Robots could end up like dangerous dogs unless people learn to train them properly
Experts speaking at a Royal Academy of Engineering event in London have warned that humans need to be educated about interacting with robots, to avoid creating potentially dangerous situations. Just as poorly-trained dog owners produce dangerous dogs, poorly trained robot owners could produce robots that present a real threat to society.
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The panel discussed the ethical questions that surround the future of human-robot interaction, as part of UK Robotics Week.
Rather than being too concerned about artificially intelligent machines causing a “robopocalypse”, the robo-ethicists think we should be more concerned about the people who tell robots what to do.
“The problem isn’t with robots, it’s with people” said Professor Darwin Caldwell, director of the Department of Advanced Robotics, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Italy.
The engineer likened robots to dogs, warning that people treating service robots “as toys”, and failing to give clear orders, could have dire consequences.
For example, a human could say something in anger that they don’t really mean, and an artificially intelligent robot might act dangerously, having mis-interpreted its master’s commands.
So in other words, if you find yourself in command of both a killer robot AND irritating teenage children, remember to think carefully before speaking your mind.
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What about the ‘robopocalypse’?
The panel don’t expect that super-intelligent robots will try to enslave their human masters any time soon.
“For the foreseeable future, robots will be under control” said Professor Tony Gillespie, visiting prof at UCL.
The experts want to see artificially intelligent robots making decisions that “fit some form of ethical or moral guidelines”.
Professor Alan Winfield, theme leader in swarm robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, said we need to “innovate conscientiously” because “if robots are not safe, people won’t trust them.”
However, he is more concerned about a revolt of workers who might become unemployed due to new autonomous technologies.
Winfield called for roboticists to “get political”, stating that “robots mean we need a compulsory basic income”.
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Regarding a possible ethical framework for robots, Dr Sandra Wachter from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna said: “We have enough legislation to draw upon”.
She is referring to EU legislation – so there’s a chance post-Brexit Britain could be at risk of a robocaust – but hopefully our politicians will have sorted out the UK’s own robot regulations before then.
Dr Natasha McCarthy, head of policy at the British Academy called for a “debate about robots in society,” so that we can all decide upon what sort of ethical code we want our services droids to have.
We shouldn’t concentrate on ‘the dark side of robotics’
Despite worries about robot safety, all of the experts were keen to promote the good things that robots can do, particularly their value as elderly care assistants.
Prof. Caldwell said: “We need technology to counter the effects of aging populations,” adding that in 20 – 30 years there will not be enough young people to look after infirm older people.
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The technology probably shouldn’t completely replace human interaction for older people though, and Dr McCarthy thinks we need to think of robots more like assistance dogs than robo-nurses.
A key point made regarding future automation was that we shouldn’t let the first really bad incident involving a robot stop us reaping the benefits that they will bring.
Prof. Caldwell noted that “robot cars will crash”, but they will also “save thousands of lives.”
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