First International Symposium on
30th - 31st January 2004, Villa Nobel, Sanremo, Italy

What is the Specific Ethical Problem in Robotics?

Kazuo Tanie
Director, Intelligent Systems Institute, AIST
Tsukuba Central 2, 1-1-1 Umezono, Tsukuba, Ibaraki, 305-8568 Japan
TEL +81-29-861-5200 FAX +81-29-861-5989

Many years ago, science was an activity to analyze and know what is nature. Since the middle of 18th century, science has become to be considered as an efficient tool to improve the quality of our life, which resulted in the birth of engineering as a part of science and engineers as the person who has professional skills to apply scientific knowledge to solving several practical problems we have in our social and daily life. Science has been providing significant influences to our society since engineering was born. Because of this situation, in some cases, engineers, and even scientists, encounter difficult ethical problems in their practice and in research.

In history of science, the important trigger incidents that made the scientists and engineers think that the ethical issues should be considered in their research activities may be that nuclear physics was applied to the development of atomic bomb. Recently, genetic science and technology because of the possibility of providing some damages to natural life and some scientific technologies because of their possibilities of damaging the earth environment causes ethical discussions. In nuclear physics, the ethical problems had to be discussed because it produces very powerful weapons which can kill many people in a moment. In genetic science and technology and some scientific areas which damage the earth environment, some unknown and unexpected influence to natural life and environment is a key concern when the ethical problems are considered.

The ethical problems in robotics will have same issues as the above-mentioned areas. One of the important matters we should consider in the ethical problems in robotics may be relating to its possibility of providing a tool of developing new weapon like nuclear physics as many people already point out. This matter should be deeply discussed for healthy advancement of robotics in future.

How the robot is thought in our daily life must be also considered in the discussion of ethical issues in robotics. "Robot" is a popular word which is often used in many science fictions, cartoons, movies and so on. Almost people are familiar to "robot" and have some imagination about the robot, almost of which is produced based on non-technological materials. Some scientific fiction describes very realistic super-human robot. Such an example is "Astroboy" which is very famous scientific cartoon story in Japan. In Japan, there are many people discussing the future of robotics with "Astroboy" in mind, though they do not know the robot technology so much They sometimes imagine too dreamy future society in which a super robot lives together with human and sometimes have too much threat against future robotics technology. This situation produces various misunderstandings about robot technology and its social effects, and makes the ethical discussion in robotics very complex.

In my presentation, the robotic ethical problems will be discussed with the specific social situation robotics has in mind

Draft 18th Jan '04