Sunday, December 6, 2009

Scientists, lawyers mull effects of home robots

AP article considers how product liability laws may apply to autonomous robots, and quotes Ron Arkin & George Bekey on the need for some sort of ethical guidance for robots. Unfortunately the article leaves the impression that Asimov's laws are the right starting point.

By BROOKE DONALD, Associated Press Writer – Sat Dec 5, 10:27 am ET

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Eric Horvitz illustrates the potential dilemmas of living with robots by telling the story of how he once got stuck in an elevator at Stanford Hospital with a droid the size of a washing machine.

"I remembered thinking, `Whoa, this is scary,' as it whirled around, almost knocking me down," the Microsoft researcher recalled. "Then, I thought, `What if I were a patient?' There could be big issues here."

We're still far from the sci-fi dream of having robots whirring about and catering to our every need. But little by little, we'll be sharing more of our space with robots in the next decade, as prices drop and new technology creates specialized machines that clean up spilled milk or even provide comfort for an elderly parent.

Now scientists and legal scholars are exploring the likely effects. What happens if a robot crushes your foot, chases your cat off a ledge or smacks your baby? While experts don't expect a band of Terminators to attack or a "2001: A Space Odyssey" computer that takes control, even simpler, benign robots will have legal, social and ethical consequences.

"As we rely more and more on automated systems, we have to think of the implications. It is part of being a responsible scientist," Horvitz said.

Horvitz assembled a team of scientists this year when he was president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and asked them to explore the future of human-robot interactions. A report on their discussions is due next year.

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