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  • Rafael Capurro
  • Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart
  • Università di Pisa, 17-18 Maggio 2007
  • Luomo e la macchina. Passato e Presente

  • A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • B. Techno-ethical Issues
  • General Background
  • Epistemological, ontological, and psychoanalytic
  • Ethical aspects of man-machine relations
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • From which standpoint do we - as ethicists -
  • And for whom?
  • What are the consequences and what is the
    (potential) field of application of an ethics of
    human interaction with communication, bionic and
    robotic systems (in the following techo-ethics)?

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • An important part of it should be an ethics of
    technology design and production.
  • Techno-ethics should support strong, contestatory
    democratic practice and citizen activity that is
    involved in the creation of techno-scientific

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • The leading question is how to design an
    interdisciplinary process that also involves
    engineers and technology designers in the ongoing

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • A second question is, whether or how is it
    possible (and desirable) to develop a general
    ethics for any kind of robots and agents.
  • In which case(s) do we need a differentiation of
    fields of application and types of robots /
    agents with regard to ethical concerns?

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • A third question should also be cui bono? For
    whom and by whom are robots developed?
  • Who fits the standards that robots and robotic
    devices like AIBO, Pino, Paro, Kismet etc.
  • Do they contribute to deeper equality, keener
    appreciation of heterogeneous multiplicity, and
    stronger accountability for livable worlds?

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • Besides that a reflection on the socio-cultural
    context of the debate on robots and agents is

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • What kind of societal conflicts and power
    relations are intertwined in the production and
    usage of agents and robots?
  • How does the fusion of science, technology,
    industry and politics come into play?
  • What about the military interest in robotics and

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • Last but not least a central task for
    techno-ethics is to learn the lessons from the
    discussion on bioethics.

A. Meta-theoretical Questions
  • For example We should avoid abstract discussions
    of the agency or intentionality of agents and
    robots and reflect whether they are helpful to
    work out the contest on the future development
    and use of agents and robots.

B.Techno-ethical Issues
  • 1. General Background
  • The massive use of robots will change society
    probably in a similar way as cars and airplanes
    (and in former times ships etc.) did and it
    already changed society think of industrial
    robots in the workplace who are an important
    factor with regard to the growing unemployment in

B. Techno-ethical Issues General
  • This broad view of societal changes and
    consequently of the view(s) of ourselves,
    including our (moral) values, is fundamental
    There may be a re-definition of what it means to
    be human For instance the EU Charter of Human
    Rights is human centered. The massive use of
    robots may challenge this anthropocentric

B.Techno-ethical Issues General
  • Why do we want to live with robots? What do we
    live with robots for? There are different levels
    of reflection when answering these questions,
    starting with the trivial one that robots can be
    very useful and indeed indispensable for instance
    in todays industrial production or when dealing
    with situations in which the dangers for humans
    are big. But before reflection in this direction
    let us take the perspective of what René Girard
    calls mimetic desire.

B.Techno-ethical Issues
  • 2. Epistemological, ontological, and
    psychoanalytic implications
  • The relation between humans and robots can be
    conceived as an envy relation in which humans
    either envy robots for what they are or they envy
    other humans for having robots that they do not
    have. In the first case, envy can be positive in
    case the robot is considered either as a model to
    be imitated or negative in case the relationship
    degenerates into rivalry.

B.Techno-ethical Issues2. Epistemological
  • This last possibility is exemplified in many
    science fiction movies and novels in which robots
    and humans are supposed to compete. Robots are
    then often represented as emotion-free androids,
    lacking moral sense and therefore less worth than
    humans. Counter examples are for instance 2001 A
    Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick 1968) or Stanislaw
    Lems novel Golem XIV (Lem 1981).

