Ethics, morals, safety, and robots

“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Issac Asimov devised this rule 70 years back. But experts like Stephen Hawking warn that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”. Can AI embedded ultra-intelligent robots create a “Terminator-style wasteland”? The preliminary forms of AI have been immensely useful by far. But many scientists believe that creations like humanoids, that surpass humans, can be dangerous and might trigger annihilation of humanity.


“The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged on for decades. But the final battle will not be fought in the future. It would be fought in our present…tonight.” Should we fear the rising, or is it just a misconception that’s blocking the transformative impact of AI and advanced robotics? Can we teach robots to behave safely and ethically? If robots can make decisions on their own, who will ensure that they are right and harmless?

It’s a near to impossible mission says some bygone happenings. Here’s an example – It took less than 24 hours for Twitteratis to teach Tay, an artificial intelligence chatterbot, how to foul-mouth and be a racist. Tay was designed to engage and entertain people. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.” explained Microsoft. But Tay soon started spouting off racist and misogynic epithets in response to question that that carried the same sentiments. It wasn’t coded to be a racist or misogynist. But Tay learned from those it interacts with.

However, many scientists are betting big on the idea of AI embedded robots with advanced technologies. From Terminator to Blade Runner and Ex Machina, many sci-fi movies have portrayed humanoids that are indistinguishable from real humans. With the advent of human-like robots in real life, we are heading towards a future where we will live side by side with robots, whether we like it or not. By far, the benefits have outnumbered the hazards, the reason why we can remain optimistic about a future amid humanoids.

Why should be build humanoids like Nao, Pepper, RoboKind Zeno? Their capabilities are incredible, and the benefits are many. Robots like Kasper have been helping children with autism in learning basic human communication skills. Robear, the robot bear that can care for the elderly Sweetie, the virtual girl, helped track down pedophiles. Productivity, safety, and savings are the three main advantages of using humanoids at workplaces. It can handle dangerous works, defuse bombs, patrol large areas, and even do the duty of a security guard. Several organizations are exploring the idea of using humanoids to accomplish tasks in more effective and timebound manner.

That said, we cannot forget the incident where a robot “killed a contractor at one of Volkswagen’s production plants”. Here is what Sophia, the latest humanoid, declared during a conversation. In a CNBC interview, David Hanson asked her- “Do you want to destroy humans? Please say ‘no.’” “Sophia” But here is how she responded – “OK, I will destroy humans.”

Good and bad, right and wrong, safe and unsafe – we learn the difference between them long before we learn to speak. The power of moral and evaluative judgment is a strong factor that decides our success in life. If robots will soon surpass humans in intelligence, it should have the ability to identify what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s safe and what’s unsafe. But how can we impart ethics and moral values to robots? Can we create robots with ethical abilities? How can we program them to behave safely? This is a colossal challenge. Because, it’s not easy to transform human decision making and reasoning powers into numerical values that robots can understand.


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