It might seem, at first glance, that military robotics raises many more ethical worries than does the use of robots in caring roles. However, this superficial impression deserves revision for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is overwhelming evidence that robots are a very effective tool with which to manipulate human emotional responses. It might theoretically be possible to do this only in ethical ways of benefit to individuals and society. Unfortunately there has been little or no discussion of exactly what these ways might be.
For the caring robots now being developed by the private sector there is no guidance whatsoever on these issues. We can therefore expect at best, the manipulation of emotions in order to maximize profits. At the worst we can expect dangerous mistakes and disreputable deceit. There has also been very little discussion outside the specialist field of robot ethics of just which caring roles are suitable for robots and which roles we might wish, on good reasoned grounds, to reserve for humans. This is surely a matter that deserves widespread public debate.
Finally, there is now a large number of international conventions, legislation, and rules of engagement which directly impact on the development and deployment of military robots. In complete contrast, the field of social, domestic, and caring robots is without any significant legislation or ethical oversight. Caring, not killing, is now the wild lawless frontier of robotics.
About the speaker: Dr Blay Whitby
Dr Whitby is a philosopher specializing in ethics, addressing primarily the social impact of new and emerging technologies. His work has done much to increase informed debate on ethical dilemmas posed by the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in social and domestic settings. His publications include Oversold, unregulated, and unethical: Why we need to respond to robot nannies. His books on the area include: Reflections on Artificial Intelligence: The Legal, Moral and Ethical Dimensions.
He is a member of the Ethics Group of BCS - The Chartered Institute for IT and an ethics advisor to the Royal Academy of Engineering as well as having participated in several high impact science/art collaborations. Dr Whitby currently lectures at Imperial College, London; The Technical University of Vienna; Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and the University of Sussex. He has served as an ethics adviser in both the public and private sectors.