B.Techno-ethical Issues 2. Epistemological
  • The mimetic conflict (René Girard) arises not
    only by the fact of imitating what a robot can do
    but more basically of imitating what it is
    supposed to desire. But a robots desires are
    paradoxically our own since we are the creators.
    The positive and negative views of robots shine
    back into human self-understanding leading to the
    idea of enhancing human capabilities for instance
    by implanting artificial devices in the human

B.Techno-ethical Issues 2. Epistemological
  • When robots are used by humans for different
    tasks, this creates a situation in which the
    mimetic desire is articulated either as a
    question of justice (a future robot divide) or as
    new kind of envy. This time the object of envy is
    not the robot itself but the other human
    using/having it.

B.Techno-ethical Issues 2. Epistemological
  • The foundational ethical dilemma with regard to
    robots is thus not just the question of their
    good or bad use but the question of our relation
    to our own desire with all its creative and
    destructive mimetic dynamism that includes not
    only strategies such as envy, rivalry and model
    but also their trivial use as a tool that
    eventually turns to be a question of social

B.Techno-ethical Issues 2. Epistemological
  • Robots can be seen as masks of human desire. Our
    mimetic desire might influence (but how far?)
    the exchange value they get in the market place.

B.Techno-ethical Issues 2. Epistemological
  • Our love affair with them opens a double bind
    relationship that includes the whole range of
    human passions, from indifference through
    idealization until rivalry and violence although
    this might not be the case with regard to the
    contemporary state of the art in robotics as they
    lack still much to much intelligence and
    unpredictable behaviour.

B.Techno-ethical Issues 2. Epistemological
  • It is the task of ethical reflection to go beyond
    the economic dimension, i.e., to discover the
    mechanism that makes possible the invention,
    production, and use of robots of all kinds. This
    mechanism is nothing else than human mimetic
    passion(s) on an individual as well as on a
    societal and global scale.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • In a mythical sense robots are experienced by our
    secularized and technological society as
    scapegoat for what is conceived the humanness of
    humanity whose most high and global expression is
    the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From
    this mythical perspective, robots are the bad and
    the good conscience of ourselves.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • In other words, an ethical reflection on robots
    must take care of these pitfalls particularly
    when considering the dangers of the mimetic
    desire with regard to human dignity, autonomy or
    data protection. It must reflect the double bind
    relationship between humans and robots.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • If robots mirror our mimetic desire we should
    develop individual and social strategies in order
    to unmask the unattainable object we strive for
    that turns into a danger when it looks like a
    fulfilment in view of which everything including
    ourselves should be regarded as mean to an end.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • The concept of human dignity is a hallmark above
    and beyond our own desire. It is a hallmark of
    self transcendence independently of technological
    and/or religious promises. It allows us to avoid
    ideological or fundamentalist blockades by
    regulating at the same time the dynamic of
    mimetic desire.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • The concept of robot is ambiguous. According to
    Karel Capek who first coined the term, a robot is
    a human like artificial device, an android, that
    is able to perform autonomously, i.e., without
    permanent human guidance, different kind of tasks
    particularly in the field of industrial
    production. Anthropomorphic robots but also
    artificial devices imitating different kinds of
    living beings have a long tradition. Todays
    industrial robots are often not human like.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • There is a tension between technoid and naturoid
    artificial products Negrotti 1995, 1999, 2002.
    The concept of artificiality itself is related to
    something produced by nature and imitated by man.
    Creating something similar but not identical to a
    natural product points to the fact that anything
    to be qualified as artificial should make a
    difference with regard to the natural or the
    original (Negrotti).

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • Robots are mostly conceived as physical agents.
    With the rise of information technology softbots
    or software agents have been developed that have
    also impact in the physical world so that it is
    difficult to draw a clear border.
  • This is also the case with regard to the
    hybridization between humans and robots
  • In fact, not only individuals but society as a
    whole is concerned with a process of

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • What are robots? They are products of human
    dreams (Brun 1992, Capurro 1995). Every robotic
    idea entails the hidden object of our desire.
    Robots are thus like the images of the gods
    (Greek agalma) inside the mask of a satyr.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • According to Jacques Lacans psychoanalytic
    interpretation (Lacan 1991), following the
    Platonic narrative of the love encounter between
    Socrates and Alcibiades in the Symposium (Symp.
    222), such small objects are the unattainable
    and impossible goal of human desire.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • Plato describes in the Timaeus the work of the
    demiurge shaping the world as a resemblance
    (agalma) of the divine as a work of joy and
    therefore as an incentive to make the copy more
    similar to the original (parádeigma) (Tim. 37c).

