Autonomy, Embodiment, and Anthropomorphism: the Ethics of Robotics

Ross Knepper, Cornell University


A robot is an artificially intelligent machine that can sense, think, and act in the world. It’s physical, embodied aspect sets a robot apart from other artificially intelligent systems, and it also profoundly affects the way that people interact with robots. Although a robot is an autonomous, engineered machine, its appearance and behavior can trigger anthropomorphic impulses in people who work with it. In many ways, robots occupy a niche that is somewhere between man and machine, which can lead people to form unhealthy emotional attitudes towards them. We can develop unidirectional emotional bonds with robots, and there are indications that robots occupy a distinct moral status from humans, leading us to treat them without the same dignity afforded to a human being. Are emotional relationships with robots inevitable? How will they influence human behavior, given that robots do not reciprocate as humans would? This talk will examine issues such as cruelty to robots, sex robots, and robots used for sales, guard or military duties. This talk was previously presented in spring 2017 as part of CS 4732: Social and Ethical Issues in AI.