Photo credit: New America
By Jacob Brogan
When we imagine a roboticized future, we tend to think in terms of conflict, telling ourselves stories about android assassins and killer computers. But on Jan. 20, 2016, Future Tense convened a group of experts to discuss a different set of dangers: those that might arise from living at peace with robots. The important question, the panelists suggested, isn’t whether robots will want to kill all humans—it’s how human we want those robots to be.
Slate’s Lily Hay Newman, who served as moderator for the event, noted early on that we haven’t talked much about what it’ll be like to live side-by-side with mechanized beings. Though self-driving cars—not to mention robot butchers—seem to be on the verge of large-scale deployment, we’ve given relatively little thought to what will happen as we incorporate such creations into our ordinary lives. How might robot nannies affect children’s development? What will it be like to dance with a robot?
The central issue may come down to what Christine Rosen, senior editor of the New Atlantis, called “the Stepford Wife problem,” which she described as the probability that we’ll end up with emotional attachments to our robots. But Woodrow Hartzog, a law professor at Samford University and the owner of a Roomba nicknamed Rocko, argued that there’s nothing wrong with developing an emotional attachment to a robot. Still, issues do arise, he said, when we trick ourselves into believing that those non-human entities can reciprocate our affection. In other words, we should worry less about killer robots than deceptive ones, whether their deceptions arise by accident or design.
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