An ethical approach to robotics


HOW CAN WE make sure robots uphold moral standards? There’s a need to address questions about ethical behaviour in autonomous robotic systems, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the IEEE(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

“Robotic systems are close to being pervasive, with applications involving human-robot relationships already in place or soon to occur involving warfare, childcare, eldercare, and personal and potentially intimate relationships,” write the authors, who are with Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

They describe robot ethics as a “nascent field” and pose the question: “How do we create robotic technology that preserves our humanity and our societies’ values?” Their invited paper describes how some approaches are being looked at with military use in mind, such as an “ethical governor” that restrains actions. There’s also the potential for managing a value that represents guilt – this variable would increase if the robot receives criticism about its performance, allowing its behaviour to be modified. Such approaches could also be used in domestic and healthcare settings .

Theres also a need to model trust and deception, and to ensure dignity in human-robot interactions, argue the authors, who stress the importance of doing the research sooner rather than later: “To ensure that societal expectations are met, this will require an interdisciplinary scientific endeavour to model and incorporate ethical behaviour into these intelligent artefacts from the onset, not as a post-hoc activity.”