Robots are increasingly taking on human tasks. When things go wrong companies need to be held accountableby Noel Sharkey, Aimee van Wynsberghe / January 30, 2017 / Leave a comment
We could be rushing headlong into a revolution in robotics without due caution. Industrial robots are not a new phenomenon: but now there is an upsurge in service robots for everything from healthcare to the care of children and the elderly; from cooking and preparing food to making and serving cocktails; from domestic cleaning to agriculture and farming; from policing, security and killing in armed conflict to monitoring climate change; and from robot surgery, to robot intimacy and protecting endangered species.
There were 4.7 million robots sold for personal and domestic use in 2014 including a 542 per cent increase in assistive robots for the elderly and disabled. This figure is forecast to rise to 35 million by 2018 at a conservative estimate. And the predictions do not include the rapid developments of driverless technology. Autonomous cars, trucks and buses are set to change our roads forever and revolutionise our transport and delivery services. Not to mention how our farming practices will change with automated tractors, ploughers and threshing machines.
The lure of massive new international markets is pushing governments and corporations to view robotics as a powerful economic driver and they are starting to pour funding into developments. Many companies and startups are creating a multitude of new robot applications in what is becoming a highly competitive market that will drive innovation.
Despite the disruptive impact that such automation could have in our work places, our streets and our homes, little more than lip service is being paid to the potential societal and ethical hazards by governments. There are certainly protections for our rights built into existing law but there are cracks. For example, a case involving parents going off to work and leaving a child in the care of a robot would have to be prosecuted on grounds of neglect. But who is responsible if something goes wrong: the parents or the robot manufacturers? Without…