Robots Should not be Treated Like Animals

Care robots for the elderly and sex robots for the lonely. Robots are becoming part of our world, and we need to figure out what to think of it, says ViSmedia researcher Deborah G. Johnson. In a new article in Ethics and Information Technology, she and her co-author Mario Veridicchio discuss why robots should not be treated like animals.


Main content

Entertainment robots, care bots, and sex bots. Robots are envisioned to assist humans in a variety of ways, such as caregivers for the elderly, nannies for children, and even sex partners. Like animals, robots interact with humans and are trained to do tasks for humans. But apart from that, the robot-animals analogy is misleading, the authors argue in the new article.

Moral status

How humans think about robots, especially humanoid social robots, is not predetermined, they point out. Some argue that humanoid robots will become so human-like in appearance and capability that they will have to be granted something comparable to human rights. Others argue that this never will happen. Yet others see humanoid robots as potentially the ultimate replacement for human companionship. Many turn to animals as a model because animals have legal and moral status. There are moral and legal rules about what can’t or shouldn’t be done to animals. Thus, it is worth considering what robots and animals have in common and whether analogies with animals make sense.

Robots don’t suffer

Animals and robots share some characteristics such as otherness, capacity to trigger humans to attach, trainability, and potential to assist humans and to harm humans. But when it comes to thinking about the moral status of humanoid robots and legal liability, analogies with animals neglect the fundamental difference between animals and robots. Animals suffer and robots do not. Animals are living organisms and robots are not. Robots are machines. Animals are sentient organisms; they are capable of perception and they feel, whereas robots do not. Hence, responsible discourse on robots should be cautious in using analogies with animals, the authors conclude.

Full article reference

Johnson, Deborah Gale; Verdicchio, Mario.Why Robots Should Not Be Treated Like Animals. Ethics and Information Technology 2019; Volume 20.(4) s. 291-301

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