Would You Allow Your Children To Be Alone With a Robot? – Article by B.J. Murphy

Would You Allow Your Children To Be Alone With a Robot? – Article by B.J. Murphy


B.J. Murphy

Would you allow your children to be alone with a robot? I ask not for the children’s safety in mind, but rather the robot’s.

As shown in the video provided above, a group of Japanese researchers – from ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories, Osaka University, Ryukoku University, and Tokai University – patrolled a public shopping complex in Osaka using a remotely-operated robot known as Robovie 2.

Children naturally being curious, hordes of them decide to surround the robot when spotted. Some were quite nice and simply wanted to play with the robot. However, others felt the need to attack it either by kicking, punching, or trying to rip its head off.

What I find most fascinating about this is that, like a child, whenever the robot feels like it’s in possible danger (or, rather, there’s an increased probability of danger) – of which it’s able to do so by calculating the probability of abuse based on interaction time, pedestrian density, and the presence of people above or below 4 feet 6 inches in height – the robot then changes course and brings itself within close proximity of a parent for protection.

Robots are, most certainly, coming and will potentially disrupt nearly every major industry in society. However, to ensure their overall safety, it might be best that, whenever a child comes close to one of these robots, a parent should always be nearby – not for the sake of the child, but for the sake of the robot.

Which then raises the question: what is the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s position on protecting robots from unnecessary physical abuse? For now, in accordance with the Party’s Constitution – in particular, Section XXXIII – it states:

“…Level 4 or lower-level entities – including domain-specific artificial intelligences that have not achieved sentience – may be utilized as part of the production systems of the future, in a similar manner to machines, algorithms, computer programs, and non-human animals today and based on similar ethical considerations.”

Speaking as an individual member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, it is of my opinion that we should begin expanding upon the question of “ethical considerations” in regards to the physical abuse of robots. This shouldn’t be confused as being tantamount to giving robots, regardless of sentience, full rights as that of other sapient beings. That, too, is already addressed in Section XXXIII, which states:

“The United States Transhumanist Party stands for the rights of any sentient entities defined in the Preamble to the Transhumanist Bill of Rights as possessing Level 5 or more advanced information integration. Any such sentient entities, including new kinds of sentient entities that may be discovered or developed in the future, shall be considered to be autonomous beings with full rights, and shall not be made subservient to humans, unless they as individuals pose direct, empirically evident threats to the lives of others. The protections of full individual rights shall extend to Level 5 or higher-level artificial intelligences.”

One might think that this question could be juxtaposed with that of the question of property rights. And, to a certain degree, it would. However, when it comes to robots, we also have to consider the psychological ramifications as well. We deliberately give robots anthropomorphic features given the fact that research has shown, time and again, that, unlike other inanimate objects, robots have the ability to evoke empathetic emotional responses by humans as a result – especially when humans believe those robots are being abused.

In other words, by physically abusing robots, one is then potentially causing psychological harm to other sentient entities in consequence.

This then raises a problematic situation when simply juxtaposing non-sentient robot rights to that of property rights. Unlike other property, robots have the capability of evoking empathy out of humans. Thus my reasoning for wanting to bring this particular topic up for further discussion.

Where should Transhumanists stand – and, in particular, the U.S. Transhumanist Party – in regards to the physical abuse of robots, keeping in mind the potential psychological ramifications that may arise among humans as a direct result?


B.J. Murphy is the Director of Social Media of the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

2 thoughts on “Would You Allow Your Children To Be Alone With a Robot? – Article by B.J. Murphy

  1. The behavior of the children observed in this experiment illustrates one of the key obstacles transhumanism will have to overcome – the impulse toward gratuitous tribal violence and attacks against entities deemed to be “the other” (often because of nothing else besides differences in surface appearance). It is quite telling that the children were less likely to engage in this behavior when alone, but much more likely to attack the robot as additional children joined in and coalesced into momentary tribes. This tribal tendency does not even need to be taught; unfortunately, it lurks within the evolved inclinations of humans once they form small groups in close proximity. The task of civilization is to un-teach these tribal or mob behaviors – which is why adults who have been brought up in civilized societies during peaceful times can largely abstain from them. However, the modes of our current civilization in deterring tribal violence, as well as the subtle and more insidious forms of “soft” tribal hostility which still very much pervade adult societies, are highly deficient. It is one of the great tasks of transhumanists, through the spread of more advanced technologies and the accompanying societal and cultural incentives, to render this civilizing influence much more effective than it is today.

    Incidentally, the ethical philosophy of individualism has been one of the recent safeguards against these kinds of mob behaviors. Had each of the children been an ethical individualist, they would have had the courage to say “No, I refuse to do this pointless thing!” At the very least, they might have asked the question “Why?” and perhaps thereby defused the situation.

    Gennady Stolyarov II,
    Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party

  2. This is a very interesting psychological and social question I think! Thank you.

    I think we should start from the point of property laws, thus it could be considered vandalism, rather than abuse as the robot is not a living thing (yet). Categorizing it as ‘abuse’ further entrenches our anthropomorphological idea of the robot.

    We can however use the anthropomorphology to the advantage of a robot too. If the robot were to be ‘Pixarified’ or ‘DreamWorked’ it would raise its ‘cuteness’ level and instill more empathy in people, including kids. Another option is its responses. Chappie from the similar named movie doesn’t look cute, yet we empathize with him/it because of how innocent and childlike he/it sounds.

    I think such alternations to a robot’s physique could greatly reduce the vandalism or abuse it receives. It will also greatly increase adult intervention when children engage in vandalism of a robot, as the human instinct of ‘cute baby animals’ effect kicks in, something that probably isn’t triggered seeing the particular robot in the video.

    Furthermore, creating abuse laws for robots makes for a very confusing set of prerequisites. To which robots would this apply? Would kicking a car production robot arm be abuse, since the technician kicking it might well have anthropomorphized the robot? The children ‘abusing’ the robot might think of it as a toy robot looking like something of a transformer, which is also correct in a sense. Furthermore, what would we do if vandalizing or obstructing such a robot would be considered abuse, sentence them to prison, a criminal or felony charge? I think the better solution lies within education, and parenting when it comes to children, much like is needed when it comes to children bullying other children.

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