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Human Rights For Robots

Human Rights For Robots

By Sarah Gillham

Johnny 5 is alive!.. or at least making a sort of comeback, but this time in real life and with added protection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the 80’s film classic ‘Short Circuit’, Johnny 5 is a robot who develops self-awareness after being struck by lightning. It has now been revealed that a team of South Korean science geeks are devising an ethical code of conduct for the treatment of robots in order to prevent their abuse by humans and vice versa.

The South Korean Government believe that robots will be a key component of their future economic prosperity. Consequently, as well as directing millions of dollars into future research, they have developed a ‘Robotic Ethics Charter’. Basically, this stresses that humans and their mechanical friends should treat one another as they would like to be treated themselves.

The robot bible, made by a team of five experts in the field, will be released later this year, and according to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy ‘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’.

OTT? I think so. Yet in some respects it is hardly surprising as the Far East has long been ahead of the West when it comes to technological advancement. Take the mobile phone for example. We were still using basic bricks long after they had moved on to mini walkman/mp3 style phones the size of a child’s palm.

However, it is slightly disturbing that a governmental report has suggested that robots will routinely perform surgery by 2018. I must admit, I don’t fancy talking through my pre-op with C-3PO if the need ever arose.

What is even more disturbing is the suggestion that the ‘charter’ ground rules partly arose from fears that some people may ‘treat androids as if the machines were their wives’! Some people may have grimaced at the introduction of the same sex marriage, but at least both members are human!

The ground rules would also consider prevention of illegal use of robots, protection of their acquired data and human control over them.

However, South Korea does not seem to be the only country going a bit mad. The UK government seems to be losing it too, after having conducted a study predicting that ‘in the next 50 years, robots could demand the same rights as human beings’.

The European Robotics Network also seems to be following in these footsteps of lunacy and have themselves drawn up a set of proposals on the matter. A draft states ‘in the 21st Century, humanity will coexist with the first alien intelligence we have ever come into contact with – robots’.

Image courtesy of Tri-Star Pictures

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26 Jul 2009
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