Do People View Robots As Moral Entities

April 27th, 2012

The research team, led by Peter Kahn, points out that the morality (or perceived morality) of robots is going to get more and more relevant as they become cooks and maids and drivers and soldiers and friends and otherwise integrate themselves more tightly into our lives. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever to understand what kind of relationships we’re capable of forming with human-like machines, especially since robots now, or will soon, have the ability to inadvertently hurt us:

Consider a scenario in which a domestic robot assistant accidentally breaks a treasured family heirloom; or when a semi-autonomous robotic car with a personified interface malfunctions and causes an accident; or when a robot-fighting entity mistakenly kills civilians. Such scenarios help establish the importance of the following question: Can a robot now or in the near future-say 5 or 15 years out-be morally accountable for the harm it causes?

The HINTS studies approach these questions from several perspectives, including how adults (or, at least, undergrads) deal with a robot who makes a mistake, and how children react to a robot getting punished. And whether or not you have the slightest interest in the academic angle here, the videos of the experiments (showing participants and robots arguing) are kind of hilarious.

This story from Gizmodo reflects some research I learned about at the We Robot conference. We anthropomorphize animals. We do it to robots as well.