The Ethical Dilemmas of Robotics

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Nov 2, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)

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The Ethical Dilemmas of Robotics


Eric Lafferty


The rapid advancements in techn
ology that the world has
witness
ed

over the past century
have made a reality

of

many of
mankind‟s

wildest dreams. From being able to cross the earth,
air, and sea at extreme speeds to being able to send and receive information instantly via the
Internet, the technological advancements in recent years have become cornerstones of modern
society. One dre
am that is still yet to be perfectly fulfilled by advancements in technology is the
development of human
-
like

and self
-
aware

robots, often referred to as androids. While robotic
technology has come a long way since
its

initial attempts, the robot which is
largely
indistinguishable from a human is still far from a reality. However, as technology continues to
develop and evolve exponentially
,

many people believe it is only a matter of time. If and when
truly "living" robots were to come about, one can foresee

a slew of ethical dilemmas developing.

A complete consensus on the definition of the word

robot


has yet to be reached.
However, it is commonly accepted that robots contain some combination of the following
attributes: mobility, intelligent behavior, sense and manipulation of environment (“Robot”). This
being the case
,

the term

robot


truly extends
to more than just androids. However, for the
purpose of this paper I will focus for the most part on androids and their ethical implications.

The History of Robots

Using the term

robot


to
refer
specifically to
androids is

actually how the term was first
applied. The commonly accepted first use of the word was in 1920 in the form of a play
written

by Karel Capek. The play was entitled
R.U.R.

(
Rossum's Universal Robots
) and involves the
development of artificial people. These people are referred to as robot
s and while they are given
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the ability to think, they are designed to be happy as servants
.
The use of the word

robot


in
Capek's play comes from the
Slavic languages


word

for “work
,


which is
robota

("R.U.R.
(Rossum's Universal Robots).")
.

While the word

robot


was not used until 1920, the idea of mechanical humans has been
around as far back as Greek mythology. One example that closely relates to the servant robots
seen in Capek's play is the servants of the Greek god Hephaestus, the god of fire and the forge.
It
is recorded that Hephaestus had built robots ou
t

of gold

which were


his helpers, including a
complete set of life
-
size golden handmaidens who helped around the house


(

Hephaestus:
Greek God of the Forge and Fire

)
.

Another example of robots in Greek m
ythology comes from
the stories of Pygmalion
,

who is said to have crafted a statue of Galatea that would
come

to life

(

Timeline of Robotics

)
.

Beyond the ancient myths which speak of humanoid robots, one of the milestones in the
design and development
of
such robots came with

the

discovery of Leonardo Da Vinci's journals
which contained detailed plans for the construction of a humanoid robot. Inspired by the ancient
myths, the robot was designed
in the form

of an armored knight and was to possess the abili
ty to
sit up, wave
its

arms, move
its

head, and open
its

mouth. The journals in which the plans were
found date back to 1495

(

Timeline of Robotics

).

It i
s unknown if
this

robot was ever

built by
Da Vinci, but
merely conceiving it was

a milestone

in the timeline of robotic history.

The Modern State of Robots

From Da Vinci to the current day the development of humanoid robots has continued to
approach
the

goal of a robot that is indistinguishable from a human. However, despite the
massive

recent

advancements in technology and even the exponential growth of computing
power of the past decades, this dream is still far from

a

reality.
In a

comprehensive

article
in

the
3


New York Times
, Robin Marantz Henig discusses her experiences with what are o
ften
labeled
“social robots.”

These robots are

by no means what the servant

robots of Greek mythology have

led many

people

to hope for; rather
they

are infant versions
, at best, of
the long
-
hoped
-
for
androids
. Heni
g comments these machines are


not the docile
companions of our collective
dreams, robots designed to flawlessly serve our dinners, fold our clothes and do the dull or
dangerous jobs that we don‟t want to do. Nor are they the villains of our collective nightmares,
poised for robotic rebellion against
humans whose machine creations have become smarter than
the humans themselves. They are, instead, hunks of metal tethered to computers, which need
their human designers to get them going and to smooth the hiccups along the way


(Henig

1
)
.

Despite the
disappointment that many people feel when they are given the chance to
interact with the latest robots, some major players in the robotic industry are quite optimistic.

