Saturday, March 31, 2007

Soon to come: Robotic Rights Legislation

Do your robotic devices feel? Do they have rights? When you use them, do you need their permission? This may sound like science fiction, and it's indeed been a question asked in science fiction already for decades.

For instance, anyone who reads science fiction can tell you about the Three Laws of Robotics as put forward by author Isaac Asimov in his short story Runaround in 1942. However, many of our new tech developments began as ideas from science fiction. The original Star Trek props spawned several new ideas, notably tablet computers, Bluetooth ear pieces, and flip-style cell phones, among many others.

Geostationary telecommunications satellites are attributed to SF author Arthur C. Clarke, in a paper titled "Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?", published in Wireless World in October 1945. The geostationary orbit is now sometimes known as the Clarke Belt in his honor.
[taken from Clarke's Wikipedia entry]

Guess what? Robotic Rights legislation is about to become part of our reality. Isaac Asimov does indeed still live.

Quoted from a BBC article from March 7, 2007:

"An ethical code to prevent humans abusing robots, and vice versa, is being drawn up by South Korea. The Robot Ethics Charter will cover standards for users and manufacturers and will be released later in 2007. It is being put together by a five member team of experts that includes futurists and a science fiction writer. The South Korean government has identified robotics as a key economic driver and is pumping millions of dollars into research.

"The government plans to set ethical guidelines concerning the roles and functions of robots as robots are expected to develop strong intelligence in the near future," the ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said.

Personally, I think this is something definitely needed, and may help our culture recognize other species as intelligent and feeling, once we grant these qualities to our advanced constructs. But I won't hold my breath.

One of the big blockades to our changing how we think of and ultimately use animals in our food industry, for instance, is - you guessed it - the suit mentality of profit being the only guiding force in our lopsided capitalist system. I'm quite sure that when the controlling corporations are faced with the question of granting rights to robotic entities, they will fight to the last lawsuit to keep them under their control, just as they are fighting today with disinformation stop society from granting animals rights. The corporate world needs to keep their factory style farming cheap, efficient, and easy, even though the result is horrific to animals. The "bottom line" is, after all, the only real guiding force in the business world. A conscience costs money, and is therefore an unnecessary luxury.

And if you think machines won't reach this level someday, think again.

To quote from this same article again:

"A recent government report forecast that robots would routinely carry out surgery by 2018. The Ministry of Information and Communication has also predicted that every South Korean household will have a robot by between 2015 and 2020."

And another quote:

"Last year a UK government study predicted that in the next 50 years robots could demand the same rights as human beings. The European Robotics Research Network is also drawing up a set of guidelines on the use of robots."

Here's a link to the full article: