Forget About "I Robot" - Think "Me Me Me Robot"

There are times when I wonder what this world is really coming to. The latest revelation to trigger these thoughts concerned some comments made recently about the progress of robotics technology. I thought I was going to be reading text from experts about how electronics and related technologies were progressing toward the development of robots that were highly reliable, versatile, intuitive, reflective, and not the least bit clumsy. Was I wrong or what?

In a recent discussion paper titled "Utopian Dream or Rise of the Machines?," debate centered on issues such as the "rights" of robots and how developments in artificial intelligence might impact on law and politics.

The paper predicted that robots could one day demand the same citizens rights as humans, including housing and even "robohealthcare." No, I am not kidding. The "robo-rights" idea was in one of 246 papers commissioned by the U.K. government and provided by a group of futures researchers—the Outsights- Ipsos Mori partnership and the U.S.-based Institute for the Future.

Fortunately, some experts on robotics have quite rightly dismissed the "robo-rights" discussion as a frivolous irrelevance. And they are right to do so. There are more serious robotic subjects that don't just deserve serious discussion— they demand it.

What about autonomous robots being used in warfare? Samsung, for example, has developed a robotic sentry to guard the border between North and South Korea. It is equipped with two cameras and a machine gun. So what happens when such a robot mistakenly kills somebody? Whose fault is it? Currently it has to be the operator of the robot.

However, experts are worried that as autonomous robots become more sophisticated and more are deployed. the issue of responsibility becomes blurred. Ultimately, it is a question that must be subject to international law.

But before autonomous robots really gain a foothold in human society as useful tools, they will have to earn the trust of everyday people in the streets. Already, applications for robots in societal settings are popping up. One involves performing observation tasks for the sick and elderly, such as taking heart and respiration rate readings. Robots like these are already being used in Japan.

So should we be starting discussions that consider "robo-rights," or is this madness generated by overly politically correct societies? Maybe the quote by 19th century English doctor and social reformer Havelock Ellis should be added to the laws of robotics: "The greatest task before civilisation at present is to make machines what they ought to be, the slaves, instead of the masters of men."

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