Social Robots and Society

In Ibo van de Poel, Lily Eva Frank, Jeroen Hopster, Sven Nyholm, Dominic Lenzi, Behnam Taebi & Elena Ziliotti (eds.), Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers. pp. 53-82 (2023)
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Advancements in artificial intelligence and (social) robotics raise pertinent questions as to how these technologies may help shape the society of the future. The main aim of the chapter is to consider the social and conceptual disruptions that might be associated with social robots, and humanoid social robots in particular. This chapter starts by comparing the concepts of robots and artificial intelligence and briefly explores the origins of these expressions. It then explains the definition of a social robot, as well as the definition of humanoid robots. A key notion in this context is the idea of anthropomorphism: the human tendency to attribute human qualities, not only to our fellow human beings, but also to parts of nature and to technologies. This tendency to anthropomorphize technologies by responding to and interacting with them as if they have human qualities is one of the reasons why social robots (in particular social robots designed to look and behave like human beings) can be socially disruptive. As is explained in the chapter, while some ethics researchers believe that anthropomorphization is a mistake that can lead to various forms of deception, others — including both ethics researchers and social roboticists — believe it can be useful or fitting to treat robots in anthropomorphizing ways. The chapter explores that disagreement by, among other things, considering recent philosophical debates about whether social robots can be moral patients, that is, whether it can make sense to treat them with moral consideration. Where one stands on this issue will depend either on one’s views about whether social robots can have, imitate, or represent morally relevant properties, or on how people relate to social robots in their interactions with them. Lastly, the chapter urges that the ethics of social robots should explore intercultural perspectives, and highlights some recent research on Ubuntu ethics and social robots.

Author Profiles

Guido Löhr
Vrije University
Anna Puzio
University of Twente
Dina Babushkina
University of Helsinki
2 more


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