Can't Robots Get a Break?
Science fiction author Isaac Asimov created the three laws of robotics in his short story "Runaround." But these are mainly aimed at protecting humans from robots. Do robots have rights, too?
But what happens if robots become a large part of society? How will people treat them? Will humans hold themselves superior to their creations? Will they balk at the idea of robots taking the place of one of the partners in a romantic relationship? Many roboticists believe that now is the time to begin thinking about the moral and ethical questions posed by humanity's development of robots. South Korea, after all, plans to have a robot in every house by 2020. This is a far cry from the chicken in every pot envisioned by Herbert Hoover's campaign during the 1928 United States presidential election.
It's a good thing, then, that South Korea is at the forefront of thinking about robot ethics. In fact, the country announced in March 2007 that it had assembled a panel to develop a Robot Ethics Charter, a set of guidelines for future robotic programming. It will deal with the human aspects of human-robot interaction -- like safeguards against addiction to robot sex -- as well as explore ways to protect humans and robots from suffering abuse at the hands of one another [source: National Geographic].
The South Koreans aren't the only ones who are thinking about robots' rights. In 2006, future robot issues were brought up as part of a conference on the future commissioned by the British government. Among the issues discussed were the potential need for government-subsidized healthcare and housing for robots, as well as robots' role in the military [source: BBC].
These considerations do not need to be addressed immediately, but as robots become increasingly life-like, these issues will almost certainly come into play. Designers are already working on robotic skin that can produce life-like facial expressions. Others are developing robots that can hold conversations and mimic human emotions.
It may be very difficult for many people to overcome the idea of a human-robot couple. In 1970, Dr. Masahiro Mori wrote an article for Energy magazine in which he describes the "uncanny valley," a phenomenon where people grow uncomfortable with technological beings the more human-like they become. People build robots that have human qualities to help them complete human tasks, but once these robots start to look and act like humans, people start to be turned off by them [source: Mori].
With these and other features, robots of the future will present a great many challenges as they integrate into human society. And in the face of such challenges, perhaps the idea of human-robot marriages isn't so scandalous after all. That is, if the robot is just as willing to get married as the human.
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