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Ethics and Robotics


Ethics and Robotics Richard A. Burgess, M.A. Texas Tech T-STEM Center and Deputy Director, National Institute for Engineering Ethics Summer 2012 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ethics and Robotics

Ethics and Robotics
Richard A. Burgess, M.A. Texas Tech T-STEM Center
and Deputy Director, National Institute for
Engineering Ethics Summer 2012
Three Laws of Robotics Isaac Asimov
  • 1. A robot may not injure a human being or,
    through inaction, allow a human being to come to
  • 2. A robot must obey 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.

  • While Asimovs Three Laws are interesting, we
    will not be focusing on them.
  • We will explore how to incorporate ethics into
    robotics PBLs.
  • Some of the techniques and questions we will look
    at can be easily adapted to other types of
    projects and activities.

Questions to Teach Ethics
  • Well-formulated questions are a great way to
    generate discussion among students and teachers.
  • Questions also allow us to explore the various
    facets of technology.
  • Five questions to be inserted at various stages
    in the PBL.

Question 1
  • What materials and resources will be needed to
    construct, operate, and maintain robots?
  • Materials
  • Durability
  • Cost
  • Accessibility
  • Sustainability/Disposability
  • Resources
  • Energy required to construct robots
  • Energy required to operate them

Question 2
  • 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?

Question 3
  • Besides the people using the technology, who else
    might be affected by it?
  • Will peoples jobs change in virtue of robots?
    Positively? Negatively?
  • What about those living around the factories
    responsible for producing the robots? Will they
    be impacted? If so, how?

Question 4
  • What else might be affected?
  • How will robots impact the inanimate world? The
    urban environment? Hospitals, nursing homes,
    assisted living facilities?
  • Animals around us?

Question 5
  • What will we do with robots once they are
    outdated or otherwise not being used anymore?
  • 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
    ethical issues.
  • Consider the roles robots might serve
  • Lifting patients/helping them ambulate this
    could potentially decrease injuries to both
    healthcare workers and patients.
  • Dispense medication this could free up nurses
    and other staff to address other needs.
  • Robots as companions could keep some patients

More Questions
  • Who is affected by the use of robots in
    healthcare? Directly? Indirectly? (e.g.,
    patients, health care workers, administrators,
    family members)
  • 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

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.

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