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Issue No. 006

Vol. 6 - December 2006
Ethics in Robotics

This issue is a very special issue. What it makes so special is the fact that we faced some of the issues dealt in it in the process of creating it: some contributions sent in by Email were blocked by the spam mail scanner. They were - of course wrongly - tagged as 'sexual discriminating' but no alert was given by the system. Now: who was to be made responsible if we - in fact in an uncomplicated und constructive thus human way - would not have fixed the problem in time and the authors would not have been included in the issue? On which grounds did the software decide to block them and thus can it be taken as a moral agent? And finally, is the phenomenon of spam forcing us to use such agents in our social communication on which we have to rely in various ways? There we are amidst the subject of our current issue: Ethics in Robotics.

So, in this issue we gather innovative conceptions of ethics and engaged technoscience studies, which develop their argumentation in socio-political and historical contexts to improve applied ethics in general and especially ethics in the field of robotics. We want to thank the authors for contributing to this interdisciplinary and relatively young field and apologize for the delay in the publication of this issue - you might agree that it was worthwhile in the end. We hope the contributions help to support the further development of ethics, philosophy of science and technology studies in the field of robotics - and especially to co-construct and shape our future lives with robots and agents in an open and responsible way.


Rafael Capurro, Thomas Hausmanninger, Karsten Weber and Felix Weil, the Editors.

