What Are The Rules In A Robot/Human Society?

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Nicholas West
Activist Post

In the video below, PBS Off Book takes a balanced look at the world of robotics which is quickly transforming human society.

The concerns are finally beginning to mount about the unintended consequences of creating something that has the potential to be smarter than us, while also achieving a startling level of independence. Robots are a physical presence that, like any physical presence, can potentially do harm.

Until now, these considerations have been whispered by mainstream media as light afterthoughts in the shadow of the bright future that is sold to us with every new tech development promising an enhanced life of more productivity, better entertainment, and a longer life span. PBS takes a surprisingly alternative look at this narrative.

We are already seeing the negative economic impacts of increased automation that are unparalleled since the Industrial Revolution. Self-driving vehicles, drone delivery and much more are in development for wide-scale rollout.

The emergence of interconnected “smart” devices known as the Internet of Things is also rapidly taking shape with AT&T, IBM and Google leading the way toward a matrix of centralized machine tracking and decision making of economic and social policies.

We are seeing drones impact the rules of foreign wars and domestic surveillance. Each new development in the global drone arms race aims to perfect autonomous systems of data collection and target assessment. These systems should bring into question the legal and ethical underpinnings of their actions. As Peter Asaro, PhD correctly questions about drone warfare, “If these things accidentally kill people or commit something that if it was done by a human we would consider it a war crime; now it’s being done by a machine, so is that just a technological error or is it a war crime?” The fact that we are asking this question now, and there still is an insufficient answer, is indicative of the predicament in which we find ourselves.

We are also seeing robotic elements being put in place in the medical field with everything from robotic pills that replace injections to DNA nanobots, bringing us to what futurist Ray Kurzweil has called the Human Body Version 2.0. Much like the questions surrounding warfare, the same line of questioning must be considered in the area of human health services. Who is ultimately responsible?

Beyond the technology itself, however, there is the social impact of robots (especially emotional robots) as they become an increasing part of our daily interaction with the world. The PBS video highlights how empathy associated with functional human-to-human interaction is beginning to slowly shape the human-robot dynamic as well.

Above all, this video does an excellent job of highlighting the speed at which all of this is taking place … perhaps quite a bit faster than our considerations about potential worst-case scenarios.

In the end, the types of robots we embrace might wind up to be a direct reflection of ourselves.


Peter Asaro, PhD Assistant Professor, The New School

Wendell Wallach, Ethicist & Scholar, Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics

Kate Darling, Robot Ethics Researcher, MIT Media Lab

Hat Tip: 33rd Square

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