27 Feb 2017

Ethics and the rise of the robot

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:33 pm on 27 February 2017

Robots already vacuum our houses and are ubiquitous in manufacturing, but now developers are looking for new uses for their skills.

Robot prostitutes, robot soldiers, robot caregivers are all on the horizon, but what ethical issues do they present?

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Photo: 123RF

Philosopher, Dr Michael Hemmingsen told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan there is about to be an influx of robots in society.

And he says because of this the robot ethics needs to be thought of now, not in five to ten years.

Dr Hemmingsen says robot prostitutes, for example, presented a range of ethical problems, such as taking away jobs from human prostitutes. But on the other hand robot lovers could also help human relationships, by picking up the slack if one partner has a greater sex drive.

A robot lover might make a human partner feel like ‘God’s gift’ and that could mean humans were less inclined to have relationships with other humans, he says.

Robot carers or soldiers could also present ethical dilemmas, he says

He says robots could be incredibly helpful in a caregiver role, particularly somewhere like Japan where there is an aging population.

But he cautions that for some people, time with their caregiver is their only human interaction during the day, and that is important to maintain.

He says controls given to robots, such as programming one to restrain a dementia patient also needs careful consideration.

Robot soldiers could replace humans, and Dr Hemmingsen says they could do a better job than humans in terms of ethics.

“I don’t think it would take all that much for robot soldiers to be more ethical.

“They can make judgements more quickly, they’re not fearful like human beings and fear often leads to people making less than optimal decisions, morally speaking… they’re not going to commit rape for example on the battle field.”

Robots already vacuum our houses and are ubiquitous in manufacturing, but and now developers are looking for new uses for their skills.

Robot prostitutes, robot soldiers, robot caregivers are all on the horizon, but what ethical issues do they present?

Dr Michael Hemmingsen is an expert in ethics and robotics, told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan there is about to be an influx of robots in society.

And he says because of this the robot ethics needs to be thought of now, not in five to ten years.

Dr Hemmingsen says robot prostitutes, for example, presented a range of ethical problems, such as taking away jobs from human prostitutes. But on the other hand robot lovers could also help human relationships, by picking up the slack if one partner has a greater sex drive.

A robot lover might make a human partner feel like ‘God’s gift’ and that could mean humans were less inclined to have relationships with other humans, he says.

Robot carers or soldiers could also present ethical dilemmas, he says

He says robots could be incredibly helpful in a caregiver role, particularly somewhere like Japan where there is an aging population.

But he cautions that for some people, time with their caregiver is their only human interaction during the day, and that is important to maintain.

He says controls given to robots, such as programming one to restrain a dementia patient also needs careful consideration.

Robot soldiers could replace humans, and Dr Hemmingsen says they could do a better job than humans in terms of ethics.

“I don’t think it would take all that much for robot soldiers to be more ethical.

“They can make judgements more quickly, they’re not fearful like human beings and fear often leads to people making less than optimal decisions, morally speaking… they’re not going to commit rape for example on the battle field.”