Meet The First Robot Ever To Break a Law of Robotics

Monday, 20 June 2016 - 10:20AM
Robotics
Artificial Intelligence
Monday, 20 June 2016 - 10:20AM
Meet The First Robot Ever To Break a Law of Robotics
Isaac Asimov's three rules of robotics are simple: "[1] A robot may not injust a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm... [2] A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law... [3] A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law." Up until this point, all of the robots designed in real life followed these three principles.



But Alexander Reben's latest creation is about to change all of that. Reben--a kinetic engineer and interactive artist--built a robot arm designed to autonomously and intentionally break the first law of robotics. While it's true there are "killer" drones, sentry guns, and landmines currently in use, that technology always includes either a human decision-maker somewhere in the process, as is the case with drones, or is basically a glorified tripwire (a land mine, for instance, is made to always go off when stepped on, so there's no decision involved). But for the first time, Reben has built a robot that can "decide" whether to hurt someone or not, which makes it entirely unique. 

Opening quote
"I view it as a piece of tangible philosophy," Reben told The Washington Post.
Closing quote


Reben built the arm to ever-so-slightly bring the pain. A sensor in the robot, which is about a foot across, detects when someone places their finger beneath the arm, which triggers a set of software processes. Through these processes, the robot decides whether or not to prick the finger with a needle. It's not a flawless illustration of Asimov's laws, since the software doesn't use machine learning or AI to decide, but neither is it as simple as a 50:50 coin flip. And when asked what the likelihood of being stabbed was, Reben said, "I don't know the probability."

The prick is akin to that of a blood glucose meter - a small abrasion that lets a drop or two of blood spill out. But even the possibility of a small cut can really mess with people's heads. "It's hard not to get sweaty and nervous," said Reben. He also adds that he wants the robot to be proactive and illustrate truths about other types of robots that hurt people, like drones. "It's clear that I programmed this and easy for people to say I'm responsible. But if a robotic system built by many people and many corporations caused harm, where does that accountability lie?" Reben asks.
Science
Technology
Robotics
Artificial Intelligence

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