Robots — Run for Your Life?

Elon Musk says we should quit worrying about robots taking our jobs and worry instead about robots taking our lives. This isn’t a robot overlords scenario. The fear is that robots are not very secure. This allows them to be used by hackers to do things with their arms or wheels.

Yes, the limbs are the concern. Robots are computers with arms. Hack into a computer and you can steal information or possibly cause the computer to take virtual actions, but the computer, however much it might want to kill someone, can’t. The lack of opposable thumbs makes it impossible. Try saying “Alexa, stab the dangerous intruder,” and see how much good it does you.

Robots are actually pretty dangerous even without evil intent. Add malicious humans to the mix and robots could do a lot of harm.

Musk and others aren’t so much trying to scare us as to encourage people to take cybersecurity more seriously. Robots are still mostly in factories, but they’re coming into homes and offices, too. The industrial robots are treated with respect if not fear, and most of us know that. IFLScience makes the point that the first industrial robot accident in 1934 was not phrased as “Robot kills worker” in headlines. Industrial robot accidents haven’t actually changed much since then, but the headlines have.

Robots don’t kill people. People sometimes are hurt or killed in robot accidents just as they are in car accidents.

Cars can even be used by humans as weapons, just as robots could be. Yet we don’t have an international car ethics committee or special laws about vehicular morality.

We know that cars aren’t sentient, even if we kind of feel like their headlights are eyes. Even if they brake to avoid accidents and tell us where to turn to reach our destination. Even if they drive themselves.

We imagine that robots could be a lot more like us than cars, but so far, that’s a fantasy. Nonetheless, we human beings treat the robots in our homes a lot like pets. We’re not cautious about what we say to our home robots and we don’t think about safety.

In factories, where safety is a top priority, workers routinely sabotage safety features and ignore safety regulations. In homes, we’d be sitting ducks.

An international set of standards for robot ethics sounds like a potentially useful thing, even if we haven’t yet been able to come up with an international standard of human ethics. In the meantime, consider cybersecurity when you connect your industrial robots with other devices.

Rexroth is at the forefront of the Industry 4.0 movement, which involves connecting machines to other machines. Fortunately, Rexroth is very safety conscious. When you need support with any Rexroth electric motion control system, we can help.


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