From which standpoint do we – as ethicists – speak?
And for whom? What
are the consequences and what is the (potential)
field of application of an ethics of human
interaction with communication, bionic and robotic systems (in the
following techno-ethics)? An important part of it
should be an ethics of technology
design and production.
Techno-ethics should supports strong,
practice and citizen activity that is involved in the creation of
techno-scientific artifacts. The leading question is how to design an
interdisciplinary process that also involves engineers and technology
in the ongoing discussion.
A second question is,
whether or how is it possible
(and desirable) to develop a general ethics for any kind of robots and
agents. In which case(s) do we need a
differentiation of fields of application and types of robots / agents
regard to ethical concerns? On a socio-technical level robots are
“sensomotorical machines which expand the human ability to move. They
of mechatronic components, sensors and computing-based control and
functions. The complexity of a robot is bigger than that of other
because of its higher degree of freedom and its multiplicity and amount
behaviours." (Christaller et al. 2001, Transl. Jutta Weber). Relevant
questions to discuss are whether there is a qualitative difference
classical, trans-classical machines and autonomous systems.
A third question should
also be “cui bono?” For
whom and by whom are robots developed? Who fits the standards that
robotic devices like AIBO, Pino, Paro, Kismet etc. embody? Do they
to deeper equality, keener appreciation of heterogeneous
stronger accountability for livable worlds?
Besides that a reflection
on the socio-cultural
context of the debate on robots and agents is needed. What kind of
conflicts and power relations are intertwined in the production and
agents and robots? How does the fusion of science, technology, industry
politics come into play? What about the military interest in robotics
not least a central task for techno-ethics
is to learn the lessons from the discussion on bioethics. For example:
should avoid abstract discussions of the agency or intentionality of
robots and reflect whether they are helpful to work out the contest on
future development and use of agents and robots.
massive use of robots will change society probably in a similar way as
airplanes (and in former times: ships etc.) did and it already
society – think of industrial robots in the workplace who are an
factor with regard to the growing unemployment in Europe.
This broad view of societal changes and consequently of the view(s) of
ourselves, including our (moral) values, is fundamental
There may be a re-definition of what it means
to be human For instance the EU Charter
of Human Rights is human centered. The massive use of robots may
Why do we want to live
with robots? What do we live
with robots for? There are different levels of reflection when
questions, starting with the trivial one that robots can be very useful
indeed indispensable for instance in today’s industrial production or
dealing with situations in which the dangers for humans are big. But
reflection in this direction let us take the perspective of what
calls “mimetic desire” (Girard 1972).
Ontological, and Psychoanalytic Implications
The relation between
humans and robots can be
conceived as an envy relation in which humans either envy robots for
are or they envy other humans for having robots that they do not have.
first case, envy can be positive in
case the robot is considered either as a model to be imitated or negative
in case the relationship degenerates into rivalry. This last
exemplified in many science fiction movies and novels in which robots
humans are supposed to compete. Robots are then often represented as
emotion-free androids, lacking moral sense and therefore less worth
humans. Counter examples are for instance 2001:
A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick 1968) or Stanislaw Lem’s novel
(Lem 1981). The mimetic conflict arises not only by the fact of
a robot can do but more basically of imitating what ‘it’ is supposed to
But a robot’s desires are paradoxically our own since we are the
positive and negative views of robots shine back into human
leading to the idea of enhancing human
capabilities for instance by implanting artificial devices in the human
When robots are used by humans for different tasks, this creates a
which the “mimetic desire” is articulated either as a question of
future robot divide) or as new kind
of envy. This time is the object of envy not the robot itself but the
human using/having it. The foundational ethical dilemma with regard to
is thus not just the question of their good or bad use but the question
relation to our own desire with all its creative and destructive
dynamism that includes not only strategies such as envy, rivalry and
also their trivial use as a tool that
eventually turns to be a question of social justice.