Full Journal
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Editorial: On IRIE Vol. 6
Language: English
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Roboethics: a Bottom-up Interdisciplinary Discourse in the Field of Applied Ethics in Robotics
by Gianmarco Veruggio and Fiorella Operto
Language: English
abstract:   This paper deals with the birth of Roboethics. Roboethics is the ethics inspiring the design, development and employment of Intelligent Machines. Roboethics shares many 'sensitive areas' with Computer Ethics, Information Ethics and Bioethics. It investigates the social and ethical problems due to the effects of the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions in the Humans/Machines interaction's domain. Urged by the responsibilities involved in their professions, an increasing number of roboticists from all over the world have started - in cross-cultural collaboration with scholars of Humanities - to thoroughly develop the Roboethics, the applied ethics that should inspire the design, manufacturing and use of robots. The result is the Roboethics Roadmap.
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What Should We Want From a Robot Ethic?
by Peter M. Asaro
Language: English
abstract:   There are at least three things we might mean by "ethics in robotics": the ethical systems built into robots, the ethics of people who design and use robots, and the ethics of how people treat robots. This paper argues that the best approach to robot ethics is one which addresses all three of these, and to do this it ought to consider robots as socio-technical systems. By so doing, it is possible to think of a continuum of agency that lies between amoral and fully autonomous moral agents. Thus, robots might move gradually along this continuum as they acquire greater capabilities and ethical sophistication. It also argues that many of the issues regarding the distribution of responsibility in complex socio-technical systems might best be addressed by looking to legal theory, rather than moral theory. This is because our overarching interest in robot ethics ought to be the practical one of preventing robots from doing harm, as well as preventing humans from unjustly avoiding responsibility for their actions.
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Neo-Rawlsian Co-ordinates: Notes on A Theory of Justice for the Information Age
by Alistair S. Duff
Language: English
abstract:   The ideas of philosopher John Rawls should be appropriated for the information age. A literature review identifies previous contributions in fields such as communication and library and information science. The article postulates the following neo-Rawlsian propositions as co-ordinates for the development of a normative theory of the information society: that political philosophy should be incorporated into information society studies; that social and technological circumstances define the limits of progressive politics; that the right is prior to the good in social morality; that the nation state should remain in sharp focus, despite globalization; that liberty, the first principle of social justice, requires updating to deal with the growth of surveillance and other challenges; that social wellbeing is a function of equal opportunities plus limited inequalities of outcome, in information as well as material resources; and that political stability depends upon an overlapping consensus accommodating both religion and secularism. Although incomplete, such co-ordinates can help to guide policy-makers in the twenty-first century..
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When Is a Robot a Moral Agent?
by John P. Sullins
Language: English
abstract:   In this paper Sullins argues that in certain circumstances robots can be seen as real moral agents. A distinction is made between persons and moral agents such that, it is not necessary for a robot to have personhood in order to be a moral agent. I detail three requirements for a robot to be seen as a moral agent. The first is achieved when the robot is significantly autonomous from any programmers or operators of the machine. The second is when one can analyze or explain the robot's behavior only by ascribing to it some predisposition or 'intention' to do good or harm. And finally, robot moral agency requires the robot to behave in a way that shows and understanding of responsibility to some other moral agent. Robots with all of these criteria will have moral rights as well as responsibilities regardless of their status as persons.
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Fundamental Issues in Social Robotics
by Brian R. Duffy
Language: English
abstract:   Man and machine are rife with fundamental differences. Formal research in artificial intelligence and robotics has for half a century aimed to cross this divide, whether from the perspective of understanding man by building models, or building machines which could be as intelligent and versatile as humans. Inevitably, our sources of inspiration come from what exists around us, but to what extent should a machine's conception be sourced from such biological references as ourselves? Machines designed to be capable of explicit social interaction with people necessitates employing the human frame of reference to a certain extent. However, there is also a fear that once this man-machine boundary is crossed that machines will cause the extinction of mankind. The following paper briefly discusses a number of fundamental distinctions between humans and machines in the field of social robotics, and situating these issues with a view to understanding how to address them.
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Social Robots - Emotional Agents: Some Remarks on Naturalizing Man-Machine Interaction
by Barbara Becker
Language: English
abstract:   The construction of embodied conversational agents - robots as well as avatars - seem to be a new challenge in the field of both cognitive AI and human-computer-interface development. On the one hand, one aims at gaining new insights in the development of cognition and communication by constructing intelligent, physical instantiated artefacts. On the other hand people are driven by the idea, that humanlike mechanical dialog-partners will have a positive effect on human-machine-communication. In this contribution I put for discussion whether the visions of scientist in this field are plausible and which problems might arise by the realization of such projects.
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Learning Robots and Human Responsibility
by Dante Marino and Guglielmo Tamburrini
Language: English
abstract:   Epistemic limitations concerning prediction and explanation of the behaviour of robots that learn from experience are selectively examined by reference to machine learning methods and computational theories of supervised inductive learning. Moral responsibility and liability ascription problems concerning damages caused by learning robot actions are discussed in the light of these epistemic limitations. In shaping responsibility ascription policies one has to take into account the fact that robots and softbots - by combining learning with autonomy, pro-activity, reasoning, and planning - can enter cognitive interactions that human beings have not experienced with any other non-human system.
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Invisibility and the Meaning of Ambient Intelligence
by C. K. M. Crutzen
Language: English
abstract:   A vision of future daily life is explored in Ambient Intelligence (AmI). It contains the assumption that intelligent technology should disappear into our environment to bring humans an easy and entertaining life. The mental, physical, methodical invisibility of AmI will have an effect on the relation between design and use activities of both users and designers. Especially the ethics discussions of AmI, privacy, identity and security are moved into the foreground. However in the process of using AmI, it will go beyond these themes. The infiltration of AmI will cause the construction of new meanings of privacy, identity and security because the "visible" acting of people will be preceded, accompanied and followed by the invisible and visible acting of the AmI technology and their producers.

