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Robot advances raise ethical, cultural questions for society

Brad Allenby

Brad Allenby

Posted: January 10, 2012

Technological advances are making it feasible that robots could become inextricably intertwined in most aspects of society – health care, transportation, personal security, national defense, law enforcement, even child care, government and the economy.

We’re already behind the curve in developing laws, policies and guidelines to deal with issues and controversies sure to arise as the robotics explosion potentially spawns a more interwoven techno-human world, says Brad Allenby, ASU  engineer and ethicist.

“Roboticists are now integrating technology with humans in ways that challenge fundamental ethical and cultural ideas,” Allenby writes in a book review titled “Morals and machines” that appeared in a recent issue of Nature magazine.

“Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics,” is an anthology edited by two philosophers and a computer scientist that presents various experts’ perspectives on the complex questions that are in need of answers as robots expand their reach into daily life.

Allenby provides a guide to challenges addressed by the book’s contributors, noting how the authors offer the value of sometimes sharply differing views on how to address those challenges.

Among interesting questions pondered: Should robots be able to understand the laws governing warfare before being deployed in military actions? Should they not be trusted in roles as caregivers unless they can be given ability to understand human emotion?

Allenby is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and a professor of engineering and ethics with ASU’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

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