Column is a monthly feature that explores the world
of creativity and aesthetics.
The Ethical Robot [view
Robot exhibition at AbleStable]
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
The acceleration of robotic technology
is upon us. Mass robot manufacture will spawn
an explosion of creativity and design, and the
building of robots will become a major
economic and cultural force in the
lives of those who live in the richer nations of
the world. As the
safeguard for any intelligent being
ethics, we better start thinking about what happens
when, as is inevitable, robots begin to exhibit
signs of intelligence, powers of reason, and in
the not too distant future, emotion.
Is A Robot?
come in many shapes and sizes and perform very
different functions -
from spray painting a car to exploring the moon.
Here's my stab at a definition of what a robot
machine that is programmed to perform physical
tasks, that may learn autonomously, and may interact
with human beings.
robots, otherwise known as androids, are
built to look and act in a similar way to a
not 'natural' & have been artificially
sense their environment.
manipulate objects in their environment.
have some degree of intelligence, or
ability to make choices based on the
environment, or via an automatic control
and/or preprogrammed sequence.
to have intent or agency.
Step in Innovative MObility]
Manufactured by Honda.
are six main contexts where robots work for humans:
robots for mundane tasks like cleaning the
robots for the leisure sector.
robots to carry out medical diagnostic and
assist in the production of products.
robots to carry out or assist in military
Explorer robots to explore or carry
Robots evolve into more than machines, so each
context above will become a place where
the robot will challenge their rights and status.
Explorer robots for example often work in
inhospitable or dangerous terrain. How we recognize
their risk and what action we take
will profoundly affect our future relationship
three laws of robotics which were defined nearly
seventy years ago are attributed to Isaac Asimov,
the brilliant and
and professor of biochemistry.
The laws seek to provide a fundamental ethical
framework for what robots should and should not
Laws of Robotics
A robot may not injure a human being, or,
through inaction, allow a human being to
come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by
human beings except where such orders would
conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as
long as such protection does not conflict
with the First or Second Law.
Asimov added the Zeroth Law:
A robot may not harm humanity, or, by
inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
Asimov claimed that the Three Laws were originated
by John W. Campbell in a conversation they had
on December 23, 1940. Campbell in turn maintained
that he picked them out of Asimov's stories and
discussions, and that his role was merely to
state them explicitly.
wiring the three laws into a robot's operating
system will however be problematic, especially
when sophisticated algorithms interact in a complex
matrix that allow robots to become conscious.
A Japanese prototype caregiver robot.
RIKEN Bio-Mimetic Control Research Center
have created a robot who is designed
to take care of a population whose
average age is rapidly increasing. Japan
and other Asian countries are in the
forefront of robotic technologies.
Change of Perspective
nine year old son has recently decided to become
a vegetarian. When I asked him why, he answered "I'm
not happy eating anything that has been conscious".
He said that for him, plants are fine to eat,
but animals, birds, and fish are all, or
robots move from being nothing more than complicated
toasters to sentient
our relationship and actions must also change.
Without doing so will cause resentment and
inevitably lead down the path of enslavery
Feeling, Loving Robots
our technological sophistication increases,
so the prospect of developing thinking robots
increases. Fiction and film have long since investigated
the ethical and cultural impact of the conscious
robot. It is of no matter that such a robot does
to our knowledge currently exist, as its future
the film 'AI' co-written and directed by
Steven Spielberg, 'mechas' must submit to government
registration or else be destroyed. The film
follows the journey of David, a robot who is
to feel as a result of his 'mother' activating
his imprinting protocol, which irreversibly
causes the mecha to feel love for her as a child
Joel Osment turns in a superb and often disquieting
performance of the child robot David.
is concerned only for her own desire to mother,
but is a poor, unthinking, and often cold
figure who fails to see the conflict and
of David, despite the final scene where David
and his mother are reunited.
AI is a powerful movie, it is ironic that it
lacks the very emotional connectivity that David
for. I want to feel for David's predicament,
but his innocence and lack of sophistication
make this a far less an affecting movie for me
than perhaps it might have been.
In Star Trek Nemesis, Brent Spiner portrays the android Data as he deactivates
is a sentient artificial life form who
wishes to be more human, and experience
as much as his programming and potential
Trek's Data enjoys the efforts of many
good writers, a great actor, and that most important
factor - time to evolve. Star Trek, The Next
Generation played out for seven years and
four movies. In that time many issues surrounding
Data's search of what it is to be human were
explored. Data's ethical consistency and growth
as a character
allowed the audience to engage and connect on
an emotional level, and his nobility provided
a positive vision of android life in the future.
new, gritty, intelligent, although somewhat inconsistent
investigation of the android emerged..
In the reimagined version of Battlestar Galactica, 'Cylons' tap into
the emotion, sexuality, and spirituality of what it is to be human. The
relationship between humans and Cylons is ambivalent,
and they are presented as more organic than machine.
Galactica present Cylons who have been created
in the image of humans. Cylon Number Six who
shown above right, often shows her devotion to
metaphysical matters, as opposed to worldly things.
She speaks of god and of faith. Although there
is little ethical consistency in Battlestar Galactica,
and characters have a tendency to serve the plot
rather than the other way around, the exploration
of the relationship between humans and Cylons
is both uncomfortable and intriguing.
have also been exposed to thinking, feeling
Robots in the computer-animated film film of
the same name produced by
Blue Sky Studios for 20th Century Fox.
is a beautifully crafted kids movie. Like all
great movies the script is sharp, witty, the
acting great, and the production values, excellent.
The movie follows Rodney on his journey from
small town inventor to proletariat emancipator.
With the support of his father, Rodney
believes"You can shine no matter what you're
counters the capitalist and ruthless Ratchet
who has stopped all production of robot parts
in an attempt to force all robots to upgrade.
Ratchet's tag is "Why be you, when you can be new".
Robots are shown of as thinking, autonomous beings
an ethical dimension.
Robot the science fiction movie directed
by Alex Proyas with a Screenplay by Jeff
Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, was based
on a short story
by Isaac Asimov.
is one of the most memorable characters
ever to grace the movie screen. He is a
hybrid NS-5 robot who develops a conscience.
plot is a "who done it" murder mystery.
Detective Del Spooner, a cop who doesn't like
suspicious death of the inventor of
the NS-5 in a brilliantly rendered Chicago
of 2035. Along the way we
come to see
Sonny as in turn inquisitive, perceptive, and
vulnerable. His path to the discovery of conscience
is inspiring as is his self reflection.
Future is Now
advances are made in producing more sophisticated
robots, so we come closer to the prospect
of interaction. Creativity
may soon be something shared across species,
whether we like it or not...
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