Today, almost every house has a computer. The latest addition to the world of computer science is called Robot. The robot is not just a computer but something more than that. A computer only can sense a mouse movement and keyboard insertion, but it does not act or move. The robot is well capable of sensing the environment and act accordingly by moving around the surface. A workload that would take ten days for completion by a human could be completed within few hours/minutes by a single robot. 

The term Robot was first used in a Czech play called Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R) by writer Karel Capek in 1920 as a denotation of forced labor.

Andre Roberge (2005)

Most people think that robots are destructive figures as shown in science fiction movies like Terminator, Transformers, Star Wars and etc. In fact, robots are everywhere today. Robots are being used to manufacture cars, clean the house, help soldiers in battlefield, assist doctors in surgeries, play with kids and also to explore beyond earth. Typically, real robots might not look like a robot that we see in movies, but they do important and difficult jobs that never be done by human workers. Robots are also useful to teach kids in different and innovative ways.

Most of the organizations find it profitable to employ robot workers to perform the repetitive tasks of the company. Many of the manufacturers in developed and developing countries prefer more robot workers as it is cost effective and can onboard with minimum formalities of employment, rather than employing a human worker for a high salary with many formalities.

There are many automated systems used by human-beings to perform their routine tasks. Similar to the control systems of a human, a robot also has a built-in system that senses the environment to act accordingly. These sensors were controlled by a Central Neural Schema.

The main ethical issue of the fast growing robotic science is the unemployment of human workers. Most of the companies from wealthier countries that have witnessed rapid advancement in the field of science & technology, often replace human workers for robot workers. These countries have a reduced requirement for uneducated workers who are willing to do repetitive work such as factory labor. The unemployment of human workers can create serious social issues in the country. Even-though people do not have work, they need money to live and to do their daily activities. If someone does not have a source to earn money legally, he might get encouraged to do something illegal to earn money. The consequences of unemployment would be very serious where robberies and murders could increase. As a result, the well-being of the country and the citizens would be compromised.

Countries will have to face serious security problems when unemployment is higher. According to Schultz (2005, p.45) security is the state being safe without danger or threat. This scenario raise lot of questions. Is it ethically correct to replace a human worker by a robot only in the basis of profit to the company? What are the other jobs that human workers can do? Who is responsible for managing the balance of the human workers and robot workers?

When looking from ethical eye, Deontological theory says that employment of robot workers that replacing human workers is unethical. On the other hand someone can argue that robot can only replace who does repetitive works, monotonous and so often hazardous to human. This would really help the mankind to live a healthy and longer life. Another ethical issue relates to robots and humanoids is the wastage of power to operate these autonomous machines. In the modern world the demand for the power is very high and the sources to get electricity are very limited. The governments are facing a lot of difficulties to save power for future use. On the other side the robots and humanoids need a lot of power to do their duties. This raises an ethical question as to whether is it correct to waste the power by employing robot workers when it can be done by the human workers without any electricity/power consumption. As by the deontological theory wasting electricity is unethical when there is a high demand for electricity today.  

Disposing e-waste in improper manner is a rapidly growing problem in the world. β€œE-waste broadly covers waste from all electronic and electrical appliances and comprises of items such as robots, computers, mobile phones, digital music recorders/players, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions (TVs) and many other household consumer items”.

Violet (2008)

In, fast growing robotic field, managing the e-waste is high priority. As stated by Varghese (2004) it is estimated that 75% of electronic items are stored due to uncertainty of how to manage it. Electronic and electrical equipments were made with many components. Some such components could contain toxic acid that can have adverse impact over human health if it wasn’t disposed properly. These types of issues were raised so often due to improper recycling & disposal methods. It could have serious repercussions for the proximity places where e-waste was burnt or recycled. Then what would be the correct way to dispose e-waste? Are there any institutions or professional bodies to look after the e-waste management? There are so many questions that need answers on this matter.

The robots are also used in modern hospitals to perform works such as providing assistance in laboratories, dispensing drugs and even in surgical procedures (ex: nanobots). Robots could be efficient and quick while doing the factory works, but there’s a risk of technical defects when dealing with human body in hospitals. Treating patients is a different skill and it needs a lot of thinking power and experience because of its sensitiveness. A wrong decision could even end up the life of the patient. Many professionals such as Consultants, Doctors, Nurses, and Pharmacists were involved in a medical treatment process. They are well trained professionals with vast experience in the field. During the treatment process, if one makes a mistake (barely happens) there is a high chance that it could be identified and corrected by another medical personal, but when robots performing such treatment process and if there were any technical malfunctions, then there will be no possibilities to detect the issue beforehand. This could kill the patient. Do we have to face this much of threat as we think about cost effectiveness by using robots? To which extent a robot can perform when considering human life? Who has the rights to certify that robots in the medical field are capable enough for such tasks?  

