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Texas Tech T-STEM Center National Institute for Engineering Ethics

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1 Texas Tech T-STEM Center National Institute for Engineering Ethics
Ethics and Robotics Richard A. Burgess, M.A. Texas Tech T-STEM Center and Deputy Director, National Institute for Engineering Ethics Summer 2012

2 Three Laws of Robotics – Isaac Asimov
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

3 Introduction While Asimov’s Three Laws are interesting, we will not be focusing on them. We will explore how to incorporate ethics into robotics PBLs. Some of the techniques and questions we will look at can be easily adapted to other types of projects and activities.

4 Questions to Teach Ethics
Well-formulated questions are a great way to generate discussion among students and teachers. Questions also allow us to explore the various facets of technology. Five questions to be inserted at various stages in the PBL.

5 Question 1 What materials and resources will be needed to construct, operate, and maintain robots? Materials Durability Cost Accessibility Sustainability/Disposability Resources Energy required to construct robots Energy required to operate them

6 Question 2 Who would use this technology?
Does the choice of materials affect cost which in turn affects who could use robots? Who would use robots and how would they be impacted physically, emotionally, and financially?

7 Question 3 Besides the people using the technology, who else might be affected by it? Will people’s jobs change in virtue of robots? Positively? Negatively? What about those living around the factories responsible for producing the robots? Will they be impacted? If so, how?

8 Question 4 What else might be affected?
How will robots impact the inanimate world? The urban environment? Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities? Animals around us?

9 Question 5 What will we do with robots once they are outdated or otherwise not being used anymore? How will we store and/or dispose of robots? Will we recycle certain components? Could and should we ship robots we are no longer using to countries that might benefit from them?

10 Discussion and Guidance
Facilitating discussion via questions is a good start. In order to promote ethical reasoning, it is worthwhile to draw attention to potential sources of guidance regarding the questions. Engineering codes of ethics (available online)

11 Robots in Healthcare The use of robots in healthcare will raise ethical issues. Consider the roles robots might serve: Lifting patients/helping them ambulate: this could potentially decrease injuries to both healthcare workers and patients. Dispense medication: this could free up nurses and other staff to address other needs. Robots as companions: could keep some patients company

12 More Questions Who is affected by the use of robots in healthcare? Directly? Indirectly? (e.g., patients, health care workers, administrators, family members) Will healthcare workers lose their jobs? How will family members be affected? They might find themselves freed from some of the burdens of providing care but also isolated from the patient.

13 Robots as Companions “Robot caregivers: harbingers of expanded freedom for all?” Jason Borenstein and Yvette Pearson in Ethics and Information Technology, volume 12, issue 3, September 2010 “The presence of certain kinds of robots may ease depression caused by loneliness. Even if robots do not provide genuine friendship, they may mitigate feelings of isolation.” Robots to help care for autistic children.


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