back to article Scientists ponder rules and ethics of robo helpers

Futurists generally agree that autonomous robots will one day helm mankind's vehicles - largely due to the idea being totally awesome, but also because jet packs and rocket cars are terribly out of fashion within the profession. Do you trust your designated driver? But turning the wheel over to J.E.E.V.E.S. mk. II raises …


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  1. Cliff

    One pilot and a dog...

    I was discussing autopilot / autolanding technology with a flying instructor once - he said the future would be one pilot and a dog in the cockpit

    The dog there to stop the pilot from touching the controls

    The pilot there to feed the dog

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  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    A Presidential Pardon has been granted... the software agent that leaked confidential information into a footer of an e-mail sent to the New York Times, giving that paper information that was later used to discredit vocal opponents of the Unitary Presidential Decision to do a nuclear attack on Upper Volta in order to reduce local terrorist influence.

    Film at 11 - after this message.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    There's only one thing wrong with futurists

    namely that they're all fucking dreamers who have absolutely no grasp of how technologies actually evolve and are used by people, choosing instead to live in some Asimovian (and Aiboan) utopia where they actually get to have sex via the wonders of dildonics, albeit with a fat Canadian trucker named Dirk.

    Mine's the one with the singularity in the pocket.

  5. Charles Manning

    Why are scientists making moral decisions?

    Scientists have generally avoided moral decisions as a way to avoid the guilt associated with the way their work is used. We just build the nuke, we don't decide who to drop it on.

    Perhaps the same applies to robot help. Engineers & scientists just design the robot. It is up to the legal department to decide on what weasel words to print on the front of the device.

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  7. Anonymous Coward

    Cobblers should stay at their lasts...

    and scientists (in particular physicists) should avoid attempting to talk about Philosophy.

    If in the rather unlikely event that the sort of technologies being discussed emerge, I am sure that the lawyers will be able to work out what to do.

    Apart from this, the futurists are indulging in fruitless self pleasuring.

  8. Steve Roper

    They have a point

    In response to the comments above saying that these scientists are idiots or utopians, if you read the article you'll see that they're not offering a solution per se, they're saying governments need to start looking at the issues now. Given that the law historically takes 20-30 years to start catching up with technology, and considering what technology will be capable of 20-30 years from now, then governments SHOULD be considering the issues now. Otherwise when the technology becomes available it'll just be senselessly banned, censored, and over-regulated by politicians who don't have a fucking clue - just like today's Internet is being because the government was not prepared to deal with it.

    Think about it.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    @Why are scientists making moral decisions? #

    Erm, well they're not.

    They're just saying that we need to consider the issues now rather than ignoring them.

    The debate should be made in political circles which they also allude to in their analysis.

    And they raise some good points that are almost relevent now, never mind the future...

  10. Mike007


    "If in the rather unlikely event that the sort of technologies being discussed emerge, I am sure that the lawyers will be able to work out what to do."

    i can tell you what they will do - create a complicated mess of laws that will cost everyone involved billions every time there's an accident

    i guess it's basically down to what went wrong... if it was a technical failure then "accidents happen", if it was a bug in the software that was a genuine one in a bazillion mistake "accidents happen", if someone put something in charge without properly checking it was safe in all reasonably possible circumstances, they are to blame

    you can't blame a programmer for missing a bug that will only ever come up if the GPS coordinates are within a certain range on the equator and the temperature is -40'C, but you can blame a company that rushed out a car without checking it could stay in the right lane when the lines on the road were a bit faded

  11. frank ly

    @AC 23:45 re. Cobblers......

    "......scientists (in particular physicists) should avoid attempting to talk about Philosophy..."

    Why physicists in particular? Is this a personal opinion or have studies been done which support your view?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Good job guys

    Dis the techs because they are trying to think ahead to avoid problems in the future.. How dare they the bastards.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've seen Logan's Run. I'm not letting any laser-wielding RoboSurgeon near me. Not even for a 21-year old Jenny Agutter.

  14. Mark Lockwood

    20 seconds to comply

    Wasn't this the basis for the plot of Robocop?

