In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Kate Darling about the ethical concerns surrounding our increasing use of robots and other autonomous systems.
Kate Darling is a leading expert in robot ethics. She’s a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, where she investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction. Kate is also a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Yale Information Society Project, and is an affiliate at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. She explores the emotional connection between people and life-like machines, seeking to influence technology design and public policy. Her writing and research anticipate difficult questions that lawmakers, engineers, and the wider public will need to address as human-robot relationships evolve in the coming decades. Kate has a background in law & economics and intellectual property.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Before today's broadcast, I bring you keep darling what a great name
a researcher at the MIT Media LAB fellow at Harvard Bergmann Centre and she fell
it is on the way technology is influence,
in society specifically robot technology, but her background, as in law and in the Social Sciences and she's one. A few people pay and attend,
to this end. This is along with a sigh going to become increasingly interesting to us as we integrate more and more autonomous systems into our lives. I really enjoyed speaking with Kate. We get into some edgy territory
I think that at some point the phrase child size, sex robots was not one that I was ever planning to say on the podcast. Much less consider its implications
but we live in a strange world and it appears to be getting stranger so to help us all figure that out. I now bring you
darling, I'm here with Kate Darling K, thanks for coming
the park ass. I am delighted to be here straight. We will do this. I am continually amazed that we can do this. Given the technology,
When I first learned of you, I think it a new Yorker article on robot ethics, and this is your area of focus in and expertise, and this is an area that almost doesn't exist. You're you're one of the few people focusing on their so perhaps just take a moment to say
Oh you got into this care ethics is, it is kind of a new field and it sounds really science fiction in strength.
means that. I, though I have a legal and social sciences background and at some point about,
even years ago, I started working at the media lab at MIT, where there's a bunch of robot assists, and am I made friends with them, because I love robots. I've always loved robots. So
we started talking, and we realized that I was coming at the technology with some questions that they haven't quite encountered before, and we realise that
Together. There were some things that you know. Some questions that that were worth exploring
when you bring people who really understand how the technology works together with people who come at this from kind of a policy or social sciences, are societal mindset that that can be interesting
explore tell people what the media lab is. It seems
range lay named, but everything that comes out of it was incredibly cool and super diverse. What's going on over there at MIT kids, a little hard to explain the media lab is kind of to me it's this building, where they just stick a bunch of
People from all sorts of different fields, usually interdisciplinary or as they call it
t disciplinary and they give him.
Ton of money and then cool stuff happens that had to be radically feathers. Everything from lake economists to robot us is to be
who were curing blindness in mice to artists and and design
I it's. It's really a mishmash of all sorts of very interesting people working in fields that aren't dont really fit into the traditional categories of academia that
have right now and say your main interest with robots is in how are relating to them,
could well and may in fact, inevitably chain.
the way we relate to other human beings yeah, absolutely I'm totally fascinated by the way that we treat robot
like they're alive, even though we know that they're not and the implications that that might have for our behaviour must say I'm kind of late to acquire. This interest obviously have seen robots in science fiction for as long as I've seen science fiction, but it wasn't until watch in West World literally a couple of months ago that I realized that the coming changes in our society, based on whatever robots we do.
