Just finished reading an interesting article by Sara Harrison with Wired Magazine titled Of Course Citizens Should Be Allowed to Kick Robots (link below). The title alone was a real eye grabber, and I thought the article was terrific.
Basically, it endorses the idea that we, as citizens, should be able to physically abuse robots when we see them out “in the wild” as Harrison puts it. Not all robots, necessarily, just the ones that are intimidating, like those that provide security for their clients, recording such data as license plate numbers, and the comings and goings of people in the vicinity it patrols.
Harrison’s beef with this type of robot seems to be that it is imposing itself on us, the citizens, making us self-conscious about our actions, normal and law-abiding though they may be. The data the robot collects is provided to the client who pays for this mobile camera service, and can be used by that client in any way it sees fit.
I understand Harrison’s thoughts on this matter, although I’m not sure if her angst is only concerned with security robots, or with many other elements of modern society that seem equally intrusive, like law enforcement being able to read my license plate in the parking lot where I’m shopping.
Or security cameras tracking my every move as I progress through the shopping mall, or the city, and probably even the country.
Or Google tracking my whereabouts even when I think I’ve expressly asked them not to.
Or face recognition software reading my features and identifying me and those I’m with.
Or maybe my smart speaker assistant listening to my private conversations when it’s not supposed to (I don’t have a Siri or Alexa, and no plans to get one anytime soon).
I never knew I was so interesting to so many people. In fact, I’m not. I’m simply part of the landscape where everyone everywhere is being monitored all the time for our own safety and security. Such explanations have never worked in my privacy-centric mind, and are really just an end-run around the real goal of governments and private enterprises across the planet-monitoring its citizens all the time for no other purpose than to control. The more you know about me, the more you can manipulate me.
That being said, how is punching the robot different from say, punching the police officer who is hassling me for no apparent reason? I would go to jail. What about shooting out a security cam? Again, if caught, I would go to jail. The robot belongs to somebody, and was, no doubt, expensive to make. If you get caught vandalizing the robot, you will…again…go to jail.
So is recommending that we punch the robot because we find it intrusive the same thing as recommending that we punch the police officer because we also find him intrusive? Obviously not. What’s the key difference? One is an inanimate object, the other a human.
But, then why do so many others among us already feel a certain kind of empathy for the robot who is being kicked or pushed off balance, or otherwise abused by humans? Enter the rise of robot ethics (yeah, it’s already a thing). As the robots are designed to look more and more like us (or something that at least functions as a bi-ped and has a head and appendages), and as their AI advances at an astonishing pace, not only will we have to review the laws on the book with regard to causing harm, one human to another, but also create new laws that deal with the harm that can be caused by a robot to a human, or a human to a robot.
Perhaps a whole new branch of law will develop to address this very new and unfamiliar territory.
In the meantime, you won’t catch me doing any vandalizing of any robots. I’d be the guy who gets caught in the act on tape. No, if anything, I’d be the one to defend the stupid thing, knowing in my gut that the future holds something more surprising than anything we could ever expect. Basic rights for the bots. Citizenship will not be far behind.
Didn’t Sophia already get that?