Robots can be seen as
masks of human desire. Our
“mimetic desire” might influence (but how far?) the exchange value they
the market place. Our love affair
with them opens a double bind
relationship that includes the whole range of human passions, from
through idealization until rivalry and violence although this might not
case with regard to the contemporary state of the art in robotics as
lack intelligence and unpredictable behaviour. It is the task of
reflection to go beyond the economic dimension in order to discover the
mechanism that makes possible the invention, production, and use of
all kinds. These mechanisms are based on the human mimetic passion(s)
individual as well as on a societal scale. In a mythical sense robots
experienced by our secularized and technological society as scapegoats
for what is conceived the
humanness of humanity whose most high and global expression is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
From this mythical perspective, robots are the bad and the good
ourselves. They give us the possibility of a moral discourse on our
at the same time it takes away our attention from the intolerable
infringement of these rights with regard to real human beings. In other
an ethical reflection on robots must take care of these pitfalls
when considering the dangers of the mimetic desire with regard to human
dignity, autonomy or data protection. It must reflect the double bind
between humans and robots. If robots mirror our mimetic desire we
develop individual and social strategies in order to unmask the
object we strive for that turns into a danger when it looks like a
in view of which everything including ourselves should be regarded as
an end. The concept of human dignity is a hallmark above and beyond our
desire. It is a hallmark of self transcendence independently of
and/or religious promises. It allows us to avoid ideological or
blockades by regulating at the same time the dynamic of mimetic desire.
concept of robot is ambiguous. According to Karel Čapek who first
term, a robot is a human like artificial device, an android,
that is able to perform autonomously, i.e., without
permanent human guidance, different kind of tasks particularly in the
industrial production. Anthropomorphic robots but also artificial
imitating different kinds of living beings have a long tradition.
industrial robots are often not human like.
There is a tension between technoid and naturoid artificial products
[Negrotti 1995, 1999, 2002]. The concept
of artificiality itself is related to something produced by nature and
by man. Creating something similar but not identical to a natural
points to the fact that anything to be qualified as artificial should make a difference with regard the
natural or the “original” (Negrotti). Robots are mostly conceived as physical agents. With the rise of
information technology softbots
or software agents have been
developed that have also impact in the physical world so that it is
to draw a clear border. This is also the case with regard to the
between humans and robots (cyborgs).
In fact, not only individuals but society as a whole is concerned with
process of cyborgization.
are robots? They are products of human dreams (Brun 1992, Capurro
robotic idea entails the hidden object of our desire. Robots are thus
images of the gods (Greek: agalma)
inside the mask of a satyr.
According to Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic interpretation (Lacan
following the Platonic narrative of the love encounter between Socrates
Alcibiades in the “Symposium” (Symp. 222), such “small objects” are the
unattainable and impossible goal of human desire. Plato describes in
“Timaeus” the work of the demiurge shaping the world as a resemblance (agalma) of the divine as a work of joy
and therefore as an incentive to make the copy more similar to the
original (parádeigma) (Tim. 37c).
In sum, our values or the
goal of our desire are
embedded into all our technological devices and particularly in the
products that mimicry our human identity. Therefore, the question is
which values are we trying to realize through them but why are we doing
Robots are a mirror of shared cultural values that show to us and to
we want to be. We redefine ourselves in comparison with robots in a
as we redefine ourselves in comparison with animals or with gods.
redefinitions have far-reaching economic and cultural implications.
But, who is the “we” of
this kind of psychoanalytic
discourse? What about an engineering
culture which is mostly involved in the development & design of
gender approaches “we” have the claim of a masculine culture of
production. So do all people have the same kind of double-bind
robots? And what about cultural differences?
2. Ethical Aspects of
do we live in a technological environment? What is the impact of robots
society? How do we (as users) handle
robots? What methods and means are used today to model the interface
man and machine?
What to think about the
mimicry of emotions and
stereotypes of social norms? What kind of language / rhetorics is used
describing the problem of agent and bots – and which one do we want to
AI and robotics we can often find a sloppy usage of language which
anthropomorphising agents. This language often implies the
autonomy of agents – for example when researcher speak of learning,
emotion, decision making (and so on) of agents. How are we going to
science and in our social practices this problem?
Robots are not ready-made
products of engineers and
computer scientists but devices and emerging technologies in the
are the consequences of the fact that today ICT
devices are developed by computer scientists and engineers only?
- What is the meaning of the
relation master-slave with
regard to robots?
