How can “ensure that future robotic technology preserves our humanity and our societies’ values?”

March 13th, 2012


Since it’s not enough just to know what’s forbidden, the researchers say that autonomous robots must also need emotions to motivate behavior modification. One of the most important emotions for robots to have would be guilt, which a robot would “feel” or produce whenever it violates its ethical constraints imposed by the governor, or when criticized by a human. Philosophers and psychologists consider guilt as a critical motivator of moral behavior, as it leads to behavior modifications based on the consequences of previous actions. The researchers here propose that, when a robot’s guilt value exceeds specified thresholds, the robot’s abilities may be temporarily restricted (for example, military robots might not have access to certain weapons).

Though it may seem surprising at first, the researchers suggest that robots should also have the ability to deceive people – for appropriate reasons and in appropriate ways – in order to be truly ethical. They note that, in the animal world, deception indicates social intelligence and can have benefits under the right circumstances. For instance, search-and-rescue robots may need to deceive in order to calm or gain cooperation from a panicking victim. Robots that care for Alzheimer’s patients may need to deceive in order to administer treatment. In such situations, the use of deception is morally warranted, although teaching robots to act deceitfully and appropriately will be challenging.

The final point that the researchers touch on in their overview is ensuring that robots – especially those that care for children and the elderly – respect human dignity, including human autonomy, privacy, identity, and other basic human rights. The researchers note that this issue has been largely overlooked in previous research on robot ethics, which mostly focuses on physical safety. Ensuring that robots respect human dignity will likely require interdisciplinary input.

The researchers predict that enforcing ethical behavior in robots will face challenges in many different areas.

Seems like many of the traits of a robot judge.