Ronald Arkin. Know the name. You will in the future, as our robot overlords put us to work. Ron is a robotics engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, working on a breakthrough of “ethical robots” which would be programmed to obey the laws of warfare and the Geneva convention. So, soon robots will be able to obey the regulations our leaders have ignored.
There will be no more renegade robots. No Wall-E clones lying in wait, with cameras, itching to attach your balls to a car battery. He’s working to imbed the emotion of guilt to cut losses under certain circumstances. For instance, let’s assume you are a robot. Let’s just assume. And you, little robot, have to defuse a bomb. There’s only two problems. One, you’re in Kabul. Near an orphanage. Of sick kids. Two, if the bus you’re driving goes under 75 miles an hour, it explodes. In this case, if Ron Arkin is successful, you’d make the decision that would sacrifice the least amount of people, ie, keep driving until people were able to evacuate, then sacrifice your robot self in a Christ-like moment of triumph, and have songs written about you by folk singers in the future. (Somebody get on writing, “Bus Driving Robot, You Saved My Baby”.)
Guilty robots also bring up a number of different ethical issues. Such as, what if they get TOO guilty? Become autonomous and abandon diffusing bombs and fighting for vests and organic farming? Start resenting their mothers? It’s my hope this technology is successful. Not only would it give our little fighting robots a heart, but it might diffuse itself to the marketplace. And then my Roomba would really clean my house. Because it’s dirty. So dirty. And it knows it.