Lauren Davis, io9, writes:
"Social robots may not have the ability to feel pain, but humans are quite capable of feeling discomfort when a robot is struck or kicked. On a more pragmatic level, though, as social robots are increasingly made to mimic living creatures, it may become difficult for people, especially young children, to distinguish between robots and animals."
Kerstin Dautenhahn replies:
It’s not the robots we should worry about, it’s about the children and their perception of reality, emotions, relationships and friendship, and to make sure that robots are being used responsibly so that they empower humans, as social creatures, rather than reducing them to the role of caretakers of robots.
Whether or not to grant social robots legal rights is a philosophically very interesting question and many science fiction novels, most notably Isaac Asimov’s work, has found this a rich source for creating captivating narratives and scenarios. However, applying this discussion to the social robots we have today, or in the near future, is problematic.
Robots are not people, and they are not animals, either. Social robots, are no different from mechanical or computerized toys that can be found in toy shops, they react in certain ways, might appear “happy” or “sad”, and people will respond to them. These robots may be technologically sophisticated, but they are not living, sentient beings in the sense biologists understand these terms.
The reaction of people towards social robots tells us more about who we are, as human beings, and how we have evolved and developed as social beings. It doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of the artifacts. A doll that can “speak”, and “cry” promotes role play, and children will attribute even feelings to the doll, or the stuffed animals, or the action figure, or a wooden stick they find. This is human nature.
It’s not the robots we should worry about, it’s about the children and their perception of reality, emotions, relationships and friendship (c.f. Also discussions of Sherry Turkle on this matter), and to make sure that robots are being used responsibly so that they empower humans, as social creatures, rather than reducing them to the role of caretakers of robots.