Of Robots and Simulacra: The Dark Side of Social Robots

Of Robots and Simulacra: The Dark Side of Social Robots

Pericle Salvini
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6433-3.ch078
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In this chapter, the author proposes a theoretical framework for evaluating the ethical acceptability of robotic technologies, with a focus on social robots. The author proposes to consider robots as forms of mediations of human actions and their ethical acceptance as depending on the impact on the notion of human presence. Presence is characterised by a network of reciprocal relations among human beings and the environment, which can either be promoted or inhibited by technological mediation. A medium that inhibits presence deserves ethical evaluation since it prevents the possibility of a mutual exchange, thus generating forms of power. Moreover, the impact of social robots on human beings should be carefully studied and evaluated for the consequences brought about by simulated forms of human presence, which have both physical and psychological dimensions and are still unknown, especially with respect to weak categories, such as children, elderly, and disabled people.
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In the following, I will attempt to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not from an ethical point of view with regard to the technological enhancements of human beings through robotic technologies, with a focus on social robots. With such an objective, I may appear to be a technophobe, a Luddite or a conservationist. Quite the opposite. I agree with the definition that humans are technical by nature, even if it may sound to be a contradiction in terms, but I also agree with the truism that “not all progress is good or necessary”. We cannot deny that technology and science are core aspects of the human nature. Nevertheless, it is also unquestionable that there are other forces, driven by scientific interest and economics, which push scientific and technological developments towards choices that are not always integral to the survival of human species.

This chapter responds to the needs and objectives of the ethics of technology, which are called technoethics or roboethics and these are:

  • 1.

    To identify the dangers and benefits that come out from the research and application of advanced robotic technologies and systems;

  • 2.

    To develop tools and knowledge which allows us to direct the development of robotic technology in a sustainable way for the human being (present and future generations) and the natural environment (Veruggio and Operto, 2010).

The benefits provided by robotic technologies are manifold and visible: from factories automation to robotic surgery, search and rescue operation, security, space and underwater exploration, assistance to elderly and disabled people, just to name a few of the most popular and current applications. However, there are also concerns surrounding the use of robots, especially with respect to their level of autonomy (e.g. autonomous, semi-autonomous or teleoperated), the task to be performed (e.g. warfare, care, surgery, logistics, etc.), and the typology of users involved (laypeople, children, elderly and disabled people, etc.).

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