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Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Ethical Design of Intelligent Robots

Sunidhi Ramesh
The Neuroethics Blog
Originally published February 27, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

In a 2016 study, a team of Georgia Tech scholars formulated a simulation in which 26 volunteers interacted “with a robot in a non-emergency task to experience its behavior and then [chose] whether [or not] to follow the robot’s instructions in an emergency.” To the researchers’ surprise (and unease), in this “emergency” situation (complete with artificial smoke and fire alarms), “all [of the] participants followed the robot in the emergency, despite half observing the same robot perform poorly [making errors by spinning, etc.] in a navigation guidance task just minutes before… even when the robot pointed to a dark room with no discernible exit, the majority of people did not choose to safely exit the way they entered.” It seems that we not only trust robots, but we also do so almost blindly.

The investigators proceeded to label this tendency as a concerning and alarming display of overtrust of robots—an overtrust that applied even to robots that showed indications of not being trustworthy.

Not convinced? Let’s consider the recent Tesla self-driving car crashes. How, you may ask, could a self-driving car barrel into parked vehicles when the driver is still able to override the autopilot machinery and manually stop the vehicle in seemingly dangerous situations? Yet, these accidents have happened. Numerous times.

The answer may, again, lie in overtrust. “My Tesla knows when to stop,” such a driver may think. Yet, as the car lurches uncomfortably into a position that would push the rest of us to slam onto our breaks, a driver in a self-driving car (and an unknowing victim of this overtrust) still has faith in the technology.

“My Tesla knows when to stop.” Until it doesn’t. And it’s too late.