  15. Dan 10


    The government et al seem determined to believe that the computer is always right (which is why the NIR DB will work faultlessly, natch) Therefore, if a robot-driven car runs over a person, it must be the person's fault.

    Robots are never wrong.

    When they start killing, the stoopid meatsacks were just in the way, obviously. Human error again.

    Where's John Connor when you need him?!

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Traction control

    What about traction control on cars? What if the car skids as a result of a problem with the electronics controlling traction? If proven, would this absolve the driver from blame?

    This issue is here now.

    And why shouldn't scientists consider the ethics of their actions/research. Just because certain scientists of the past didn't consider them is no reason to continue ignoring their morals.

    And it's not exactly black and white - fire, ammonia-based fertilisers, splitting the atom, rocket technology, internal combustion, aerosol propellants, pesticides, and a number of other discoveries have all caused human suffering in one way or another, and usually only several years after the discovery, but what would life be like without them?

    Predicting moral boundaries isn't easy and I welcome debates between futurists, philosophers, scientists, politicians and everyone else.

    Closed-minded thinking of the sort shown by at least 3 posts above is typical knee-jerk dailymailism and the sort that actually leads to stagnation in research.

  17. Liz 1

    AC 23:45

    You want the Lawyers to talk Philosophy and ethics instead of scientists???

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    for cars it might come earlier than you think

    I think that the insurance company would be more than happy to offer an insurance for robo driver because it is less likely to fail than a human.

    And if they find that there is a serial error during production you can be sure that the insurance company would sue the producer.

    maybe the producer of robo driver should just start to talk with insurance companies that they test the safety of the driver and rate it.

    for cheap robodriver (of a dodgy producer) you have to pay the insurance company more than for the high quality premium branded Robo-driver.

  19. Yorkshirepudding

    Kill all humans

    bender: yes in your face ghandi!!!

  20. Steen Hive


    "and scientists (in particular physicists) should avoid attempting to talk about Philosophy."

    Notwithstanding that the traditional name for "physics" is Nat. Phil., dumbass.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anticipating mechanical cock-ups

    That'll be the sex bots again.

    On a more serious note I have to agree, they aren't making ethical judgements - they're just saying someone more appropriate should start considering them now. This is perfectly reasonable, and will have implications somewhere along the line. Heck, if a production line which was automated accidentally dropped a loose screw into a tin of beans it'd be a very similar argument. That is very plausible even today.

    Not having the sight to drive myself I'd love a robo driver of some kind, but it'd probably be way too expensive... and the legality way too complex. This could give a lot of people a lot of benefit if there was a proper rating system though, based on the capabilities of a good and reliable human driver. This would also give the researchers something to aim for, that can only encourage structured development. There are 2 million people registered as visually impaired in the UK, or so I heard. This doesn't count older people who stubbornly refuse to go for an eye test because they think they are still okay, and who still drive on the roads.

  22. No, I will not fix your computer


    Why are we busy trying to work out if you have to blame the inventor or the object?

    1. By default it's the person who employs the object

    e.g if a wheel falls off your car and kills someone, it's your fault

    2. If you can prove someone else negligent then it's no longer your fault

    e.g. A garage changed your tyre and didn't tighten up the bolts

    If you are using an object and it's not fit for purpose then;

    1. If you CHOSE to use the object, it's your fault

    e.g. You selected an anesthetic which stopped a patents heart

    2. If you had assurance for the supplier of the object it was fit for purpose then it's no longer your fault.

    e.g. The anesthetic was mis-labelled

    Even if a robot made decisions based on it's inputs, ownership of errors would still be based on who chose to use a robot and what assurances the supplier gave, this will only change if a robot became sentient (and even then, only if it could be responsible and punishable).



    All gov't has to do is switch gears of system to worse or worser....

    DRASHEK 1884.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    America to the rescue...

    Obviously, the answer is no-fault insurance - an American invention to guarantee that no one is ever held legally responsible for anything (other than deliberate mayhem), the cost of a cock-up - whoever responsible - is spread to millions of innocent parties, and incompetents will never have to fear their being removed from the mix. A sort of accelerated dumbing-down process wherein the schedule of reward and punishment is sidelined in favor of us "all getting along".

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