Chris Van Es

Rights for Robots?

If machines can and do become conscious, will we take their feelings into account? The development of a conscious robot that (who?) was not widely perceived to have moral standing and interests worthy of consideration could lead to mistreatment on a large scale.

PRINCETON and WARSAW – Last month, Gecko Systems announced that it had been running trials of its “fully autonomous personal companion home care robot,” also known as a “carebot,” designed to help elderly or disabled people to live independently. A woman with short-term memory loss broke into a big smile, the company reported, when the robot asked her, “Would you like a bowl of ice cream?” The woman answered “yes,” and presumably the robot did the rest.

Robots already perform many functions, from making cars to defusing bombs – or, more menacingly, firing missiles. Children and adults play with toy robots, while vacuum-cleaning robots are sucking up dirt in a growing number of homes and – as evidenced by YouTube videos – entertaining cats. There is even a Robot World Cup, though, judging by the standard of the event held in Graz, Austria, last summer, footballers have no need to feel threatened just yet. (Chess, of course, is a different matter.)

Most of the robots being developed for home use are functional in design – Gecko System’s home-care robot looks rather like the Star Wars robot R2-D2. Honda and Sony are designing robots that look more like the same movie’s “android” C-3PO. There are already some robots, though, with soft, flexible bodies, human-like faces and expressions, and a large repertoire of movement. Hanson Robotics has a demonstration model called Albert, whose face bears a striking resemblance to that of Albert Einstein.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/QkOUHzh;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.