What is Artificial Intelligence and Robotics?

In today’s society, individuals increasingly interact with machines such as robots, smart devices, intelligent software agents, intelligent prosthetics, and implants.

Robots are programmable machines that can perform human tasks autonomously. Smart devices, such as phones and smart appliances, are networked devices that can operate interactively and autonomously. Intelligent software agents are computer programs that can sense their environment and respond to it autonomously and intelligently. Intelligent prosthetics and implants are devices that intelligently restore or enhance functions of the human body. Many machines in these categories form part of the Internet of Things (IoT), a revolutionary development in which the Internet is used to connect devices, vehicles, persons, buildings and other items in the physical world.

Machines of these kinds form radically new entities in our environment. Used in many applications and contexts, they offer great potential benefits, but also present significant ethical challenges. Robots, for example, may affect our autonomy, our sociality and our sense of self. They bring major ethical issues relating to responsibility and accountability: who is responsible when an intelligent robot, such as a driverless car, causes an accident? In robot care and robot-assisted care, the use of robots may lead to reductions in human contact, privacy and personal liberty. Smart devices and IoT-based systems are a potential threat to privacy and data protection, due to the mass collection of data, and can enable forms of social control and political manipulation. Intelligent software agents may raise concerns in relation to privacy and data protection, and responsibility and accountability. For example, who would be liable if an artificial software agent engaged in high-frequency stock trading inadvertently causes a stock market crash? Finally, intelligent prosthetics and implants, such as powered exoskeletons and artificial eyes may raise issues that prominently relate to the potential for enhancement of human physical capabilities beyond the normal range. How will they affect human identity? And will they lead to more inequality?

Smart devices