Do You Hold Robots Morally Accountable?

Would you hold a robot morally accountable for its behavior? The people at the Human Interaction With Nature and Technological Systems (HINTS) Lab at the University of Washington, in Seattle, wanted to know.

Autonomous robots are very close to being able to interact with human beings in a variety of ways. The folks at HINTS have published two large studies exploring whether humans view robots as moral entities.

Their intent was to study a scenario like the following:

Consider a scenario in which a domestic robot assistant accidentally breaks a treasured family heirloom; or when a semi-autonomous robotic car with a personified interface malfunctions and causes an accident; or when a robot-fighting entity mistakenly kills civilians. Such scenarios help establish the importance of the following question: Can a robot now or in the near futureósay 5 or 15 years outóbe morally accountable for the harm it causes?

A typical interaction is shown in the video; read the description below for an outline of the procedure.


(Moral accountability of robots study)

The first study from HINTS investigated whether humans hold a humanoid robot morally accountable for harm that it causes. The robot in question is Robovie, the little guy (little piece of equipment?) in the picture above, who was secretly being controlled by humans throughout the duration of the experiment. The experiment itself was designed to put a hapless human in a situation where they would experience Robovie making a false statement, and see how they'd react: would Robovie be responsible, or simply a malfunctioning tool?

To figure this out, human subjects were introduced to Robovie, and the robot (being secretly teleoperated) made small talk with them, executing a carefully scripted set of interactions designed to establish that the robot was socially sophisticated and capable to form an increasingly social relationship between robot and human. Then, Robovie asked the subject to play a visual scavenger hunt game, with $20 at stake: the subject would attempt to find at least seven items, and if Robovie judged them to be successful (that's an important bit), within a 2-minute time limit, they'd get the money.

The game, of course, was rigged.

Overall, the study, funded by the National Science Foundation, found that:

65% of the participants attributed some level of moral accountability to Robovie for the harm that Robovie caused the participant by unfairly depriving the participant of the $20.00 prize money that the participant had won. ...We found that participants held Robovie less accountable than they would a human but more accountable than they would a machine. Thus as robots gain increasing capabilities in language comprehension and production, and engage in increasingly sophisticated social interactions with people, it is likely that many people will hold a humanoid robot as partially accountable for a harm that it causes.

Science fiction writers have spent some time exploring these topics. In the sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001, Dr. Chandra learns at last why the HAL-9000 computer exhibited unusual behavior in the earlier film 2001: A Space Odyssey. (SPOILER!)


(From 2010 - HAL tries to lie)

"... he was given full knowledge of the two objectives and was told not to reveal these objectives to Bowman or Poole. He was instructed to lie...

The situation was in conflict with the basic purpose of HAL's design - the accurate processing of information without distortion or concealment. He became trapped... HAL was told to lie - by people who find it easy to lie.

The Bolo autonomous tanks from Keith Laumer's stories evolved to become robotic exemplars of military virtue.

In the 1982 movie Blade Runner, the replicant (non-robotic, but an artificial human) Roy Batty is given the choice to let his enemy, the human detective Rick Deckard, die, Batty instead chooses to save him.


(Roy Batty debates saving Rick Deckard in Blade Runner)

Ethical dilemmas for robots are as old as the idea of robots in fiction. Ethical behavior (in this case, self-sacrifice) is found at the end of the 1921 play Rossum's Universal Robots, by Czech playwright Karel Čapek. This play introduced the term "robot".

Update: For a hilarious counterpoint to this article, take a look at this video from the British TV series Red Dwarf in which Kryten the robot is taught to lie. You'll love Kryten's reasons for wanting to lie, and Dave's reasons for teaching him. End update.

Via IEEE Spectrum

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/27/2012)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )

Related News Stories - (" Robotics ")

China Building Robot Wives
'Want a life-companion, a pleasant one?' - Alice W. Fuller, 1895.

Stan, Robot Valet, Will Drag Your Car Away
'He activated the grapple tracks. ' - Frank Herbert, 1977.

Jibo Home Robot Says Goodbye, Is Killswitched
'It resembles an oyster....' Philip K. Dick, 1968.

I Can't Resist Worm Robots
'Seen close it was not completely flexible...' - Harry Harrison, 1962.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

FLIR Black Hornet 3 Palm-sized Drone
These drones can provide situational awareness beyond visual line-of-sight capability.

Dockworkers Protest Driverless Trucks
'It resembled conventional human-operated transportation vehicles, but with one exception -- there was no driver's cabin.'

Flying Car Concept By Kash Sirinanda
'Each one consists of a hub with many tiny spokes... On the end is a squat foot, rubber tread on the bottom...'

Unfurl The Future! Huawei Mate X versus Galaxy Fold
'A paper thin polycarbon screen unfurled silently from the top of the unit and immediately grew rigid.'

Amazon Echo And Google Home Should Have Morality Software
'The Dwoskin Morality Rating-Computer could 'spot the slightest tendency to deviation' from the social norm...'

China Building Robot Wives
'Want a life-companion, a pleasant one?'

China Social Credit System Like State-Run Whuffie
'At least there was no mandatory Whuffie check on the monorail platform...'

Project Soli Radar Gesture Chip Now FCC Approved
'He waved his hand and the circuit switched abruptly.'

Stan, Robot Valet, Will Drag Your Car Away
'He activated the grapple tracks. '

Jibo Home Robot Says Goodbye, Is Killswitched
'It resembles an oyster....'

Johns Hopkins Says Asteroid Deflection Will Be Difficult
'This obelisk is one huge deflector mechanism...'

Fabric Automatically Cools Or Insulates Based On Environment
'...a high-efficiency filter and heat-exchange system.'

Deepfakes From OpenAI GPT-2 Algorithm
'How can you compete with an IBM heavy-duty logomatic analogue?'

John Deere Self-Driving Tractor
'The huge plow... seemed to shake itself - and began to move back southward.'

North Focals Smart Glasses Provide Augmented Reality In Style
'The world ... is drenched in unfamiliar information all the way to the horizon.'

Tesla Driver Caught Napping Behind The Wheel
'Mary Risling settled back for a little nap...'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.