The EPSRC’s Principles of Robotics and ethical debate

Last April, the AISB organised a workshop on the EPSRC’s Principles of Robotics. These Principles were formulated in 2010, and take the form of five ‘rules’ and seven ‘high level messages’. The Principles aimed to provide some guidance but also importantly to stimulate debate which they have indeed done; the workshop was an example of such debate and produced very interesting discussions. Any code of ethics in a field which is advancing so rapidly, and which challenges central notions of human agency, and presents such challenges for the organisation of our social world, must always stand open to discussion and debate. This is at least as important as getting the code ‘right’, perhaps even more important. Ethics must always involve dialogue and close listening among all affected parties.

Papers from the workshop are being published in Connection Science. Paula Boddington’s commentary can be accessed here.

Abstract: The EPSRC Principles of Robotics refer to safety. How safety is understood is relative to how tasks are characterised and identified. But the exact task(s) a robot plays within a complex system of agency may be hard to identify. If robots are seen as products, it is nonetheless vital that the safety and other implications of their use in situ must also be considered carefully, and they must be fit for purpose. The Principles identify humans as responsible, rather than robots. We must thus understand how the replacement of human agency by robotic agency may impact upon attributions of responsibility. The Principles seek to fit into existing systems of law and ethics. But these may need development, and in certain context, attention to more local regulations is also needed. A distinction between ethical issues related to the design of robotics, and to their use, may be needed in the Principles.

We would like to thank the Future of Life Institute for sponsoring this work

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