A question in this paper is: How is it possible to create critical transformative rooms in which doubting will be possible under the circumstances that autonomous 'intelligent agents' surround humans? Are humans in danger to become just objects of artificial intelligent conversations? Probably the relation between mental, physical, methodical invisibility and visibility of AmI could give answers.
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On the Anticipation of Ethical Conflicts between Humans and Robots in Japanese Mangas
by Stefan Krebs
Language: English
abstract:   The following contribution examines the influence of mangas and animes on the social perception and cultural understanding of robots in Japan. Part of it is the narrow interaction between pop culture and Japanese robotics: Some examples shall serve to illustrate spill-over effects between popular robot stories and the recent development of robot technologies in Japan. The example of the famous Astro boy comics will be used to help investigate the ethical conflicts between humans and robots thematised in Japanese mangas. With a view to ethical problems the stories shall be subsumed under different categorical aspects.
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In Between Companion and Cyborg: The Double Diffracted Being Else-where of a Robodog
by Maren Kraehling
Language: German
abstract:   Aibo, Sony's robodog, questions the relations between nature, technology, and society and directs the attention to the difficult and changing triad between machines, humans and animals. Located at the boundaries between entertainment robot, dog, and companion Aibo evokes the question which relationship humans and Aibo can have and which ethical issues are being addressed. Promoted by Sony as a 'best friend', it is useful to analyze Aibo within the theoretical framework of feminist philosopher and biologist Donna Haraway, who develops alternative approaches of companionships between humans and dogs. Therefore, I am going to ask how Aibo challenges the understanding of other life forms by humans and how concepts of friendship are at stake. Ethical questions about human perceptions of dogs in the age of doglike robots must be approached. However, Aibo itself follows no predefined category. Aibo does neither live in a merely mechanistic 'elsewhere' nor in the 'elsewhere' of animals but in an intermediate space, in a doubled diffracted 'elsewhere'.
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'Rinri': An Incitement towards the Existence of Robots in Japanese Society
by Naho Kitano
Language: English
abstract:   Known as the "Robot Kingdom", Japan has launched, with granting outstanding governmental budgets, a new strategic plan in order to create new markets for the RT (Robot-Technology) Industry. Now that the social structure is greatly modernized and a high social functionality has been achieved, robots in the society are taking a popular role for Japanese people. The motivation for such great high-tech developments has to be researched in how human relations work, as well as in the customs and psychology of the Japanese. With examining the background of the Japanese affirmativeness toward Robots, this paper reveals the Animism and the Japanese ethics, "Rinri", that benefit the Japanese Robotics. First the introduction describes the Japanese social context which serves in order to illustrate the term "Rinri". The meaning of Japanese Animism is explained in order to understand why Rinri is to be considered as an incitement for Japanese social robotics.
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Robotics and Development of Intellectual Abilities in Children
by Miguel Angel Pérez Alvarez
Language: Spanish
abstract:   It is necessary to transform the educative experiences into the classrooms so that they favor the development of intellectual abilities of children and teenagers. We must take advantage of the new opportunities that offer information technologies to organize learning environments which they favor those experiences. We considered that to arm and to program robots, of the type of LEGO Mind Storms or the so called "crickets", developed by M. Resnik from MIT, like means so that they children them and young people live experiences that favor the development of their intellectual abilities, is a powerful alternative to the traditional educative systems. They are these three tasks those that require a reflective work from pedagogy and epistemology urgently. Robotics could become in the proper instrument for the development of intelligence because it works like a mirror for the intellectual processes of each individual, its abilities like epistemologist and, therefore, is useful to favor those processes in the classroom.
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On Designing Machines and Technologies in the 21st Century. An Inter-disciplinary Dialogue.
by Dirk Söffker und Jutta Weber
Language: German
abstract:   Is an autonomous robot, designed to communicate and take decisions in a human way, still a machine? On which concepts, ideas and values is the design of such machines to be based? How do they relate back to our everyday life? And finally, in how far are social demands the guideline for the development of such innovative technologies. Using the form of a dialogue theoretical, ethical and socio-political questions concerning the design of interactive machines are discussed especially with regards to the accelerated mechanization of our professional and private life. Developed out of an Email dialogue and further elaborated the discourse spanning from engineering to research in the field of science and technology deals with the question, if the men-machine relationship changes.
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