Responsible research for the construction of maximally humanlike automata: the paradox of unattainable informed consent

Ethics and Information Technology 22 (4):297-305 (2020)
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Since the Nuremberg Code and the first Declaration of Helsinki, globally there has been increasing adoption and adherence to procedures for ensuring that human subjects in research are as well informed as possible of the study’s reasons and risks and voluntarily consent to serving as subject. To do otherwise is essentially viewed as violation of the human research subject’s legal and moral rights. However, with the recent philosophical concerns about responsible robotics, the limits and ambiguities of research-subjects ethical codes become apparent on the matter of constructing automata that maximally resemble human beings (as defined hereunder). In this case, the automata themselves, as products of research and development, are in the very process of their construction subjects of research and development. However, such research faces a paradox: The subjects cannot give their informed consent to this research for their own development, although their consent would be needed for the research. According to ethical codes, this research would be unethical. The article then explores whether the background concepts giving rise to this paradox could be reframed in order to allow such research to proceed ethically.

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Lantz Fleming Miller
University of Twente


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