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Will Robots Get Human-Like Rights?

Will Robots Get Human-Like Rights?

Soon, coming to the world, thanks to revolutionary thinking being done by students in the north west of Britain, robotic developments mean there can be a version of you doing all those jobs you don’t want to.

There can soon be a robot that effectively gives you one more than one pair of hands. Whatever will people say then, having got used to arguing, ‘I’ve only got one pair of hands!’?
Step Forward Makiis

The University of Central Lancashire is seeing some startling progress using quite cheap technologies and new approaches to thinking. Makiis stands for Makroskopic Intelligent Interaction Systems and is described as a prototype ‘telepresence robot.’

It permits people from anywhere in the world to interact directly with others, anywhere. It’s distance human-like interaction. It’s effectively transporting your presence to somewhere else, while actually staying put yourself.

Critics have dubbed it ‘Skype on wheels’, but Philip Tranter, senior lecturer in robotics engineering at the University wrote in the Daily Telegraph (2 May 2013) that Makiis ‘is an example of how we can break down traditional barriers to learning.’

Makiis uses familiar technologies like iPad and Kinect video sensor from an Xbox; it turns to face a sound, just like humans do. It looks set to open up the teaching experience at higher level by delivering lessons and interacting with students simultaneously around the globe.

Personal Student-Teacher Interface

One enthusiast is Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, who gushed, ‘it’s going to banish boring lectures forever.’ It will offer a pretty effective student-teacher interplay that allows questioning, discussion and more challenging learning.

It surely has applications for learning at younger ages too. Tranter labels what’s being developed as the ‘apps of all our futures.’

In an in-depth analysis of the progress of robotics in Seven magazine (16 June 2013), Will Storr asked that as robots can already perform operations, provide companionship, fight wars and disarm bombs, ‘should they be given the power of thought? And rights?’

Storr visited a Bristol laboratory where a human like head with no body, badly fitting eyes and ridiculous wig and ‘alarmingly realistic skin’, nonetheless created a feeling like a person in a room does. It’s not an empty space, it’s a space filled with a tangible presence.

Behaviour More Like Ours

Storr described a range of robots in development in different centres across the world, from HAL, Care-O-Bot, Ava, iRobot, ConnectR and the PackBot. ‘What all these robots have in common is that they’re terrible at natural interaction with humans.’

He argued that if we are to communicate ‘effortlessly’ with ‘our machine-tooled offspring’, we will have to behave with them ‘as we do with other people.’ And that is the challenge for the current wave of robot pioneers.

The imperative is urgent. With a rapidly aging population, we simply do not have in sight enough people to do all the caring that will be needed. Robots will have to fill the gaps.

The previous assumption that humans give orders and robots obey is being turned upside down. Dr Ute Leonards, the scientist who showed Storr round said, ‘Non-verbal communication is far more accurate and far faster in a lot of cases than verbal communication.’

There are issues galore thrown up by what we are doing. They are actually a minefield:

  • personal space that can often be a cultural matter
  • the human attribute of collaboration with others
  • the ethical problems of creating a new subspecies of beings who are able to communicate the attachments that people start to feel to things that appear to have minds/hearts/consciences but don’t
  • the bonding dangers of very young children and care bots
  • the rights to a life of their own of these creatures
  • the ability to make love, to make war and to control our resources of energy and time…

Many of these things have been trailed in films and books for decades. Now, suddenly, they are the new reality and we as people have to get the rules in place before it’s too late.

Other related posts:

Robots Googling Each Other Was Only a Matter of Time, 21 May 2013

After Robot Soldiers and Robot Surgeons, Stand Up for Robot Teachers, 5 March 2013

How Policing Is Set to Enter the Words of Drones and Robocops, 24 October 2012

Defence and Technology, 6 March 2012

Image: Dreamrail Arrus