Rodney Brooks is an
expert in
robotics and artificial intelligence. In an article writt
en in 2008,
Brooks explains that it is no longer a question of
whether

human
-
level artificial intelligence will
be developed, but
rather how and when

(Brooks)
. Brooks
adds,


I'm far from alone in my
conviction that one day we will create a human
-
level arti
ficial intelligence, often called an
artificial general intelligence, or AGI. But how and when we will get there, and what will happen
after we do, are now the subjects of fierce debate in my circles


(Brooks).

While it is true that
androids

are not the only robots which have a great impact on our
lives, their development introduces a set of uniq
ue ethical issues which industrial

robots do not
e
voke. Working under the assumption that it is only a matter of time until
androids are an
everyday
reality, it is proper to begin thinking about what these ethical issues are and how they
may be dealt with in the coming years. The overarching question that results is what exactly
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these robots
are.

Are they
simply
pile
s

of

electronics running advanced al
gorithms, or are they a
new form of life?

What Is Life?


The question of what constitutes life is
one

on which
the world may never come to a
consensus. From the ancient philosophers to the common man on the street, it seems that
everyone has an opinion on
what a living organism consists of.

One of the more prevailing views
throughout history has been that of Aristotle. The basic tenets of Aristotle‟s view are that an
organism has both “matter” and “form.” This differs from
the philosophical position known a
s
materialism
,

which has become popular in modern times
and

finds its roots
among

the ancient
Indians (“Materialism”).

Materialism does not entertain any notion of org
anisms having a “form”
or “soul

;

rather
,

organisms are made simply of various types of “
matter.”

These two views are
at odds with one another and the
philosophical position

society adopts will inevitably have a
huge impact on how
humans

interact with robots.

Aristotle


The view
articulated

by Aristotle and his modern
-
day followers
describes

life in terms of
unity
, a composite of both

matter


and

form
.


One type of

“matter” which Aristotle speaks of
could be biological material such as what plants, animals, and humans consist of.

Another type
of

“matter” could also be the mechanical and ele
ctronic
components which make up modern
-
day
robots.
Clearly it is not the “matter” alone which
distinguishes

whether an object is a living
organism
, for if it were, Aristotle‟s view would differ little
from

m
aterialism
.

The distinguishing
characteristic of Aristotle is his inclusion of “form.” The term simply means whatever it is that
makes a human a human, a plant a plant, and an animal an animal. Each of these have a specific
“form” which is not the same as
its “matter
,” but is

a functioning unity which is

essential to each
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living organism in order for it to be just that, living.

The word used to describe the “form” of a
living
organism is “psyche” or “soul.” The current
-
day philosopher Dr. Robert Greene
explains
Aristo
tle‟s teaching that

“the self
-
organization of living matter is based on the presence of a
substantial unity called the psyche or „soul
,



which functions in this way

(Gre
ene 142).

Materialism

Opposed to Aristotle's view on what exactly life is comprised
of
,

materialism is another
philosophical theory contending to answer
this question
. The basic ten
et

of materialism is that

matter


is the only thing which exists. In short, according to
Wikipedia
, materialism teaches

that all things are composed of
material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the
result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance
” (“Materialism”).

This view of the world is shared by many and is even

the view of
Rodney Brooks
, who is quoted
above
.

Unlike Aristotle's
philosophical view
,

which was embraced by various religions, perhaps
most notably by the Roman Catholic Church and more specifically

by

St. Thomas Aquinas,
materialism often finds itself at odds with most religious view
s in
the world. Catholicism being a
prime example of this, one will not find a favorable description of materialism when looking at
the opening lines of
its

definitio
n in the
Catholic Encyclopedia
. The encyclopedia's entry beg
ins
by defining materialism as “
a philosophical system which regards matter as the only reality in
the world, which undertakes to explain every event in the universe as resulting from the
conditions and activity
of matter
, and which thus denies the existence of God and the soul


(“Cathol
ic Encyclopedia (1913)/Materialism”)
.

Why does it matter that materialism is at odds with Catholicism and most

other religions
?
More specifically, what does this have to do with
robots and androids
? I would argue that it
is
6


relevant

because if
m
aterialism
is correct, then humans should have the power to develop new
forms of life. If it is true that everything in the universe is simply material and the result of
material

interactions, then nothing should be stopping us from creating
androids

and recognizing
them as just as valid a lif
e form as humans
.

