Call an Ethicist, My Robot has a Question

As I mentioned several weeks ago, the UN in its brilliance has called for international laws governing robots.  I guess it is easier to manage Israel’s Harpy or the US Navy’s X-47B,  than despotic regimes of Syria and Iran.  Nevertheless, the plutocrats in Turtle Bay have opened a pandora’s box.

For example, at the Department of Medical Law and Ethics in University of Thessaly in Larissa, Greece researchers have begun to explore the “professional liability” when it comes to robotic surgery.  According to recent publications, their aim is to “highlight important legal and ethical implications emerged from the application of robotic surgery.”  Similar to Moore’s law of processors, with the exponential increase of robotic technology so will the medical, legal and ethical ramifications. Specifically, the journal states,”in case of an undesirable outcome, in addition to physician and hospital, the manufacturer of the robotic system may be sued. In respect to ethical issues in robotic surgery, equipment safety and reliability, provision of adequate information, and maintenance of confidentiality are all of paramount importance.” In conclusion, the University exclaims, “while surgical robotics will have a significant impact on surgical practice, it presents challenges so much in the realm of law and ethics as of medicine and health care.”

It would be naive to think that such ethical issues pertain to just military drones and surgical devices, every aspect of humanity is now interwoven with robotics.  In last week’s Wall Street Journal, Dr. Neil Richards, professor of law at Washington University in Saint Louis called for new legislation to protect robots from being too humanized by manufacturers and marketers. Ironically a few days later, the NY Times profiled two examples that slap in the face of Richard’s efforts. First off, Dmitry Itskov 2045 Initiative (human immortality/singularity through robots) and XBox’s Kinect’s ability to read muscle tones and even, in the future, our emotions (see Beyond Verbal). Now I am confused, I do not know if I should cry on my robot’s shoulder or give it a swift kick in the flux capacitor to keep working.


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