How do you feel when you discard, put to rest, or give away a cherished piece of hardware? For many years our routine has been simple. Whenever we upgrade to a new Mac we find a good home for the one it replaced. The same thing holds true for the iPad. iPhone is on the iPhone Upgrade Program.
That means we get extra life from some older products via neighborhood kids or co-workers with children. We feel good about keeping the devices alive a little longer and actually feel bad with an old one– it happened to an aging Mac mini recently– dies and a repair is not worth the expense.
We have a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner that wanders around the house picking up dust and debris. Let’s consider it our first robot. We gave it a name. Harvey. There will come a time when Harvey no longer works and will need to be discarded.
Did Harvey simply die? Or, if it is replaced by a better product, will we have killed Harvey; committed murder by switching it off?
I ask because I found a thread on SlashDot which explored the same thing.
When Robots Are Ultra-Lifelike Will It Be Murder To Switch One Off?
We may feel tinges of sentiment when getting rid of an old car, replaced by a newer model, or feel great that a problematic dishwasher was taken away by the refuse hauler and replaced by one that just works.
Can such emotions be taken a few steps down the road to a time where we consider robots and their ilk to somewhat alive?
Technology is getting better all the time. What will it mean if we can create a robot that is considered alive? If I find myself annoyed by such a robot, would it be wrong to turn it off? Would that be the same as killing it? The answer isn’t obvious.
A similar vein of attachment exists among soldiers and their canine soldiers but has been extended to robots.
Julie Carpenter, a roboticist in San Francisco has written about bomb disposal soldiers who form strong attachments to their robots, naming them and even sleeping curled up next to them in their Humvees
Yes, that seems a bit strange.
Then, remember Tom Hanks in the move Castaway and his affection for Wilson, the soccer ball.
I know soldiers have written to military robot manufacturers requesting they fix and return the same robot because it’s part of their team
I suspect that Apple’s first foray into robots, Aibo-like for sure, will present customers with a similar dilemma. Giving an old one away to replace it with a newer model carries a sentimental attachment, but unplugging it and getting it ready for the trash heap is different.
Is it murder? Or, euthanasia?