Robotic Life

While I am personally opposed to the materialist view of life, the ethical questions that
arise as a result of assuming
its

accuracy are nevertheless of great interest. This being so, I will
discuss
what might happen

if

we are actually able to develop and build
living
androids
.

If we accept the idea that
androids
should be considered a

new

form of life, albeit made
up of machinery rather than biological components, to what form of life are we to equate them?
For the
sake

of simplicity there are three primary forms of life that are
accepted

by the modern
world. The first is plant life. While

plants

are living organisms, they have no mind, and for
this

reason should not be the form of life

to

which
androids

are

compared
. The second form is animal
life. This covers a wide array of forms from insects to dogs to dolphins.

If we consider androids
to be animals
,

they would have to be of the highest sort. The androids that the future promise
s

would no doubt quickly surpass even the smartest of mere wild animals. Moreover, since

androids would likely be
intertwined

with

humans
,

it
would be more
intuitive

to equate them
directly with the third form of life
, humans. But
would

the fact that the androids were developed
by humans prove that the
androids are inferior to humans? Since

there is no previous case of
humans creating new life forms to

refere
nce,

it
is difficult to answer this question
.

The Three Laws of Robotics

The decision of what level of life robots are to be considered is an essential one
.

If they
are less than huma
n, then perhaps science fiction

has some valuable advice

for us
.

In 1942 Isaac
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Asimov introduced to the world of science fiction what are known as the Three Laws of
Robotics
, which we
re published in his short story “Runaround.”


The laws Asimov
formulated

are defined as follows:

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 any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders
would conflict with the First Law.

3.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict

with the First or Second Law

("Three Laws of Robotics").

While
these laws are
part of science fiction history,

the current state of robotic technology
demands that
they

be considered in a new light. As with

many ideas once
confined

to

the world
of science fiction, Asimov‟s laws

are now able to make the transition into reality
.



At first glance these three laws seem to be an excellent way to ensure the safe
development of this

supposed

new
life form
.

However, Asimov‟s laws presu
ppose
that human
life is of greater

value than that of the
androids

being developed.
If we work

under

the

assumption

that androids should be considered just below humans, Asimov‟s laws may hold true.
But what if
we hold to the

conclusion

materialism

reaches, tha
t
androids

should be placed
at or
above
the level

of hum
ans?

If this is the case
,

Asimov‟s laws will not be able to be applied. The
main reason is that we could not see androids as
equal

forms of life and

implement

Asimov‟s
laws
,

which
place

androids

in direct submission to
humans
.
How can it be that an android should
give its life for a human if
an android has
a

right to life

equal to that of
a human? Imagine an
army made up of both androids and humans. Should the android always give its life to save

a
human‟s life? Would human soldiers be willing to die for an android? As much as people may
8


believe in materialism and come to conclusion
s that robots will one day be a life form equal to

humans, I find it hard to believe that many people would actually die for a robot.

Robot Code of Ethics


While it remains true that robotics technology is not at a place where ethical codes for
robots are necessary, it is not stopping some countries from
being proactive and taking the
beginning steps in the development of a robot code of ethics.

South Korea is considered one of
the most high
-
tech countries in the world and they are leading the way in the development
of
such a code
.

K
nown officially as the
Robot Ethics Charter
,

it
is being drawn up “to prevent
human abuse of robots

and vice versa


(
Lovgren
)
.

The main focus of the charter is said to
be
on the

social problems the mass
integration

of robots into society
is

bound to create. In particular
it aims

to define how people are to properly interact with robots,
in Stefan Lovgren‟s words
,

“human control over robots and humans becoming addicted to robot interaction


(
Lovgren
)
.

Beyond the social problems robots

may

bring with them,
there

also
is
an array of

legal issues, t
he
primary
one
in the
charter

being

what and how information

is

collected and distributed by robots

(
Lovgren
)
.


To many it seems as

though South Korea‟s Robot
Ethics Charter is the beginning

of a
modern
-
day implementation of
Asimov‟s

Three Laws of Robotics
.

However, many robot
designers such as
Mark Tilden

think this is all a bit premature.

