Can a robot learn right from wrong? Attempts to imbue robots, self-driving cars and military machines with a sense of ethics reveal just how hard this is
CAN we teach a robot to be good? Fascinated by the idea, roboticist Alan Winfield of Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK built an ethical trap for a robot – and was stunned by the machine’s response.
In an experiment, Winfield and his colleagues programmed a robot to prevent other automatons – acting as proxies for humans – from falling into a hole. This is a simplified version of Isaac Asimov’s fictional First Law of Robotics – a robot must not allow a human being to come to harm.
At first, the robot was successful in its task. As a human proxy moved towards the hole, the robot rushed in to push it out of the path of danger. But when the team added a second human proxy rolling toward the hole at the same time, the robot was forced to choose. Sometimes, it managed to save one human while letting the other perish; a few times it even managed to save both. But in 14 out of 33 trials, the robot wasted so much time fretting over its decision that both humans fell into the hole. The work was presented on 2 September at the Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems meeting in Birmingham, UK.
Winfield describes his robot as an “ethical zombie” that has no choice but to behave as it does. Though it may save others according to a programmed code of conduct, it doesn’t understand the reasoning behind its actions. Winfield admits he once thought it was not possible for a robot to make ethical choices for itself. Today, he says, “my answer is: I have no idea”.
As robots integrate further into our everyday lives, this question will need to be answered. A self-driving car, for example, may one day have to weigh the safety of its passengers against the risk of harming other motorists or pedestrians. It may be very difficult to program robots with rules for such encounters.
But robots designed for military combat may offer the beginning of a solution. Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, has built a set of algorithms for military robots – dubbed an “ethical governor” – which is meant to help them make smart decisions on the battlefield. He has already tested it in simulated combat, showing that drones with such programming can choose not to shoot, or try to minimise casualties during a battle near an area protected from combat according to the rules of war, like a school or hospital.
Arkin says that designing military robots to act more ethically may be low-hanging fruit, as these rules are well known. “The laws of war have been thought about for thousands of years and are encoded in treaties.” Unlike human fighters, who can be swayed by emotion and break these rules, automatons would not.
"When we’re talking about ethics, all of this is largely about robots that are developed to function in pretty prescribed spaces," says Wendell Wallach, author ofMoral Machines: Teaching robots right from wrong. Still, he says, experiments like Winfield’s hold promise in laying the foundations on which more complex ethical behaviour can be built. “If we can get them to function well in environments when we don’t know exactly all the circumstances they’ll encounter, that’s going to open up vast new applications for their use.”
This article appeared in print under the headline “The robot’s dilemma”
THIS SHALL BE MY LIFE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SO.
Get to Know Me Uncomfortably Well
- 1. What is you middle name?
- 2. How old are you?
- 3. What is your birthday?
- 4. What is your zodiac sign?
- 5. What is your favorite color?
- 6. What's your lucky number?
- 7. Do you have any pets?
- 8. Where are you from?
- 9. How tall are you?
- 10. What shoe size are you?
- 11. How many pairs of shoes do you own?
- 12. What was your last dream about?
- 13. What talents do you have?
- 14. Are you psychic in any way?
- 15. Favorite song?
- 16. Favorite movie?
- 17. Who would be your ideal partner?
- 18. Do you want children?
- 19. Do you want a church wedding?
- 20. Are you religious?
- 21. Have you ever been to the hospital?
- 22. Have you ever got in trouble with the law?
- 23. Have you ever met any celebrities?
- 24. Baths or showers?
- 25. What color socks are you wearing?
- 26. Have you ever been famous?
- 27. Would you like to be a big celebrity?
- 28. What type of music do you like?
- 29. Have you ever been skinny dipping?
- 30. How many pillows do you sleep with?
- 31. What position do you usually sleep in?
- 32. How big is your house?
- 33. What do you typically have for breakfast?
- 34. Have you ever fired a gun?
- 35. Have you ever tried archery?
- 36. Favorite clean word?
- 37. Favorite swear word?
- 38. What's the longest you've ever gone without sleep?
- 39. Do you have any scars?
- 40. Have you ever had a secret admirer?
- 41. Are you a good liar?
- 42. Are you a good judge of character?
- 43. Can you do any other accents other than your own?
- 44. Do you have a strong accent?
- 45. What is your favorite accent?
- 46. What is your personality type?
- 47. What is your most expensive piece of clothing?
- 48. Can you curl your tongue?
- 49. Are you an innie or an outie?
- 50. Left or right handed?
- 51. Are you scared of spiders?
- 52. Favorite food?
- 53. Favorite foreign food?
- 54. Are you a clean or messy person?
- 55. Most used phrased?
- 56. Most used word?
- 57. How long does it take for you to get ready?
- 58. Do you have much of an ego?
- 59. Do you suck or bite lollipops?
- 60. Do you talk to yourself?
- 61. Do you sing to yourself?
- 62. Are you a good singer?
- 63. Biggest Fear?
- 64. Are you a gossip?
- 65. Best dramatic movie you've seen?
- 66. Do you like long or short hair?
- 67. Can you name all 50 states of America?
- 68. Favorite school subject?
- 69. Extrovert or Introvert?
- 70. Have you ever been scuba diving?
- 71. What makes you nervous?
- 72. Are you scared of the dark?
- 73. Do you correct people when they make mistakes?
- 74. Are you ticklish?
- 75. Have you ever started a rumor?
- 76. Have you ever been in a position of authority?
- 77. Have you ever drank underage?
- 78. Have you ever done drugs?
- 79. Who was your first real crush?
- 80. How many piercings do you have?
- 81. Can you roll your Rs?"
- 82. How fast can you type?
- 83. How fast can you run?
- 84. What color is your hair?
- 85. What color is your eyes?
- 86. What are you allergic to?
- 87. Do you keep a journal?
- 88. What do your parents do?
- 89. Do you like your age?
- 90. What makes you angry?
- 91. Do you like your own name?
- 92. Have you already thought of baby names, and if so what are they?
- 93. Do you want a boy a girl for a child?
- 94. What are you strengths?
- 95. What are your weaknesses?
- 96. How did you get your name?
- 97. Were your ancestors royalty?
- 98. Do you have any scars?
- 99. Color of your bedspread?
- 100. Color of your room?
"That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong."F. Scott Fitzgerald
People are prettiest when they talk about something they really love with passion in their eyes.
My stomach growled super loud in French omg
I would like to clarify my stomach did not speak French. It growled in French class I apologize
hon hon hon feed me a baguette
Why do I even go on this website
Brazilian artist Rafael Mantesso uses silly illustrations and props to create funny photos with his Bull Terrier, Jimmy. [via]
Previously: Artist Telmo Pieper Repaints His Own Childhood Drawings
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