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • In sum, our values or the goal of our desire are
    embedded into all our technological devices and
    particularly in the kind of products that mimicry
    our human identity. Therefore, the question is
    not only which values are we trying to realize
    through them but why are we doing this?

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • Robots are a mirror of shared cultural values
    that show to us and to others who we want to be.
    We redefine ourselves in comparison with robots
    in a similar way as we redefine ourselves in
    comparison with animals or with gods. Theses
    redefinitions have far-reaching economic and
    cultural implications.

B. Techno-ethical issues 2. Epistemological
  • But, who is the we of this kind of
    psychoanalytic discourse?
  • What about an engineering culture which is mostly
    involved in the development design of robots?
  • In gender approaches we have the claim of a
    masculine culture of technology production. Do
    all people have the same kind of double-bind
    relationship to robots?
  • And what about cultural differences?

B. Techno-ethical issues
  • 3. Ethical aspects of man-machine relations
  • How do we live in a technological environment?
  • What is the impact of robots on society?
  • How do we (as users) handle robots?
  • What methods and means are used today to model
    the interface between man and machine?

B. Techno-ethical issues3. Ethical aspects
  • What to think about the mimicry of emotions and
    stereotypes of social norms?
  • What kind of language / rhetoric is used in
    describing the problem of agent and bots and
    which one do we want to use?

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • In AI and robotics we can often find a sloppy
    usage of language which supports
    anthropomorphising agents. This language often
    implies the intentionality and autonomy of agents
    for example when researcher speak of learning,
    experience, emotion, decision making (and so on)
    of agents.
  • How are we in science and in our social practices
    going to handle this problem?

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • Robots are not ready-made products of engineers
    and computer scientists but devices and emerging
    technologies in the making.
  • What are the consequences of the fact that today
    ICT devices are developed by computer scientists
    and engineers only?
  • What is the meaning of the relation master-slave
    with regard to robots?
  • What is the meaning of robot as a partner in
    different settings?

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • Recent research on social robots is focussing on
    the creation of interactive systems that are able
    to recognise others, interpret gestures and
    verbal expressions, which recognize and express
    emotions and that are capable of social learning.
  • A central question concerning social robotics is
    how "building such technologies shapes our
    self-understanding, and how these technologies
    impact society" (Breazeal 2002, 5).

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • To understand the implications of these
    developments it is important to analyse central
    concepts of social robotics like the social,
    sociality, human nature and human-style

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • Main questions are
  • What concepts of sociality are translated into
    action by social robotics?
  • How is social behaviour conceptualised, shaped,
    or instantiated in software implementation
  • And what kind of social behaviours do we want to
    shape and implement into artefacts?

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • There is a tendency to develop robots modeling
    some aspects of human behavior instead of
    developing an android (Arnall 2003). Relative
    autonomy is a goal for physical robots as well as
    for softbots.
  • What is the meaning of the concept of autonomy in
  • What are the affinities and differences between
    the robotic discourse and the philosophical

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • Obviously, we can experience a strong
    bidirectional travel of the concept of autonomy
    (as well as that of sociality, emotion and
    intelligence) between very diverse discourses and
  • How does the concept transfer between the
    disciplines and especially the strong impact of
    robotics change the traditional meanings of
    concepts like autonomy, sociality, emotion and

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • Having regard to the EU Charter of Fundamental
    Rights, particularly
  • Art. 1 Human dignity
  • Art. 3 Right to the integrity of the person
  • Art. 6 Right to liberty and security
  • Art. 8 Protection of personal data
  • Art. 25 The rights of the elderly
  • Art. 26 Integration of persons with disabilities

