“A great science fiction detective story” - Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
Not the Usual Announcement: Several papers available as PDFs are cited in today´s post. Normally I would have included them in the HA Library (aka HAL, for you 2001 fans) — and I´ll do exactly that as soon as possible — but I´m operating on borrowed equipment at the moment due to a blown hard drive, so I don´t have my usual resources available to me today. Of course this makes the usual announcement all the more important.
The Usual Announcement: Remember to click on the Luck & Death banner, above. For a limited time — getting shorter every day — you can order a special edition of the book at the regular retail price of $5.00. Free sample chapters are available, as is an MP3 sample chapter for your iPod or other device. If you enjoy this site, try it!
Okay, now that you´ve clicked and ordered your copy, by all means move on to the Robot Sex…
I have a continuing soft spot for Isaac Asimov, having grown up on his stories, even though his writing style is pretty stilted and his stories often now seem dated in some respects.
In 1942 he articulated his three laws of robotics, which helped fictional robots to make the transition from being absurd mechanical puppy dogs and monsters into something more interesting. These laws were intended, essentially, to impose ethical constraints upon robots(and to create interesting conflicts within the stories):
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The concerns embodied in these laws has, by today, become something genuine and pressing, for instance in the military application of robotic devices whose very purpose is sometimes to injure or even kill human beings. See, for instance, Robots in War: Issues of Risk and Ethics [pdf], by Lin et al.
But several readers of the Robot Sex Week series have raised the issue of a corollary to Asimov´s laws: that rules that should also constrain our treatment of robots.
In the context of this series the question has to do specifically with sex, but of course it is part of a larger set of more general concerns.
If we create artificial humans, can we ethically create them for our own purposes, or should they be emancipated and have the same rights of self-determination that a natural person has?
If the answer to that question is something like `as long as they´re mere mechanical devices we can do what we want with them, but when they approach sentience we have to stop´ then this raises further questions.
For instance, where along that spectrum do we draw the line? And even if something really is a mere machine and we therefore feel free to subject it to any desire we may have (however lofty or base) does giving ourselves that liberty potentially degrade or de-humanize us, especially if the machine is a reasonable facimile of a human being?
Like me, you probably have preliminary answers to some of these questions — whether rooted in your philosophical outlook, your politics, or even your religion — but unexamined, instinctive reactions aren´t a sufficient response to an important set of questions.
Take the example of Stephen Peterson, an assistant professor of philosophy at Niagara University who has posted a draft version of a very interesting paper entitled The Ethics of Robot Servitude.
Peterson makes it clear early in the paper that his preliminary response to the notion of whether robot servitude could ever be ethical was negative, but the process of researching and writing the paper led him to the opposite conclusion:
I argue against this universal consensus in the literature. That is, I argue that robot servitude is permissible. This conclusion is not only contrary to the literature; it is also contrary to my own expectations. It emerged as a surprising consequence of my research into the abstract nature of intelligence.
And Peterson doesn´t reach his conclusion by denying that robots could ever reach the point where we would have to logically grant their personhood, as he makes clear in another paper, Designing People to Serve [pdf].
You can see a long video from the North Amercan Computing and Philosophy Conference 2006 at which Peterson spoke on the topic, here. Peterson´s talk begins about a third of the way through the video, but it´s easy to skip ahead to his part.
Another, very different approach to the ethical considerations involved in the sexual use of artificial persons by natural ones arises in a paper by Amuda and Tijaani entitled Ethical and Legal Implications of Sex Robot: an Islamic Perspective, which can be downloaded here.
Note: the authors are clearly not native English speakers and the translation used for this paper is very poor. It is entirely possible that I have misunderstood parts of the paper for this reason, although in general its meaning is relatively plain even when the expression of that meaning is muddled. All quotes are exact.
First, the authors conclude that sex with a robot (referred to as `sex robot,´ possibly as a tranposition of `robot sex´) is a breach of Islamic law:
…if the judge sees that any prescribed punishment by him will serve the purpose of punishment against the criminal who committed sex robot because it against humanism and abuse to the marriage institution. If such an act failed to be legally and severely curtailing by the authority and it’s allowed to spread, many will divorce their wives or husband while some may jettison marriage simply because he or she is enjoying with robot.
Secondly, they conclude that marriage to a robot is also prohibited:
It can be inferred from the concept of marriage that it’s a union between male and female and any marriage contract with robot or to the same sex is considered as crime and sin. Therefore, marriage with robot is a punishable crime under Islamic law.
Finally, while the authors´point of view may be alien to a reader who doesn´t share their perspective — me, for instance — they do treat the questions they confront with seriousness and they acknowledge potentially positive aspects of permitting sexual relations between natural humans and artificial ones — they simply conclude that the weight of the evidence is that Islamic law nonetheless forbids it:
Although the emergence of full sexbot as alternative to both human sexes is still at infant stage, its reality cannot be underestimated. Looking at various technological, social, psychological and economic factors that are positively contributing to this trend, it is noted in this study that, dynamic analysis and discussion on ethical and legal implications of this emerging trend are essential as a preventive measure against its possible negative impact. Although, several positive reasons may be advanced in its favor, there is need to weight both size of the ‘coin’ in order to proffer a sustainable solution that will advance humanity towards social peace and stability.
I would be interested to hear from other muslims — and indeed, from people of any other faith — as to how their interpretation of the issues agrees with or departs from that of Amuda and Tijaani.
Let´s conclude this post with another very different interpretation of the ethics of human-robot interaction. The anime series Time of Eve – the source of all the images in this post — centres on the growing independence of androids and the issue of discrimination against them by human beings:
In the not-too-distant future, androids have come into common usage. Rikuo Sakisaka, who has taken robots for granted for his entire life, one day discovers that Sammy, his home android, has been acting independently and coming and going on her own. He finds a strange phrase recorded in her activity log, “Are you enjoying the Time of Eve?” He, along with his friend Masakazu Masaki, traces Sammy’s movements and finds an unusual cafe, “The Time of Eve”. Nagi, the barista, informs them that the cafe’s main rule is to not discriminate between humans and androids. Within the cafe, androids do not display their status rings, and, when patrons depart, the door is automatically locked for two minutes to prevent someone from following them to discover their true nature.