Lt. Data, Locutus and the Future of Psychology
Are we prepared for a future alongside robots?
Robots are no longer just science fiction; they are real, and this is an area where views regarding fact and fiction are particularly confused. How will they affect our daily lives? How intelligent are they? What do they tell us about the meaning of life?
Human-Robot Interaction is a quickly-growing area, drawing on ideas from robotics, engineering, psychology and cognitive science. As robots become increasingly intelligent, we will interact with them in new and quite probably surprising ways. This raises deep issues of ethics, culture, social intelligence, communication and interaction that have traditionally been studied in psychology and sociology.
People’s Attitudes Toward Robots
At an interactive “Robot Thought” event held at London’s Science Museum in 2006, a total of 844 children and 627 adults were asked their opinions. Responses were mainly positive, with more respondents describing robots as “useful” and “clever” than “weird” or “scary.” Many more participants viewed robots as “friendly,” “exciting” and “cool” than “evil.”
At a similar event held in the UK science center at Bristol in 2004, people were asked what they want from robots. Results showed that overwhelmingly, adults would not want a robot living with them as a pet, roommate, friend or lover, only as a servant.
Further questioning revealed some confusion over the current abilities of robots. Driving cars and making furniture were generally reckoned to be within the scope of robots, with surgery and teaching not far behind. On the other hand, most respondents thought it unlikely that robots would ever work in space or fight in wars. Nobody thought robots would ever “rebel against us.”
There was also widespread skepticism that robots might ever think they were human, due to the inherent technical limitations of artificial intelligence. But all the respondents thought that any confusion over robot/human identity would be a difficult problem if it arose. Some predicted issues over rights, and there seemed to be a general assumption that if artificial intelligence were ever created it would inevitably be drawn into conflict with humans.
There was general agreement with the statement “I am concerned about ethical issues arising from robot technology.”
In terms of their usefulness, most people hoped that robots would help with domestic chores. Repetitive tasks were also thought to be suitable, together with dangerous work (like mine clearance and deep sea diving). But the worst things a robot could do were thought to be causing harm to humans or “taking our jobs.”