Dor Skuler, co-founder and chief executive of Intuition Robotics, believes that it is unethical to build robots that look or sound like humans.
It’s wrong, he thinks, for a robot to pretend to be human. Of course it’s not robots that pretend to be human. It’s more that human beings are trying to convince other humans that robots are human.
Think of robocalls. They pretend to be human in order to trick you into listening to their sales pitch. People working in the field claim that humans can’t tell the difference between the robot voice and the human voice. Google has succeeded with this, according to some observers. You can listen to a robocaller pretending to be a human at Time.com
However, we know plenty of humans who have been tricked once by that cheery voice saying, “Hi, James, this is Marsha!” The next time they get a similar robot call, they’re not duped again.
Robocalls are usually out to trick people or at least out to get money from them.
What about convincingly human-looking robots, though? If they’re not scamming anyone, but rather working alongside humans in a factory, is it okay for them to look and sound like people?
Alan Winfield, professor of robot ethics at the University of the West of England, says no. It’s still a deception, he figures. Our human brains have evolved to respond in certain ways to other human beings. If robots elicit those responses, they are by definition tricking us.
Or rather, the people who built and programmed the robots are tricking us.
A study at the University of Michigan found that people work more cooperatively with robots when they feel some emotional connection. Humanoid robots are more likely to inspire emotional connections than standard industrial robotic arms. But for the same reason, the researchers point out, people are also more likely to forget that their robot coworker is recording everything they say and transmitting it to their bosses.
Once again, a sense of betrayal and deception is part of the problem. It’s something that will need to be decided, possibly after lots more study.
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