Caring the elders is another area where the robots are being used these days. Computer scientist Rod Grupen(2008) who is the director of UMass Amherst’s Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics says that β€œFor the first time, robots are safe enough and inexpensive enough to do meaningful work in a residential environment”. Robots are appointed to take care of elders whose children have a busy life & have less time to look after their parents or living far away from their parents. The robots were capable enough to allow elders to do their works independently, and provide relief for caretakers, the medical system and community services.

A popular robot that is in operation to help elders in USA is uBot5. It has an array of sensors that could act as the ears and eyes for the robot. This lets uBot5 to recognise human actions such as sitting, walking, running and etc. It is also capable of tracking abnormal events (such as a falling off, choking and etc) and inform the remote medical caregiver. Through a remote interface, the caregiver may ask the client to smile, speak or raise hands. If the patient/elder is unresponsive, the robot could call the emergency contact to alert the patient’s family. It also can insert a digital stethoscope to the patient and convey the message to local emergency medical officers. Does the robot have every qualities that a human caretaker could offer? Does it have sensors to understand feelings/emotions? Is it ethically correct to leave our parents with a machine having taken everything and benefitted from them? Robot may give the physical support to a patient but is it capable enough to give the mental support, that is essential to recover from illnesses and depressions?

As Peter Singer (2008) stated, there will be robots in the future that can have feelings & emotions. Currently, there are humanoid robots available that can’t be separated from human in the basis of appearance. This confusion will increase when they have feelings & emotions in addition to its appearance. What will happen if robots start to love human in the real world? What will happen to the relationship between men and women? How would such loves/affections may impact our society?

A robot may not injure a human-being or, through inaction, allow a human-being to come to harm.

Kathleen Richardson(2011), Isaac Asimov 1st law

The employment of robotic soldiers is a clear violation of the above law. War between humans and robots could be interesting to watch in movies, but in reality it could be seriously devastative. Being IT professionals, creating such harmful robots will be controversial and also violates the above law.

IT professional should take responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment

IEEE (2012) Code Of Conduct, Governance

Manufacturing robots that could be used in the war is an obvious violation of this rule and should be stopped immediately to ensure the well-being of humanity. Another vulnerability related to robot is malfunctioning. Every electronic & electrical peripherals are prone to malfunction. When we look at the consequences of malfunctioning, robotic malfunctioning gets the higher criticality. General software malfunctions has a very low consequences and also it is controllable. At the same time imagine a situation where a robot is malfunctioning. Can it be controlled by human manually? Testing could be easily done to check the malfunctions and defects while developing robotic software. When it comes to robotics, testing is a critical challenge.

What if a robot does a mistake or crime? We punish people who make crimes to make them fear to do the same crime in future. Do we have the same capacity to punish a robot? Does robot have a sense to realise its fault? A fault of a robot can be vary from a small mistake and up to a murder. As a real world example, according to Williamson (2007) β€œ37 years old maintenance engineer at Kawasaki plant called Kenji Urada was killed by a robot while working on a broken robot as he failed to turn it off completely”. Did that robot get a punishment for killing a human? Never. There is no such practice to punish or dismantle a robot during such incidents.

What do all these things have to do with ethical issues in robotic technology? Quite a lot. Since robot workers are cheaper, most corporates pretend to replace human workers with robots. Today, the human population has increased a lot, therefore every human need an employment to feed his/her families. Robots/humanoids replacing the human workers will not effect only that particular worker but also his family and the entire society.

On the other hand, when computers first entered the world, it was proclaimed by many people that computers would take more jobs away from ordinary workers. This statement is true for a certain extent, but the reality is that the computers have created millions of new job opportunities rather than taking jobs away from employees. The field of robotic technology also could create more job opportunities. The government should take the responsibility to maintain the balance between human workers and robot workers. Organisations should be established to control and look after the disposal management of the e-waste in every country. Government and the corporate companies should have consensus when defining protocols that can control robots and autonomous machines.

Robot manufacturing companies should consider more about the well-being of humans when they produce robots/humanoids. An action of a robot should never risk the human existence. With a rapid growth in Artificial Intelligence, we may have to deal with many problems in future. The existence of human is top priority other than anything else. So the robots should be dismantled or destroyed whenever we feel it harmful.

I wish, the future of co-existence between humans and humanoids to be perfectly bounded to enrich humanity and to build a heavenly Earth.

Reference Reading

  • Schultz R.A (2005). Issues in ethics and information technology. Woodbury University: USA. 45.