Robots and the future



Let's talk a little bit about ethics. Now I'm an engineer, I'm not an ethicist but to me ethics has got some notion of right and wrong and of course, right and wrong are not necessarily always clear cut, sometimes the answer is perhaps; it does depend. I also think ethics is mixed up perhaps with ideas of good and evil. It's a perhaps a more extreme versions of right and wrong. But I think there are also some very human centric aspects to ethics. I think it's about respect to individuals; it's about justice to individuals. And I think there's perhaps also an element of responsibility in there. What are the responsibilities of individuals to society and what's the responsibility of society to its individuals?

In a little while, I'm going to have a conversation with a friend of mine who knows much much more about ethics than I do and we're going to have some conversations around ethics and in particular ethics as it applies to robotics.

So what are some of the issues where ethics and robotics intersect? Well perhaps one is in the area of warfare. An interesting statistic is that perhaps one in fifty U.S war fighters is now a robot. Now what are the ethical considerations around machines inflicting harm on soldiers, human soldiers belonging to enemy forces?

Another issue is privacy and it's been a lot of controversy lately about how robots in particular drones are infringing on people's privacy. So imagine how you would feel if a drone came up to your window and peered inside your house. Another scenario is much in the news lately and that's self driving cars, perhaps you might think of them as robotic cars, and the issue is that if one of these cars has an accident and perhaps it injures or kills the driver of the robotic car or a bystander on the road or the driver of another car; whose fault is that? That's a pretty complex question.

Another thing that we might like to think about is robots caring for young people and also for elderly people. In many countries, with an aging population there is a need for people to help the elderly people and if there are not enough working age people to do that, then is that a job that could be or should be fulfilled by robots? 

The same thing perhaps happens at the other end of the spectrum. Is it proper or appropriate to have the youngest members of our society, young children, raised and nurtured by machines rather than by human beings?

Another issue that gets talked about a lot with robots is about jobs. Imagine a future when nobody has to work because robots are doing all the work, then how do we get the money that we need to buy food and put a roof over our head? 

Perhaps we could radically restructure society so all of those things come to us for free and robots do all the work. Even if we could build that Utopia, what would we do if we didn't need to work? And I love this quote by Voltaire; he says that work spares us from three evils; boredom, vice and need. So perhaps robots could provide everything that we need but I'm sure human beings would get bored if they didn't have to work. I know that I would.

We talked about Isaac Asimov in the very first lecture in this course. In particular his three laws of robotics, which were introduced in the short story called 'Run around' in 1941. These three rules in code a set of robot behaviours and it seems, certainly at face value, that if robots obeyed these three laws then the chance for robots and humans to get into any kind of strife or disagreement would be very low. 


There is no code in this lesson.

We may often use the term ethics but what does it mean? What is an ethical problem and what is not? Is ethics independent of culture? Here’s a very quick introduction to the principles of ethics.

Professor Peter Corke

Professor of Robotic Vision at QUT and Director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (ACRV). Peter is also a Fellow of the IEEE, a senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and on the editorial board of several robotics research journals.

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