we are going to be far more interesting and ethically pressing. Then I realized- and this has actually nothing
do with what I thought was the central question, which is well. These robots be conscious. That is obviously a hugely important question and a lot turns ethically on whether we build robot slaves
that our conscious and can suffer, but even short of that we have some really interesting things that will happen once we build robots that escape the was now called the uncanny valley. This opera. Have you talk about what the in Canada,
is, and I think, even based on some of your work, you know you don't even have to get off
play out of the uncanny valley or even into it, for there to be some ethical issues around how we treat robots, which we have no reason to believe our conscious? In fact, you know it will leave every reason to believe that they're not conscious so perhaps before we get to the edgy considerations of Westworld. Maybe you can tell a little bit about the fact that you're
shows that people have their ethics pushed around even by relating to robots. Tat are just these bubbly cartoon characters that nobody thinks are alive or conscious in any sense tat. We are so
good anthropomorphized things and at its not restricted to robots. I mean we ve always had kind of a tendency to
name cars, cars and become emotionally attached to stuffed animals and can have imagined that they there. These social beings, rather than just objects but robots, are super interesting because they combine physicality and movement in a way that we will automatically project intent on too. So I think that it's just it's it's so interest
You see people treat even the simplest robots like they're alive and like they have agency, even if it's totally clear
that it's just a machine that they're looking out so long before you get to any sort of complex
Humanoid West World type robot people are name
the room, but people feel bad for the room bowing to get stuck somewhere, just because it's kind of moving around on its own in a way that we projected onto- and I think it leg it goes further than just being primed by science fiction and pop culture to want a personify robots, like obviously
You know we ve, we ve all seen a lot of science star wars, and you know we. We probably have this income
nation to name, robots and personify them because of that. But I think that there is also this biological peace to it. That's even more and has even deeper and and really fascinating to me. So one of the things that that we ve noticed is that people will have
empathy for robots are at least some of our work indicates that people will empathize with robots and be really uncomfortable.
when they asked to to destroy
robot or do something for me.
Into it, which we just fascinating, does this pose any ethical concern, because obviously it is common and artificial situation to hand people a robot that is cute and then tell them to mistreat it, but their robots being used in. I think that is like a baby seal robot that you're giving people with with Alzheimer's or autism is contact with these
or a gets four affection does not pose. Any ethical concerns. Is that just if, if it works on any level its intrinsically good? In your view, I think ending it depends. I think there is something unethical about it, but probably not in the way that most people intuitively thanks. I think you know intuitively.
The little bit creepy when you first here that oh were kind of were using these babe
seal robots with dementia patients and were giving them the sense of nurturing this thing that isn't alive back. That seems a little bit wrong to people first blush, but I I honestly so if, if you look at what these robots are intended to, replace, which is animal therapy, it's interesting to see that they can have a
similar a fact, and no one known complains about animal therapy, for you know dementia patients as it's something that we often can't use because of hygienic or safety or other reasons,
but we can use robots because people will consistently treat them sort of way.
Animals are not like devices, and I also think that for the ethics there it's important to look at some be altered.
it is that were using so with the baby seal. If, if we can use that as an old
her native to medication for calming distressed people. I'm I'm really not so sure that that's real and unethical use of robots actually think it's kind of awesome you're. So one of the things that does concern me, though, is that,
This is such an engaging and or in other words, manipulative technology. That an end is, you know, we're seeing a lot of these robots being developed for kind of vulnerable parts
population like the elderly or children. A lot of kids toys are have increasing amounts of this kind of manipulate robotics in them,
So I do wonder whether you know the companies that are making the robots might be able to use that in in ways that aren't necessarily in the public interest like get people to buy products and services
or manipulate people into revealing more personal data. They would otherwise want to enter into a database with things like that are concerned me, but those are more people doing things other people rather than
You know something intrinsically wrong about treating robot like they're alive, so has about anything
like that, have any companies with toy robots
elder care. Robots done,
anything that seems to push the bounds of propriety there in terms of introducing messaging that you wouldn't want in that kind of situation. Yeah, I don't know any examples of lake,
people trying to manipulate the elderly as of now, but I mean we do- have examples from the porn industry and having very manipulative chap bots that try and get you to sign up for services so that an end this was happening decades ago right. So we we do have a history of companies
trying to use technology in advertising or or say you know, the inner purchases that we see on on ipads, where there have been consumer protection cases where
kids were buying a bunch of things, and now that you know companies have had to implement all of these safety so that it requires a U parental override in order to purchase staff.
like there's a history of here. We know what we know the company's serve their own interests and any technology that we develop, that
engaging in the way that robots
already are in their very primitive forms and will increasingly be, I think, might pose a consumer point.
