Monday, April 18, 2011

MoD Questions Ethics of Killer Robots

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) has produced an internal study that warns of the dangers in the incremental development of military robots.
It says the pace of technological development is accelerating at such a rate that Britain must quickly establish a policy on what will constitute "acceptable machine behaviour".

"It is essential that before unmanned systems become ubiquitous (if it is not already too late) … we ensure that, by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance, we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely," warns the report, titled The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems. MoD officials have never before grappled so frankly with the ethics of the use of drones. . .

The report was drawn up last month by the ministry's internal thinktank, the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), based in Shrivenham, Wiltshire, which is part of MoD central staff. The centre's reports are sent to the most senior officers in all three branches of the armed forces and influence policy and strategy.

Read the full article from Guardian online here.

Robots deployed in Japanese Reactor

A few weeks back at the Innorobo Trade Show in Lyon, France, Colin Angle, the CEO of iRobot, reported that they had sent two robots, similar to but larger than the normal Packbots, to the nuclear reactor in Fukushima. At the time it was hoped that the bots would be used to drag cooling hoses near to the core. But as we all know now the core has melted down. However, the New York Times reports today that the iRobot systems have been used to collect data on radiation levels.
Workers have not gone inside the two reactor buildings since the first days after the plant's cooling systems were wrecked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and littered them with radioactive debris.

But a pair of robots, called Packbots, haltingly entered the two buildings Sunday and took readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. More data must be collected and radioactivity must be further reduced before workers are allowed inside, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

The full article titled, Robot in Japanese Reactors Detects High Radiation, is available here.

Robotics conference bringing together ethicists and engineers

A conference titled, "Bridging the robotics gap:bringing together ethicists and engineers" is scheduled for Enschede the Netherlands on July 11th and 12th.
Our processes determine the quality of our products”. This quote, taken from the work of Hugh Dubberly studying the multiple design processes of technologies, sums up the main aim of high quality engineering robot design: to create high quality robots by ensuring high quality design processes. But even high quality design processes may raise ethical issues. This conference brings together roboticists and ethicists working in the field to discuss the ethics of robot design. The conference targets both philosophers and engineers that want to take-up the challenge of interdisciplinary research – both theoretically, methodologically and pragmatically. As roboticist Illach Nourbakhsh claims, some of the personal obligations of the roboticist include being aware of the ethical issues and deliberating these issues. Thus, we will discuss the more abstract philosophical issues as well as applied ethics case-study based research, in conjunction with the obstacles facing engineers and designers. In short, the conference intends to bridge the robotics gap by facilitating the dialogue between ethicists, philosophers, anthropologists and social scientists, and, computer scientists, engineers and designers, all working in the field of robotics.

The conference website is available here.