In a recently concluded poll, we asked, “If you had a personal robot that could do only one thing, which ability would you prefer it to have?” Is the question itself unethical?
At some point within the next few decades, it seems likely that technology will allow the creation of humanoid robots so lifelike it may be hard to tell them apart from real flesh and blood humans.
If the computer brains housed within contain a high level of artificial intelligence—perhaps so sophisticated that they could fool us into believing they are sentient—then will we still have the right to own those robots as property? To, in essence, treat them as slaves?
Dozens of speculative novels have been written on this subject, of course, most famously by science fiction grand master Isaac Asimov, and more recently given an interesting twist by friend of the IEET David Brin in Kiln People.
Not long ago we came across a clever viral video purporting to show a feminized robot being marketed as the Perfect Woman:
Although this is just a gag, for now, it seems clear in the not-too-distant future a leading commercial application for personal robots could be as “companions” and/or sex toys. So, we thought it would be amusing to post a poll asking our readers what specialty they would find most useful in a robot they might own someday.
Here are the results:
Not everyone found our poll to be amusing, however. One person asked, “Why is ‘sex-slave’ a choice? isn’t this a human rights issue!?” And another said, “The sex ‘slave’ trade is a serious matter. Please remove this choice.”
They are right, of course, that sex slavery is indeed a human rights issue and a very serious matter. We had no intention of making light of this contemporary abomination.
But we did want to raise the question in a future context of manufactured non-human entities. At some point, society will have to grapple with a host of issues that will be raised, including personhood, human rights, property rights, marriage, etc. New technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and bio-engineering could bring us face to face with beings that are not human but that demand to be accorded all the rights and privileges of humanity.
That’s the whole reason for the IEET to exist: to stimulate and support constructive study of ethical issues connected with powerful emerging technologies.