Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Social & Economic Implications of Social Robots

David Levy’s recent book, Love & Sex with Robots (2007) received an enormous amount of media attention, from Scientific American (March, 2008) to Hustler Magazine (April, 2008). Levy argues that our technological future will unquestionably include intimate and emotional relationships with robotic others. While much of the media coverage is cheeky and provocative, it also signals increasing public interest in partner robotics (a paradigm shift in robot development) development. Variously referred to as relational artefacts (Turkle, 1980, 1988; Turkle et al., 2006) and socially intelligent robots (Breazeal, 2002; MacDorman and Ishiguro, 2006), the incursion that roboticization is making into human social spheres promises to be far-reaching, including: domestic settings as caregivers, assistants and companions; medical settings in the form of nurse-bots and medical robotics and; military settings wherein military systems pair autonomous systems and human soldiers together on the battlefield. Research groups on the leading edge of studies in human-robot interaction pose serious questions that demand interdisciplinary approaches to technology and culture including: ontological questions that interrogate the social robot’s status as genuinely social creatures; the extent to which social-robots evoke life-like essence and questions of moral standing (Kahn et al., 2004, p. 548); ethical questions related to the authenticity we require of our relational artefacts and the kinds of relationships we regard as appropriate for society (Turkle, 2006, p. 360); robots as a new communication form (Zhao, 2006). But despite the growing prevalence of social robots in everyday life, little research focuses on the social impacts of human–robot relationships. Overall, relatively little is known about social robots and their effects on individuals and society, in part because they are typically regarded as mere techno-gadgets and therefore their social-cultural consequences are disregarded.

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