A leading British scientist has called for international guidelines to be set up for the ethical and safe application of robots – before it’s too late.
Professor Noel Sharkey, of the University of Sheffield, raises concerns over the use of robots in care services, including child minding and care of the elderly.
Sharkey urges his fellow scientists and engineers working in robotics to be mindful of the unanticipated risks and the ethical problems linked to their work.
He believes that robots for care represent just one of many ethically problematic areas that will soon arise from the increase in their use, and that policy guidelines for ethical and safe application need to be set before the guidelines set themselves.
“Research into service robots has demonstrated close bonding and attachment by children, who, in most cases, prefer a robot to a teddy bear. Short-term exposure can provide an enjoyable and entertaining experience that creates interest and curiosity,” he said.
“However, because of the physical safety that robot minders provide, children could be left without human contact for many hours a day or perhaps for several days, and the possible
psychological impact of the varying degrees of social isolation on development is unknown.
“At the other end of the age spectrum, the relative increase in many countries in the population of the elderly relative to available younger caregivers has spurred the development of elder-care robots. These robots can help the elderly to maintain independence in their own homes, but their presence could lead to the risk of leaving the elderly in the exclusive care of machines without sufficient human contact,” he added.
The report is published in the prestigious Science journal.