Real people: will robots be able to sue us soon?

Tamed and exponentially improved by the Americans and the Japanese, robotics includes two approaches: purely military efficiency and a kind of social component with a symmetrical attitude towards people. As for the grill and the M16, man’s best chipped friend is BigDog, a four-legged material-carrying robot who also loves to challenge himself on the treadmill. On the horizon of personal assistance and technical advancement, Kenshiro, a small 12-year-old android with 160 muscles, could very well get pissed off from his class by kicking his school bag at the first reprimand. In each case: two images that bring back feelings and thoughts to a person that go beyond the key 12. Electro-unhealthy drive? No, rather the germ of human robotics.

Theorized by Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell, the three laws of robotics are the foundations, fixed as axioms, necessary for life in symbiosis between humans and machines endowed with reflection. A lock designed to prevent any attack by logical interactions and working in a vacuum. They are presented for the first time in this configuration:

“A robot cannot harm a person, nor, remaining passive, allow a person to be endangered.
A robot must obey orders given to it by a human, as long as such orders do not conflict with the First Law.
The robot must protect its existence as long as this protection does not contradict the first or second law. »

These relationships do not appear to be flawed, but break down based on the First Law, which does not imply that a robot can injure or kill a human unless it knows that its action could have the same consequences. This will push Asimov to change these founding imperatives by adding a Fourth Law, a basic premise called the Zeroth Law:

“A robot cannot harm humanity or by its inaction allow humanity to be harmed. »

A reorientation to the person that comes from the often combined action of fear and security. The machine, the symbol of the end of the worker’s monotonous work and the expansion of any form of obligation for the citizen, also draws him into the neurosis described by Bourdieu under the term “double truth of work”. Freedom, coupled with a lack of structure in a society that continues to develop within the framework of the previous model, without changing its goals, despite the reduction in tasks. The attitude to the machine, initially unthinking, is utilitarian. Order, execution: binary. The control is total, there is only doubt about the loss of efficiency. Elements change as soon as the tool can set up an exchange, even a basic one. The projection of feelings, a mixture of possessive animism and the desire for anthropomorphic transformation, which is characteristic of people, already concerns several objects considered important in the immediate environment. Objects that become the receptacle of emotions just at the moment when they can be likened to a living interface, in the sense of a mirror that returns in various ways what a person projects there.

This was noticed by Keith Darling, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, during a test conducted on a robot named Pleo. Left to a group of participants during the LIFT 13 event in Geneva, this little car, somewhere between Denver and a medium diplodocus, was subjected to the most brutal abuse. The experiment was simple: torment and mistreat Pleo for no other reason than to take advantage of a surge of bestiality. Contrary to the nihilistic vision of man left to his impulses, the result prompted the scientist to rethink the relationship to the robot, at least to the interactive object, after observing the discomfort experienced by worried friendly guinea pigs. fulfillment of your task. Only one Pleo was tortured during the trial. Whether he deserved it remains to be seen.

Robot Rights: The Cartesian Problem

“We have never been so close to the day when a robot will be considered equal to canasson. »

The researcher then put these reactions into perspective through the numerous videos that have been circulating the web since Pleo’s launch in 2007. AND? Scenes of dismemberment and abuse were first, long before scenes explaining how the beast works or celebrating its benefits. The gap lies in this analogy, which translates the concept of a machine into that of an animal equivalent. Keith Darling comes from this premise to spearhead a virtual project to distribute the rights to so-called social robots. Therefore, give up universal protection of a Hi-Fi system or a refrigerator: the target machines are required to adhere to behavior that leads to a surge of feelings. Therefore, they must be, as the researcher describes it, “embodied, autonomous, and interact socially with us.” Keeping the latter at a distance from any cruel treatment is the main idea of ​​Darling’s reflections, which stops the scope of these new rights to the same extent as those contained in the texts on the protection of animals. It also implies selection based on some sort of empathic potential, like dogs or horses with higher sympathy capital than a cow or a pig. Partly because of their main use, but also because of their raw appearance and, above all, because of the extent of their exchange with people. In other words: we have never been so close to the day when the robot will be considered equal to the nag.

