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Roboethics is a short expression for "ethics of robotics" or "robot ethics". It concerns ethical problems that occur with robots, such as whether robots pose a threat to humans in the long or short run, whether some uses of robots are problematic (such as in healthcare or as 'killer robots' in war), and how robots should be designed such as they act 'ethically' (this last concern is also called machine ethics). Robot ethics is a sub-field of ethics of technology, specifically information technology, and it has close links to legal as well as socio-economic concerns.

While the issues are as old as the word robot, serious academic discussions started around the year 2000, e.g. in 2002, an Atelier funded by the European Robotics Research Network set up a road map effectively divided ethics of artificial intelligence into two sub-fields (ethics for and ethics with robots).[1] The "First International Symposium on Roboethics"[2] was held in (Sanremo, Italy, 2004).

Roboethics requires the combined commitment of experts of several disciplines, who, working in transnational projects, committees, commissions, have to adjust laws and regulations to the problems resulting from the scientific and technological achievements in Robotics and AI. The main fields involved in roboethics are: robotics, computer science, artificial intelligence, philosophy, ethics, theology, biology, physiology, cognitive science, neurosciences, law, sociology, psychology, and industrial design.

History & Events[edit]

Since antiquity, the discussion of ethics in relation to the treatment of non-human and even non-living things and their potential "spirituality" have been discussed. With the development of machinery and eventually robots, this philosophy was also applied to robotics. The first publication directly addressing roboethics was developed by Isaac Asimov as his Three Laws of Robotics in 1942, in the context of his science fiction works, although the term "roboethics" was probably coined by Gianmarco Veruggio.[3]

The Roboethic guidelines were developed during some important robotics events and projects:

Events in the field are announced e.g. by the euRobotics ELS topics group, and by RoboHub.

In popular culture[edit]

Roboethics as a science or philosophical topic has not made any strong cultural impact,[citation needed] but is a common theme in science fiction literature and films. One of the most popular films depicting the potential misuse of robotic and AI technology is The Matrix, depicting a future where the lack of roboethics brought about the destruction of the human race. An animated film based on The Matrix, the Animatrix, focused heavily on the potential ethical issues between humans and robots. Many of the Animatrix's animated shorts are also named after Isaac Asimov's fictional stories.

Although not a part of roboethics per se, the ethical behavior of robots themselves has also been a joining issue in roboethics in popular culture. The Terminator series focuses on robots run by an uncontrolled AI program with no restraint on the termination of its enemies. This series too has the same futuristic plot as The Matrix series, where robots have taken control. The most famous case of robots or computers without programmed ethics is HAL 9000 in the Space Odyssey series, where HAL (a computer with advance AI capabilities who monitors and assists humans on a space station) kills all the humans on board to ensure the success of the assigned mission after his own life is threatened.

External links[edit]


The standard bibliography on roboethics is on PhilPapers

Academic centers[edit]


There are now a number of organisations and conferences dealing with roboethics. A list is made by the euRobotics topics group "ethical, legal and socio-economic issues" (ELS).





  1. ^ Veruggio, Gianmarco (2007). "The Roboethics Roadmap" (PDF). Scuola di Robotica: 2. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  2. ^ First International Symposium on Roboethics
  3. ^ Tzafestas, Spyros G. (2016). Roboethics A Navigating Overview. Cham: Springer. p. 1. ISBN 978-3-319-21713-0. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Gunkel, David J. (July, 2012). The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI, Robotics, and Ethics. MIT Press.
  • Lin, Patrick/Abney, Keith/Bekey, George A. (December, 2011). Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. MIT Press.
  • Tzafestas, Spyros G. (2016). Roboethics A Navigating Overview. Cham: Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-21713-0.