Ethics and Robotics
Richard A. Burgess, M.A.
Texas Tech T
National Institute for Engineering Ethics
Three Laws of Robotics
1. A robot may not injure a human
being or, through inaction, allow a
human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it
by human beings except where such
orders would conflict with the First
3. A robot must protect its own
existence as long as such protection
does not conflict with the First or
While Asimov’s Three Laws are interesting, we will
not be focusing on them.
We will explore how to incorporate ethics into
Some of the techniques and questions we will look at
can be easily adapted to other types of projects and
Questions to Teach Ethics
formulated questions are a great way to
generate discussion among students and
Questions also allow us to explore the various
facets of technology.
Five questions to be inserted at various stages
in the PBL.
What materials and resources will be needed
to construct, operate, and maintain robots?
Energy required to construct robots
Energy required to operate them
Who would use this technology?
Does the choice of materials affect cost which in
turn affects who could use robots?
Who would use robots and how would they be
impacted physically, emotionally, and financially?
Besides the people using the technology, who
else might be affected by it?
Will people’s jobs change in virtue of robots?
What about those living around the factories
responsible for producing the robots? Will they
be impacted? If so, how?
What else might be affected?
How will robots impact the inanimate world? The
urban environment? Hospitals, nursing homes,
assisted living facilities?
Animals around us?
What will we do with robots once they are
outdated or otherwise not being used
How will we store and/or dispose of robots? Will
we recycle certain components?
Could and should we ship robots we are no longer
using to countries that might benefit from them?
Discussion and Guidance
Facilitating discussion via questions is a good
In order to promote ethical reasoning, it is
worthwhile to draw attention to potential
sources of guidance regarding the questions.
Engineering codes of ethics (available online)
Robots in Healthcare
The use of robots in healthcare will raise
Consider the roles robots might serve:
Lifting patients/helping them ambulate: this could
potentially decrease injuries to both healthcare workers
Dispense medication: this could free up nurses and other
staff to address other needs.
Robots as companions: could keep some patients company
Who is affected by the use of robots in
healthcare? Directly? Indirectly? (e.g.,
patients, health care workers, administrators,
Will healthcare workers lose their jobs?
How will family members be affected? They
might find themselves freed from some of the
burdens of providing care but also isolated
from the patient.
Robots as Companions
“Robot caregivers: harbingers of expanded
freedom for all?” Jason Borenstein and Yvette
Pearson in Ethics and Information Technology,
volume 12, issue 3, September 2010
“The presence of certain kinds of robots may
ease depression caused by loneliness. Even if
robots do not provide genuine friendship,
they may mitigate feelings of isolation.”
Robots to help care for autistic children.