Caring robots - more dangerous than killer robots?

  • 2016-06-02
  • Research
  • Social Responsibility

Military robotics raise more ethical worries than the use of robots in caring roles does. This superficial impression deserves revision for a number of reasons


It might seem, at first glance, that military robotics raises many more ethical worries than does the use of robots in caring roles. However, this superficial impression deserves revision for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is overwhelming evidence that robots are a very effective tool with which to manipulate human emotional responses. It might theoretically be possible to do this only in ethical ways of benefit to individuals and society. Unfortunately there has been little or no discussion of exactly what these ways might be. For the caring robots now being developed by the private sector there is no guidance whatsoever on these issues. We can therefore expect at best, the manipulation of emotions in order to maximize profits. At the worst we can expect dangerous mistakes and disreputable deceit. There has also been very little discussion outside the specialist field of robot ethics of just which caring roles are suitable for robots and which roles we might wish, on good reasoned grounds, to reserve for humans. This is surely a matter that deserves widespread public debate. Finally, there is now a large number of international conventions, legislation, and rules of engagement which directly impact on the development and deployment of military robots. In complete contrast, the field of social, domestic, and caring robots is without any significant legislation or ethical oversight. Caring, not killing, is now the wild lawless frontier of robotics.


Dr Blay Whitby is a philosopher and ethicist concerned with the social impact of new and emerging technologies. He is a leading researcher in the field and the author of many books, chapters and papers on the subject including “On Computable Morality”, “Reflections on Artificial Intelligence: The Legal, Moral and Ethical Dimensions and “Artificial Intelligence, A Beginner’s Guide”. Widening public engagement in science through debate is important to him and he is a regular speaker in community settings as well as having participated in several very high impact science/art collaborations.


This talk is part of the IGW / (Lunchtime) Scientific Series.


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