Ethics: Robots and the Vulnerable

This is an article that merits consideration by everyone:

robots-and-children

WASHINGTON – A BRITISH scientist is calling for immediate introduction of robot ethics guidelines amid surging use of the machines and concern about their lack of human responsibility while caring for children or the elderly.

In an article published on Thursday in the US journal Science, Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, argues that the steady increase in the use of robots in day-to-day life poses unanticipated risks and ethical problems.

Outside of military applications, Professor Sharkey worries how robots – and particularly the people who control them – will be held accountable when the machines work with ‘the vulnerable’, namely children and the elderly, stressing that there are already robotic machines in wide use such as the Japanese meal assistance robot ‘My Spoon’.

Robots could also soon be entrusted by parents to guard and monitor their children, replacing a flesh-and-blood nanny but posing potential problems in long-term exposure to the machines.

‘There are already at least 14 companies in Japan and South Korea that have developed child care robots,’ according to Prof Sharkey.

‘The question here is, will this lead to neglect and social exclusion?’ He said short-term exposure ‘can provide an enjoyable and entertaining experience that creates interest and curiosity’. But ‘we do not know what the psychological impact will be for children to be left for long hours in the care of robots’, he told AFP.

Experiments conducted on monkeys suggest there is reason for concern, Prof Sharkey said. Young monkeys left in the care of robots ‘became unable to deal with other monkeys and to breed’, he said.

With prices plunging by 80 per cent since 1990, consumer sales of robots have surged in the 21st century, reaching nearly 5.5 million in 2008, and are expected to double to 11.5 million in the next two years.

‘They are set to enter our lives in unprecedented numbers,’ said Prof Sharkey, expressing fear that an absence of ethical rules fixed by international bodies could mean the machines’ control will be left to militaries, the robot industry and busy parents.

The scientist also points to the remarks of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who he said predicted that ‘over the next few years robots may be a pervasive as the PC’, or personal computer.

‘We were caught off guard by the sudden increase in Internet use and it would not be a good idea to let that happen with robots,’ Prof Sharkey said.

‘It is best if we set up some ethical guidelines now before the mass deployment of robots rather than wait until they are in common use.’ He said it was vital that action be taken on an international level as soon as possible, ‘rather than let the guidelines set themselves’.

For Prof Sharkey, who has studied robotics for 30 years, such standards are compatible with the rise of robots, of which he is an enthusiastic defender. He stressed the benefits that robots can bring ‘to dangerous work and medicine’.

Prof Sharkey shrugs off doomsday scenarios in books such as Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot about the threatening interaction between robots and humans, or in movies such as the The Terminator in which robots take over the world.

Such story lines will remain firmly in the realm of fantasy, even as societies hurtle towards greater automation, he said.

‘I have no concern whatsoever about robots taking control. They are dumb machines with computers and sensors and do not think for themselves despite what science fiction tells us,’ he said.

‘It is the application of robots by people that concerns me and not the robots themselves.’ — AFP

Jared Diamond: Societal Collapse

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more about “Jared Diamond: System Collapse“, posted with vodpod

If you listen carefully to what Jared Diamond is saying in the TED video above, he is describing not a five part, but a six part power curve into a systemic singularity. This has been one of the core themes of discussion of this blog.  We all seem to be too close to our problems to see the commonality.  The interrogatives come into play here:

  1. Goals
  2. People
  3. Functions
  4. Forms
  5. Times
  6. Distances

Times and Distances being the basis on which the higher orders are built.

When we look at the recent economic “crisis” we see 300 trillion in currency circulating and roughly 1 trillion to 2 trillion shifting suddenly and unexpectedly.  We witnessed a systemic collapse, a singularity, a tipping point, a power curve, an exponential change, a phase transition or whatever label you want to call it.  These have been happening everywhere since Time and Distance began in different contexts and orders both in human and non-human systems.

What Jared Diamond and other alarmists are implying is that human society is now a system approaching its final singularity in this century on this planet.  We are implying that today we are experiencing a less than one percent crisis on a power curve into a singularity.  How many more iterations will the global system withstand?  Will humanity make the step into space successfully before we experience a global dark age?  How will the six or more factors in the power curve play out?

The truth to me appears to be that power curves whether they play out or not result in either a systemic climax or anti-climax followed by a systemic collapse.  Would it not be better if we experienced a systemic climax that led to us expanding into the solar system?

Systemic collapse seems to be the fashion of this generation.  Every generation looks with fascination at its own youth, maturition, reproduction and acceleration into mortality.  Some die early, some die late, but all die.  It is an irrevocable law of nature.  It is not about self-interest.  It is about what self-interest is defined as.

Related Posts:

Beyond the Singularity

Servitas and Libertas

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Singularity, Pluralarity and Lorentz Transformation

Working with Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping point, Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity and the Pareto Principle lead me to begin thinking about a pattern that presented itself. In an earlier post here and here I discussed how there had been many Singularities in history. It also lead me to talk about Pluralarites. Then it struck me there is an oscillation between Singularity and Plurality, giving us the Singularity Pluralarity Plot above. And the implications are interesting.

Any innovation follows the Singularity Pluralarity Plot as a complete life cycle. Kurzweil’s singularity will be no exception. The first working AI will be the domain of specialists it will not be unleashed uncontrolled on humanity and it will have been accomplished after several incremental developments that will leave humanity more than prepared for it. The AI will then have to be molded into compatibility to a variety of purposes. After that it will have to be iterated until it is reliable. Once it is reliable then the true singularity happens: the cost benefit ratio is achieved and AI becomes accessible to the general public. The next step is availability on the global market. Finally, AI will have to be always on and pluralarity is achieved. AI will be ubiquitous and the next innovation will take place. The commoditized original AI will begin its descent and a new innovation in AI or a completely new technology will take its place and begin its ascent.

There will be social upheaval, but I don’t think it will be as dramatic or as immediate as some think.  The anthropomorphization of AI will fade and it will just be considered another tool.

The first thing that occurred to me is that as there is a positive and negative infinity there is also a positive and negative zero. Whether the zero is positive or negative is determined by whether you approach it from positive values or negative values. The second thing that occurred to me is that a pluralarity to singularity transition is divisive while a pluralarity to singularity transition is multiplicative. The third thing that occurred to me is that it is possible to have a positive to negative transition. For example you could follow a positive singularity to positive pluralarity curve with a negative pluralarity to negative singularity curve which would ascend like a staircase. The fourth thing that became obvious is that on an exponential curve the Pareto Principle applies at both ends. It’s like applying Lorentz transformations. Fifth, I am currently reading Peter Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship and have discovered that seizing opportunity, Entrepreneurship, requires recognizing whether you are approaching a Singularity or a Pluralarity while creating opportunity, Innovation, is making a Singularity or Pluralarity. The final thought that occurred to me is what are the implications of this knowledge on network design, physics, chemistry, biology, databases, complexity, simplicity, organization, history, anthropology, evolution, commoditization? I’ll leave it there.