The Associated Press, Tokyo. 6 October 2008 from Yuri Kageyama to Martin Smith, President of the Cybernetics Society
What do you think of the potential for robots to help disabled people?
Will robots be used as weapons and for other military purposes?
What precautions are needed to ensure that robot technology is used ethically?
The potential for robots to help disabled and elderly people is very great. In fact we have little choice but to use robots because there are too few young people who will work on low wages to help older and disabled people. The carers are inevitably low paid because disabled people cannot earn enough money to pay high wages. This is a growing problem, as the world has an ageing population, due to advances in health care and increasing wealth.
Nowadays many relatively advanced countries such as the UK use a high proportion of immigrant labour to carry out basic health care tasks such as moving patients and helping them to exercise. We are beginning to wake up to the fact that this is not sustainable because low paid workers do not want to remain low paid for long particularly while they are living in countries where costs are high. And many of those carers will need similar health care in 40 or 50 years time. This will lead to the demand for ever increasing numbers of carers leaving poor countries and going to rich countries. This damages the health care capability of poor countries and they need it more than we do. We cannot rely on importing ever increasing amounts of cheap labour. The cheap labour will simply have to come from robots.
It is certain that robots will be used increasingly in warfare. Particularly by governments that are sensitive to the numbers of their service men and women that die in combat. Such governments are democracies and they cannot keep the number of deaths hidden from their voters. Totalitarian regimes are far less concerned about how many of their conscripts die, so they will have no need for robots.
Further they will be reluctant to do the long term research necessary to develop robots. Soldiers will be cheaper than robots for many years to come. Totalitarian regimes want weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, a few robots would not give them the power they seek.
The fact that robot users will be the democracies will limit the potential for robots to be used unethically. Our current ethical rules are probably sufficient. Democracies will not be able to enforce any ethical rules on totalitarian regimes. So such rules are redundant for them. Democratic governments have, to a large extent, already solved the issues for themselves. We have already seen democratic governments obey the Geneva Convention; they limit nuclear testing, their use of land mines, cluster bombs, biological weapons and chemical weapons. By comparison robots hardly present a problem.