action risk- or you could even think of governments using robots that are increasingly
Entering into our homes and very intimate
These are our lives. Governments using robots to collect more data about people unintentional, essentially spy on them. So this is basic fact where
any system that seems to behave autonomously doesn't have to be humanoid, doesn't even have to have a life shape. It doesn't
drawn biology at all. As you said, it could be something like a rumour if it sufficiently autonomous it begins to,
kindle our sense that we are in relationship to another which we can find Q door menacing or whatever wait we feel about it. It pushes our intuition
in the direction of this thing is a bean in its own right
Do you have a story about how a land mine defusing robot, that was in sectoral expire like
could no longer be used, or at least one person in them
military overseeing this project felt, you can no longer use it because it was getting its legs blown off, and this was thought to be disturbing, even though again we're talking about a robot that isn't even close to being the sort of thing that you would think. People would a tribute consciousness to yeah and then
course with design. You can really start influencing that right, so whether people think it's cute or
this thing or whether people treated as a social actor Khazars. This whole spectrum of
simple robot like the room by and then you have a social robot that specifically designed to mimic all of these cues that you subconsciously, associate with states of mind, so we're seeing increasingly robots being developed that that specifically try and get you
treat it like. A living thing like the baby seal are there more robots in our society than most of us realize
What is here now, and what do you know about that's immediately on the horizon, for I think once but
of happening right now, as we ve had robots for a long time, but robots have been mostly
in factories and manufacturing lines and cut assembly lines and hide behind the scenes and now were gradually sing, robots creep into all of these new areas. So
the military or hospitals, surgical, robots or a transportation systems autonomous vehicles, and we have these new household assistance. Alot of people now have a lax,
or Google, home or other systems.
Their homes? And so I think we're we're just seeing an increase of robots coming in
two areas of our lives, where we are actually going to be interacting with them in all sorts of different fields and areas.
So what's the boundary between, or is there a boundary between these different classes of robots? You don't think there's any in a clear line to distinguish these robots, also in terms of the fact that they have on people. You know you see, depending on how a factory robot is designed, people will become emotionally
to that as well. That that's happened, and we also I mean by the way we don't even have a universal definition of what a robot is. Some of the robot I picture like the robbers
the train on an assembly line are either fixed in place and we're just talking about arms that are constantly moving in picking things up or they can move
on tracks, but they're not roving around. In three hundred
sixty degrees of freedom. I trust there are other robots tat. Do that in industries. Well yeah, but, like answer, one question is, you know, is the inside of a dishwasher? Is that a robot like is, that is that movement,
gonna miss enough. It's basically with the factory robots are doing, but we call those robots. We accomplish washer robot, there's just this continuum of machines,
greater and greater independence from human control and greater complexity of their routines, and there's no clear stopping point must come back to the concept of the uncanny valley which I've spoken about on the package before why? What is the uncanny valley and what are the poor,
aspects that we will get out of it any time soon. You think Uncanny Valley is a somewhat controversial concepts that you can
design, something that is life like, but if, as soon as you get too close to-
I think, for the uncanny relates specifically humanoid. If you get too close to something that looks like a human, but you dont quite match what it is, then it suddenly becomes really cool.
be so people like the thing, the more lifelike that it gets and then once you get too close, like the liability of it drops and it's like zombies or something like something of human, but not quite human, really creeps us out and then it it it. It doesn't go back up again until you can
perfectly like apsley, perfectly mimic a human. I think I like to think about it more or less in terms of the uncanny volume more in terms of expectation management. I guess so. I think that if we see something that looks human, we expect it to act like a human and, if its, not quite up to that standard, I think disappoints what we are expecting from
and that's why we don't like it and, and that seem that the principal they see in robot design a lot. So a lot of the really, I think, compelling social robots that we develop nowadays are not designed to
look like something that your intimately familiar with like I have this robot cat at home. That Hasbro makes and it's the creepy is thing it.
because, because it clearly not a real cat, even though it tries to look like one- and it is through its very its
very unlovable who away, but I also have this baby dinosaur robot. That is much more compelling because I've never actually interacted with a two week old, Camaro Soares before so it's much
easier to suspend my disbelief and actually imagine that this is how a dinosaur would behave so the air. It thought. So it's interesting to see how you know that the whole westward concept
before we we could even get there. We would really need to have robots tat are so similar to humans that we wouldn't really be able to tell the difference.