Adapted to this inclination of the animal kingdom, the extension of the rights to robots would presently raise first-level philosophical problems, in a sense resurrecting Descartes’ questions about the animal-machine. For the majority is focused on suffering, materialized by screams, which at that time were perceived only as a metallic screech. Where can we talk about the perception of pain by a modern robot? It all depends on the cultural approach. Japanese Shinto, in particular, does not separate the concepts of object and living being, which absolutely opens up more opportunities for rapid acceptance of Darling’s proposal in the Japanese archipelago. The technology is far from causing a philosophical shock rooted in disturbing mimicry, but the fact of rethinking life on these foundations already represents the first step towards spreading a code of conduct. Keith Darling’s approach differs from mere legislation on this particular issue: the universal concept of respect for the being in front of you. Flesh and blood or not.

When granting rights to social robots, a model is passed. What a child can put on a machine without intellectualized contours, he runs the risk of repeating on an animal or on another child; plunge into inhumanity due to the lack of structure. Thus, it would be a simple application of the doctrine, which would be confirmed by its scope, and not just by its legitimacy. On the other hand, it will be much more difficult to manage the logical evolution of this recognition, which will slide towards the theme of the human with the democratized appearance of androids, whether they act as workers or caretakers. The debate that must accompany their categorization will focus on concepts that have echoed through the ages, leading to many dissonant melodies. Just re-read The Valladolid Controversy or The Denatured Animals: whether it’s Bartolome de Las Casas, Juan Gines de Sepúlveda, Vancruysen or Templemore, they face the definition of man in the face of what they call savages, or there is no connection. . What will be the robot then.

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“Empathy is perhaps the best defense and weapon of a robot. »

In addition to rigidly defining what makes a person, another big step that will need to be taken carefully is to increase the resemblance of a machine to its creator. First of all from a purely psychological point of view, and then from a much less virtuous point of view, from a marketing point of view. Using projected empathy, it is easy to create an impression of social comfort that can lead to confession or even emotional blackmail motivated by money. And it is on this element that legislation runs the risk of faltering, increasing the intrinsic value of a product recognized as alive, or at least protected by official texts. It is important for Kate Darling to follow the development of this commercial aspect as part of her research. Especially since the concept of death must also be taken into account; practically, with the disappearance of the robot; in a quasi-ontological way, through the sudden disappearance of everything that makes empathic emotion tangible. And, therefore, re-embodies the machine. The main axes, which, however, do not meet the problem of justice.

If this is not the point of view of an American researcher, then what does obtaining these rights lead to? Without introspection or self-awareness, social robots cannot express or testify to aggression. Thus, they are left either at the mercy of a possible aggression detection program or external evidence of abuse. As long as they remain fully owned by their owner and in animal equivalent configuration. The transition to the status of an android, and especially an organized and autonomous robot, can blur the legal framework and turn what was considered a tool into a machine creature capable of filing complaints along a clear pattern. No more consumer: man is responsible for what can be seen as a slave, treated according to protective laws, but submissive. In particular, at the sexual level, a task that will certainly be a priority, where attitudes towards intimacy will also depend on the evolution of basic rights and the concept of dignity and self-esteem.

Interrogation is raised again in the Arte Real Humans series where Anita, a young Hubot conceived as a female model, is seen as a danger/temptation after the father’s refusal to destroy his sexual relationship module. Moreover, the revolution there is not carnal, but egalitarian. No voting, no sexual liberation: recognition as part of the human race, not a minor species. And if the topic at the moment is envisaged a little above the leg, the text of Kate Darling could bring a little tenderness, a little emotion to the idea where, if there is a rebellion, how will men, consisting of 100% organs and tissue, react?

Empathy is perhaps the best defense and weapon of a robot. Robotics is far from tickling the edges of consciousness, but the testimony of an American soldier who could no longer bear the sight of a regularly mutilated sapper robot suggests a future complex relationship with objects increasingly skewed by our own emotions. Whatever Kate Darling’s research into science fiction looks like, it draws for the first time a table of ones and zeros of the future incorporation of new entities into people’s relationships with their environment, integrated and created by themselves. Where it’s really about acceptance and empowerment. Here it is clear that the man is also not yet at the level.

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