“The Three Laws of Robotics”

When it comes to ethics for robots, none other than Isaac Asinov, a prolific science fiction author came up with the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Yes, the Three Laws are the only way in which rational human beings can deal with robots—or with anything else. But then Isaac would say that, “I always remember (sadly) that human beings are not always rational”. There is a fourth law that actually precedes the first three: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm”. Now, if we could only get those humans the act this way. Humans are essentially decent.

As humanoid robots evolve, they are becoming more like humans in appearance, movement and even intelligence. What these machines are lacking is conscientiousness. That is one of the two things that make us different. The other is that we are biological beings, a living organism that from birth is destined to die. A robot is just a machine waiting for the latest upgrade or destine to the recycling bin when it is obsolete.

Though the advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots are becoming more cognitive with their surroundings. That is, the mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning, as contrasted with emotional and volitional processes. This is where the humans have to be very careful in how they program the software that is the brains of a humanoid robot. In an open source environment, the applications for the humanoids will come from the software developer community not necessarily from the hardware developer of the robot. This is exactly how it is done in the computer software industry and you get good and bad applications.

The next generation of humanoid robots, is taking the machine closer to the actual appearance and behavior of humans through cognitive robotics and these are called androids. Today, androids are still science fiction but we are not that far away from completing one. Jewel, from a UK company, has just a head completed that has expressions exactly like humans. Japan and Korea have also made some android progress and this is leading the development into something called the ‘the uncanny valley’ which is the part of the development cycle where things get to be a little ‘creepy like’ until you reach a result that is very ‘human like’ in all aspects.

To fully interact with humans, a humanoid robot needs to be able to think thru and reason the human’s intentions. Without communicating with a sound (voice) the robot can anticipate a communication by movement. For example, instead of telling the humanoid robot that you are going to throw a ball to it, you just have to start the throw action and it will figure out the rest. In fact, you could throw two balls at the same time and the humanoid robot will be able to process both actions separately and catch both balls. Now is this starting to transcend humans a bit?

The next step is to make the robots super intelligent autonomous machines and this will allow the robot to learn through multiple executions of a task instead of pre-programming it. Once we reach this level, ethics may have to be considered, beyond the three laws of robotics.


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