What is the state of the art in terms of humanoid robots? At this point to me we are, there actually been in the presence of any advanced robot technology. That's attempting to be humanoid. There is some japanese androids better, get her pretty
interesting. I dont think that elected me they're, not out of the uncanny valley at, but there is also some conversation
but whether the uncanny Valley is cultural or not, and also, I think, some research on that, which I don't think it's very conclusive, but it might be that in some cultures you know like in in japanese culture, people are more accepting of robots that are that look like humans, but aren't quite there, because you know people say that there's a religious background to it that that the shinto religion
The belief that objects can have souls makes people more accepting a robotic technology in general, whereas in western
society, where more crept out by the this idea, that a thing a machine couldn't
You resemble a living thing in a way, but I'm here I'm
really sure and and I mean you should check you check out the androids- that
is she grew in Japan is making because they they're pretty cool. He made one that looks like himself. It is interesting to think about his own motivations and psychology behind up Adam. It is a pretty cool robot. I think you know just from a photograph. He might not be able to tell the difference probably and interacting with it. You would so do you think we will get to West World level lifelikeness long before we get to the air I necessary to power. Those kinds of robots are materially intuitions about how long
it will take to climb out of the uncanny valley question. I I honestly I'm not interested interested in you. How do we completely replicate humans? Because I see so many interesting design things happening now, where that's not necessary, we can create. We can already with an robotic technologies very primitive. At this point I mean robots can barely operate a fork, but we can create characters that people will treat as though there alive
and while it's not quite west world level, if we move away from this idea that we have to create humanoid robots and we create, you know a blob or some, we have a century of animation expertise.
You drop draw on in creating these compelling characters that people can relate to and that move in a really expressive way, and I think that that's you much more interesting, I think much sooner than than Wes World. We can get to a place where we are creating robots, that people will consistently
feet like living things, even if we know that their machines- I guess my fixation on West World- is born of the intuition that some informally different happens once we can no longer tell the difference,
between a robot and a person, and maybe I'm wrong about that, may be this change and, in all of its ethical implications, comes sooner one. As you say, we have a blob that people just find compelling enough to treat it as though it were alive. It seems to me that West World is predicated on the expectation that people will want to use robots in ways that will truly be unethical if these robots were sent
and but because on assumption or or in fact they will not be sentient. This becomes a domain of creative.
Play analogous to what happens in video games if you're using a first person shooter video Game,
You are not being on ethical, shooting, the bad guys and
the more realistic the game becomes more fun. It is to play- and there's this sense there,
there was some people have worried about the implications of plain violent video games.
all the data that I'm aware of suggest there really not bad for us and crime
there's only gone down in the meantime, and it seems to me that is,
reason to worry that as that becomes more and more realistic, even with virtual reality. It's going to derange us ethically, but watching West World made me feel that robots are different having something in physical space that is human like to the point
where it is indistinguishable from a human. Even though you know it's not, it seems to me that will begin to compromise our ethics if we miss treat these artifacts.
Well filled. Now I feel differently about ourselves and about other people who must treat them. We will be right to feel differently because we will actually be changing ourselves. You'd have to be more callous that, in fact, most people are to rape or torture a robot there
is in fact indistinguishable from a person, because all of your intuitions of being in the presence of persons who have been in relationship will be played upon by that role
even though you know that it's been manufactured endless say you you ve been assured, I can't possibly be conscious, so they takeaway message from from watching westwards.
He is at West World is essentially impossible and we would just be creating a theme park for psychopath
and rendering ourselves more and more sociopath egg. If we tried to normalize that behaviour- and I think what you're suggesting is that long before we ever get to something like westward,
we will have and may even have now robots that if you were to mistreat them callously, you would in fact be callous and you have to be callous in order to do that and you're not going to feel good about doing it. If you're a normal person and people won't feel good watching you do it,
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Transcript generated on 2020-10-08.