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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). The "First International Symposium on Roboethics" 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
|Laws of robotics|
Tilden's Laws of Robotics
by Mark Tilden
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.
The Roboethic guidelines were developed during some important robotics events and projects:
- 1942, Asimov's short story "Runaround" explicitly states his Three Laws for the first time. Those "Laws" get reused for later works of robot-related science fiction by Asimov.
- 2004, First International Symposium on Roboethics, 30–31 January 2004, Villa Nobel, Sanremo, Italy, organized by School of Robotics, where, the word Roboethics was officially used for the first time;
- 2004, IEEE-RAS established a Technical Committee on Roboethics.
- 2004, Fukuoka World Robot Declaration, issued on February 25, 2004 from Fukuoka, Japan.
- 2005, ICRA05 (International Conference on Robotics and Automation), Barcelona: the IEEE RAS TC on Roboethics organized a Workshop on Roboethics.
- 2005–2006, E.C. Euron Roboethics Atelier (Genoa, Italy, February/March 2006). The Euron Project, coordinated by School of Robotics, involved a large number of roboticists and scholars of humanities who produced the first Roadmap for a Roboethics.
- 2006, BioRob2006 (The first IEEE / RAS-EMBS International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Bio-mechatronics), Pisa, Italy, February 20, 2006: Mini symposium on Roboethics.
- 2006, International Workshop “Ethics of Human Interaction with Robotic, Bionic, and AI Systems: Concepts and Policies”, Naples, 17–18 October 2006. The workshop was supported by the ETHICBOTS European Project.
- 2007 ICRA07 (International Conference on Robotics and Automation), Rome: the IEEE RAS TC on Roboethics organized a Workshop on Roboethics.
- 2007 ICAIL’07,International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law, Stanford University, Palo Alto, USA, 4–8 June.
- 2007 International European Conference on Computing and Philosophy E-CAP ‘07, University of Twente, Netherlands, 21–23 June 2007. Track “Roboethics”.
- 2007 Computer Ethics Philosophical Enquiry CEPE '07, University of San Diego, USA,12–14 July 2007. Topic “Roboethics”.
- 2008 INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ROBOTICS: NEW SCIENCE, Thursday FEBRUARY 20th, 2008, Via della Lungara 10 – ROME - ITALY
- 2009 ICRA09 (International Conference on Robotics and Automation), Kobe, Japan: the IEEE RAS TC on Roboethics organized a Workshop on Roboethics.
- 2012 We Robot 2012, University of Miami, FL, USA
- 2013 Workshop on Robot Ethics, University of Sheffield, Feb 2013
- 2013 We Robot 2013 - Getting Down to Business, Stanford University
- 2014 We Robot 2014 - Risks and Opportunities, University of Miami, FL, USA
- 2016 Ethical and Moral Considerations in Non-Human Agents, Stanford Spring Symposium, AAAI Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence 
In popular culture
Roboethics as a science or philosophical topic has not made any strong cultural impact, 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.
The standard bibliography on roboethics is on PhilPapers
- Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group
- The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, USA
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).
- Conference list on the Official Roboethics Website
- Cultural Attitude Towards Technology and Communication Conference
- The Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs
- Technical Committee on Roboethics
- We Robot - An Annual Conference Dedicated to Legal and Policy Issues Related to Robotics
- euRobotics topics group "ethical, legal and social issues" (ELS)
- International Society for Ethics and Information Technology
- Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
- Responsible Robotics
- The International Institute of Humanitarian Law
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- Living Safely with Robots, Beyond Asimov's Laws, PhysOrg.com, June 22, 2009.
- Plug & Pray, documentary film on the ethics of robotics and artificial intelligence (with Joseph Weizenbaum and Ray Kurzweil)
- Levy, David (November, 2008). Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. Harper Perennial.
- Laryionava, Katsiaryna/Gross, Dominik (2012). Deus Ex Machina or E-slave? Public Perception of Healthcare Robotics in the German Print Media, International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care 28/3: 265-270.
- 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.