- What is the meaning of robot as a partner in
social robots is focussing on the creation of interactive systems that
to recognise others, interpret gestures and verbal expressions, which
and express emotions and that are capable of social learning. A
central question concerning social robotics is how "building such
technologies shapes our self-understanding, and how these technologies
society" (Breazeal 2002, 5).
To understand the
implications of these developments
it is important to analyse central concepts of social robotics like the
sociality, human nature and human-style interactions. Main questions
concepts of sociality are translated into action by social robotics?
social behaviour conceptualised, shaped, or instantiated in software
implementation processes? And what kind of social behaviours do we want
shape and implement into artefacts?
is a tendency to develop robots modeling some aspects of human behavior
of developing an android (Arnall 2003).
Relative autonomy is a goal for physical robots as well as for softbots. What is the meaning of the
concept of autonomy in robotics? What are the affinities and
between the robotic discourse and the philosophical discourse?
can experience a strong bidirectional travel of the concept of autonomy
well as that of sociality, emotion and intelligence) between very
discourses and disciplines. How does the concept transfer between the
disciplines and especially the strong impact of robotics change the
meanings of concepts like autonomy, sociality, emotion and intelligence?
Having regard to the EU
Charter of Fundamental Rights
(Art. 1, 3, 6, 8, 25, 26) following questions arise:
(a) Who is
responsible for undesired results of actions carried out by human-robot
(b) How is the monitoring
and processing of personal
data by AI agents to be regulated?
is traditionally attributed to
single actors (with include individuals),
human right to privacy protects the ability to
live autonomously, and
- enhancements are for the benefits of a singular
But the importance of
beyond the level of the single individual, and address the question
society or community could and should look like in which bots are
only certain members of a society or community will interact with
of bots, for instance entertainment bots for rich people, service bots
elderly or ill people etc. This kind of interaction with bots may also
new forms of communities. Close attention should be paid to what groups
individuals are likely to interact with certain kind of bots in a
context while at the same time keeping the perspective on the impact of
specific interactions on the communities and societies
in which this specific forms of interactions
All three forms of
human-bot integration may include
aspects of violation as well as fostering of human rights and dignity.
not even ruled out that one and the same technology may do have both
and negative effects. Surveillances infrastructures may be considered
with regard to privacy, but they may also enable us to create new kinds
The potential benefits or
harm may be caused by
certain forms of human-bot-integration. How to dissolve arising
especially if there is a conflict between the individual perspective
perspective of a society or community? Such kind of enhancements might
considered a benefit to an individual but also raise new questions such
whether only an elite might be able to transform themselves into
cyborgs or – a
worst case scenario – whether the unemployed would be forced to have
of implants to enable them to do certain jobs.
At the time given, there
is no need to address the
issue of whether bots should be seen as persons. Present ethical
raise the point of human responsibility as a fundamental issue to be
in an ethical enquiry on techno-ethics. This includes questions such as:
(a) Who and how should
according to which principles
adscript responsibility to whom in cases that involve human-bot
and what should be the consequences of such an adscription?
(b) Who is responsible for
designing and maintaining
an infrastructure in which information about persons is collected and
(c) How does the
possibility of invasive human-bot
integration have influence on the concept of responsibility? This
(i) Does the
fact that a human being
is enhanced lead to a special kind of responsibility?
(ii) What are
the consequences for
whose who are responsible for providing the technology used for
When addressing the
question of responsibility we
should take into account that there are different levels of
when ascribing responsibility to an individual which might be held
for something with regard to her/his personal well-being, to the social
environment (friends, family, community), to his/her specific
private) role also as a citizen who is responsible to the society or
someone lives in, or as a human being at all. Furthermore this does
question whether and how responsibility might be delegated and whether
institutions might be moral responsible with regard to robots.
Robots are less our slaves
– which is a projection of
the mimetic desire of societies in which slavery was permitted and/or
– than a tool for human interaction. This throws questions of privacy
(Arnall 2003, 59) but also of the way we define ourselves as workers in
industry, service and entertainment. This concerns different kinds of
approaches to robots in Europe and in
cultures that may have different impact in a global world. Different
have different views on autonomy and human dignity.
Thanks to Guglielmo
of Naples), Michael Nagenborg
(University of Karslruhe), Jutta Weber (University of Duisburg-Essen)
Art and Media)
for ongoing discussions on the relationship between ethics and robotics
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