Tilden claims that
we are simply
not at a point where robots can be given morals and compares it to

teaching an ant to yodel


(
qtd. in
Lovgren
)
.
Tilden goes on

to claim that when we do reach that point, the interactions will
be less than pleasant
,

stating that “
as many of Asimov's stories show, the conundrums robots and
humans would face would result in more tragedy than utility


(
qtd. in
Lovgren
)
.

Despite Tilden
‟s
and other
s


pessimistic view of what the future holds for the human
-
robot relationship,
9


technology will slow

down

for no one. It is only a matter of time before
other

countries will
follow in South Korea‟s footsteps and create their own

code of ethics for robots and their
interactions with humans.

Sex and Robots


While general relations between robots and humans are important, there is one issue that
could easily
be in

the forefront

of the robot ethics discussion: sex.
Henrik Christensen

is

a
member of the European Robotics Research Network

and stated

in 2006

that he expects
that
“p
eople are going to be having sex with robots within five years


(
qtd. in
Habershon)
.

The
expectation
s

in regard

to

a

robot‟s ability to provide sexual pleasure for humans could change the
sexual tendencies of the world. It
will be

no surprise if the adult entertainment industry were to
seize the opportunity robotics will soon provide
, as they have with past technologica
l
advancements
,

namely,

robots designed specifically for
pleasure
.

In fact
,

this is exactly what has

begun to

happen
,

confirming

that

Christensen
‟s prediction

was correct
. I
n January 2010
, at the
Adult Entertainment Expo
in
Las Vegas, Nevada
, Douglas Hines introduced Roxxxy to the
world
.

CNN journalist
Brandon Griggs

comments that “
t
o some men, she might seem like the
perfect woman: She's a willowy 5 feet 7 and 120 pounds. She'll chat with you endlessly about
your interests. And she'll have s
ex whenever you please
--

as long as her battery doesn't run out


(Griggs)
.

Roxx
x
y is scheduled to ship
later this
year,

and while a price tag of $7000 may deter
many potential customers, Hines claims that

pre
-
orders have been rolling in
(Griggs)
.

Moreover
,
if the product reaches mass production the price will surely drop.

Inevitably

the days will soon be upon us when people seek out robots for sex
ual pleasure

on a large
r

scale
, and why not? The robots
will

be designed to be completely customizable to
satisfy the tastes of every customer.
The greater adoption of sex robots could very likely lead to a
10


drop in

both prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases
,

which would be seen as a positive by
many.
Howev
er, there are also negatives to the adoption of using robots for sexual pleasure
which must be carefull
y considered. As a result of on
-
demand sexual intercourse, sexual
addictions are likely to skyrocket. Furthermore
,

it could lead to the degradation of th
e traditional
view on sexual intercourse holding a place of sanctity within marriage. Some of these issues
hinge on whether

the

robots are mere machines and not a new mechanical organism. When laws
are passed in regard to human
-
robot sexual relations, what should the legislation contain?
Clearly
,

if the
robots

are a form of life
,

then it would be wrong for

humans to have free rei
n

with
them. On the one hand
,

it could be seen as a form of rape, and on the other

hand
,

interspecies

intercourse is

frowned upon by most societies
,

if not

forbidden
in their law
.
While many people
will abstain from the use of sex robots because of objectio
ns arising from religious
, moral,

and
philosophical beliefs,

many people
would find
pleasure

in
them
.
For
these

reason
s

it is essential
that
the

ethical issues regarding robotic sex begin to be discussed in societies before it becomes a
widespread reality.

Conclusio
n

The root question

around

which all ethical issues involvin
g human
-
robot relations
revolve

is whether humans
can

peacefully exist with another intelligent species.

If we look back
into history
,

it seems doubtful that humans could accomplish this. An excellent example of this
came with the discovery of the Americas and the exploitation and slaughter of the Native
Americans who lived there. In
that

case

where

both sides were human
,
it took hundred
s of years
before peace could be reached
and
even then
at the cost of countless lives.

While it remains

a matter of debate,
I

personally do not believe that
society
will ever
accept

the

idea

that
androids
are

an equal or greater form of life
than

humans.
H
uman nature is
11


prideful
and
I do not believe human society as a whole could handle not being
on
top.

No matter
what happens,
upcoming technological advancements will

lead

us to consider closely just

what
constitutes life
.



12


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