 25 August 2008

Ethical Robotics

What is an ethical robot?

Ethics is defined in Miriam Webster's dictionary as:
"the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation"

Robots all over the world are engaged in activities from killing people with live ammunition on the Korean border to playing with children in kindergarten. Are these activities good or bad?

In 2005 the US military engaged in a $161 billion dollar robotics project that will develop combat robots, from their website:
"Protecting our soldiers now and in the future is nothing less than a national moral imperative."
An interesting ethical standpoint. It is certainly moral to protect 'our' soldiers; but not, it seems, moral to protect anyone elses.

Clearly Asimov's three laws are firmly entrenched in the world of fiction. Perhaps robotics technology will only be limited by an ethos when its darker side is brought to public focus. How will you feel when the first robot army takes out a human one?

I believe that robots should take us beyond the boundaries of what we can do; rather than replace us. People are great at killing one another; we don't need any robotic assistance for that, so why not use robotics for extending our capabilities. There are robots right now exploring the deep sea floor where humans could not go, from figuring out what causes Tsunamis to seeking out the next great undersea oilfield. There are robots in space exploring other planets where people would freeze or boil in a heartbeat.

Military robotics is the biggest part of the industry, but I would much rather pursue the areas of robot development that:
a) don't harm people
and b) do things that people can't

Call it an ethos; a set of ethics. There are medical ethics, political ethics and social ethics; so why not a set of ethics for robotics?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Ethical Robot