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • The questions are
  • (a) Who is responsible for undesired results of
    actions carried out by human-robot hybrid teams?
  • (b) How is the monitoring and processing of
    personal data by AI agents to be regulated?
  • (c) Can bionic implants be used to enhance,
    rather than restore, physical and intellectual

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • An answer might be that all three questions
    address possibilities that have an immediate
    impact on single human beings, since
  • responsibility is traditionally attributed to
    single actors (which includes individuals),
  • the human right to privacy protects the ability
    to live autonomously, and
  • enhancements are for the benefit of a singular

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • The importance of robot-human-integration goes
    beyond the level of the single individual and
    address the question about how society or
    community could and should look like in which
    bots are integrated. Probably only certain
    members of a society or community will interact
    with certain kind of bots, for instance
    entertainment bots for rich people, service bots
    for elderly or ill people etc.

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • This kind of interaction with bots may also build
    new forms of communities. Close attention should
    be paid to what groups of individuals are likely
    to interact with certain kind of bots in a
    certain context while at the same time keeping
    the perspective on the impact of the specific
    interactions on the communities and societies in
    which this specific forms of interactions take

B. Techno-ethical issues 3. Ethical aspects
  • All three forms of human-bot integration may
    include aspects of violation as well as fostering
    of human rights and dignity. It may not even
    ruled out that one and the same technology may do
    have both positive and negative effects.
    Surveillance infrastructures may be considered
    harmful with regard to privacy, but they may also
    enable us to create new kinds of communities.

  • The potential benefits or harm may be caused by
    certain forms of human-bot-integration.
  • How to dissolve arising conflicts, especially if
    there is a conflict between the individual
    perspective and the perspective of a society or

  • Such kind of enhancements might be considered a
    benefit to an individual but also raise new
    questions such as
  • whether only an elite might be able to transform
    themselves into cyborgs
  • or another worse case scenario whether the
    unemployed would be forced to be have some sorts
    of implants to enable them to do certain jobs.

  • At the time given, there is no need to address
    the issue of whether bots should be seen as
    persons. Present ethical questions raise the
    point of human responsibility as a fundamental
    issue to be addressed in an ethical enquiry on

  • This includes questions such as
  • Who and how should according to which principles
    adscript responsibility to whom in cases that
    involve human-bot integration? and what should be
    the consequences of such an adscription?
  • Who is responsible for designing and maintaining
    an infrastructure in which information about
    persons is collected and processed?

  • How does the possibility of invasive human-bot
    integration have influence on the concept of
    responsibility? This includes
  • Does the fact that a human being is enhanced lead
    to a special kind of responsibility?
  • What are the consequences for whose who are
    responsible for providing the technology used for

  • When addressing the question of responsibility we
    should take into account that there are different
    levels of responsibility even when ascribing
    responsibility to an individual which might be
    held responsible
  • for something with regard to her/his personal
    well-being, to the social environment (friends,
    family, community),
  • to his/her specific (professional or private)
    role also as a citizen who is responsible to the
    society or the state someone lives in, or as a
    human being at all.

  • Furthermore this does include the question
    whether and how responsibility might be delegated
    and whether institutions might be moral
    responsible with regard to robots.

  • Robots are less our slaves which is a
    projection of the mimetic desire of societies in
    which slavery was permitted and/or promoted
    than a tool for human interaction.
  • This throws questions of privacy and trust
    (Arnall 2003, 59) but also of the way we define
    ourselves as workers in industry, service and

  • This concerns different kinds of cultural
    approaches to robots in Europe and in other
    cultures that may have different impact in a
    global world. Different cultures have different
    views on autonomy and human dignity.

  • Thanks to Guglielmo Tamburrini (University of
    Naples), Michael Nagenborg (University of
    Karlsruhe), Jutta Weber (University of
    Duisburg-Essen) and Christoph Pingel, (Karlsruhe
    Center for Art and Media) for ongoing discussions
    on the relationship between ethics and robotics
    within the framework of the ETHICBOTS project.

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