| ROBOTS is a Seattle Robotics Society (SRS) column where we pose a set of
though-provoking questions to a leader in the field of robotics or technology.
For this premire issue of ROBOTS, we hear the views from Kevin Ross, a past SRS president and very active player in the field of home and educational robotics.
The idea of having a mechanical intelligence such as Commander Data creates a huge number of ethical questions that we don't know how to handle yet. For example, if you have an artificial intelligence such as this, what are our responsibilites and moral obligations? Assuming it was computer-based, is someone responsible for backing up the computer information in Data? Is it ethical to make a duplicate copy of Commander Data's memory? If I didn't backup his memory, would I be criminally liable if something went wrong? If we had a backup, would it be morally OK to torture Commander Data if we could later restore his memory to its state before the torture? Could I torture a copy of Data if I destroy it when I am done? If I made an exact copy of data, how would his identity be handled? Which copy is the 'real' Data? Is it possible to murder Data if there is a backup?
As mortal, complex, un-copyable unique individuals, we have created an entire social order based on the notion of free will and individuality. With an artificial intelligence, which can presumably be copied numerous times, have its memory dumped for all to see, our long held notions of right and wrong may become partially invalid.
An argument can be made that we are already surrounded by stationary robots. For example, we have machines that answer the phones automatically and take messages. I have a machine that sits and waits to open my garage door each day. My washing machine already does my laundry, my dishes are washed. All of these specialized robots are doing tasks that used to be done by individuals like house keepers, phone operators, etc.
Once our machines become mobile, they become much more like the robots that you and I recognize. I think they will at first be very specialized robots. They will be considered to be appliances. As they become smarter and more intelligent, specialized robots will give way to more general purpose robots. For example, you can currently purchase a washing machine with a built in dryer. One unit doing what previously took two. I think robots will make their way into our lives in the same way. The robot that mows the lawn may be able to sweep the driveway. It also might someday be able to drag the trash cans down to the curb and back on schedule. It might even pick up the mail. Humans will end up treating these robots as appliances.
I really don't see people having much fear for robots in the workplace or at home. They will accept them just as they have accepted any number of different home appliances in the past.
The difference will be when robots start to show true intelligence that demonstrate learning and creativity. When that happens, or should I say IF that ever happens, these robots would begin to have a real impact on society as we start to wrestle with the issues I described above.
At a different time, a nice little old lady from a village in Nigeria would be able to log into your household humanoid drone and act as your housecleaner. She is willing to clean your entire house for $12, which is a very decent days wage in Nigeria. She may have to pay $2-3 for the internet access for the day, but she made a nice living, and you got your house cleaned. Both parties are very happy. No, or should we say little, fossil fuel was used in the exchange. Good for the environment, good for the global economy. The gardener from China. The window cleaner from Canada. The trash collector from Brazil. The house painter from Peru. The doctor from India.