We must not fill the world with robots without first seeing how they influence humans. Instead, society needs to focus first on their responsible design and use. This is the view of philosopher Filippo Santoni de Sio.
The idea of robots taking over the world is a fascinating future scenario. But Assistant Professor of Ethics and Philosophy Filippo Santoni de Sio (TPM faculty) would rather start thinking about the issue now, while robots are not quite so smart yet. In order to protect society from the undesirable consequences of robotisation, he calls for a debate in society and responsible robotics.
It is up to people to take responsibility, he argues. Designers, policy-makers, legislators, end users and scientists will all need to put their minds to the issue of the responsible design and use of robots. This is because the idea that technology is neutral and value-free has become outdated, according to Santoni de Sio. “There is no point in saying about a rifle that it’s only a tool, and that tools do not kill, people kill. The fact is: more people die in places where there are weapons.”
He also feels that society should not regard new technologies like robots as a fait accompli. “We must avoid filling the world with robots that are then impossible to avoid. First we need to think about their design, about legislation and about the social consequences.”
In Santoni de Sio’s view, there are currently four controversial questions relating to robots. One of them is the extent to which we should use robots in healthcare. “They can be extremely useful for surgery, but the same probably cannot be said about providing company to lonely old people.” Another issue, which is attracting attention as high up as the United Nations, is whether autonomous weapon systems should be permitted in the military. “That is an area that requires precaution, especially since the military world lacks transparency.”
The third issue involves robots and employment. “How far should we go in allowing robots to take over people’s work? What if that results in large-scale unemployment, with the robots in the hands of a small group of powerful companies?”
The final example that Santoni de Sio cites is the self-driving car. He is involved in research into this within the Delft Robotics Institute. He has doubts as to whether they will ever drive independently on the open road, however hard a developer like Google may lobby for it. “But the technology is unstoppable, so we should approach it responsibly. Developers need to be aware of the options available. Various levels of autonomy are possible. You can also devise a completely new transport system with its own infrastructure for self-driving vehicles, regulated by a public authority.”
He also feels that society is failing to address questions along the lines of “Who is responsible in the event of an accident?” Ultimately, he believes, we will find a solution to all this. “Prohibition is definitely not a good idea. That would be an overly conservative approach.”