Human robots raise concern

As robot technology advances to make robots more human-like, ethicists are forced to ask questions completely novel to our time.

In Reuters article ‘Robot scientists can think for themselves,’ Ben Hirschler reported Thursday that U.K. researchers developed a robot that can conduct experiments and has already learned new information about the genetic makeup of a type of yeast.

‘It is the world’s first example of a machine that has made an independent scientific discovery,’ Hirschler reported.

While the potential possibilities of robot scientists are endless, this robot, called ‘Adam,’ is currently being used for data collection.

The discovery forces humans to seriously examine a burgeoning ethical dilemma – how far should we take robot technology?’

While Hollywood has been posing this theoretical question for years, the possibility had not evolved from science fiction to reality until the development of facial expression in robots. Japanese researchers debuted a human-like robot called ‘Kansei’ that can display up to 36 different human facial expressions, according to Reuters reporter Toshi Maeda’s June 2008 article ‘Japanese robot displays expressions.’

The mere fact that these robots are already being referred to with human names only speaks to the nature of the issue at hand.’

‘Computers have always offered the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy,’ M.I.T. social sciences professor Sherry Turkle said in an interview with PRI’s radio program ‘To the Best of Our Knowledge.’

Turkle speaks specifically on the dangers of socializing the most vulnerable – children and elderly – with robot dolls or robot caretakers. Human facial recognition technology in robots has made this possible.

‘Every technology raises the question of our human purpose. What do we want from it?’ she said.

Considering human emotions are still being researched, it would be a dangerous to expand robot technology into human socialization beyond a means of communication. Let us leave matters of emotion to sentient beings. The robots can have the rest.

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