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Larry Hinman
USD students discuss roboethics

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Larry Hinman

Hinman has been working and researching in the field of roboethics for several years now, questioning how robots interact with humans and what their continual progress means for humans.

Starting in the Fall semester 2010, the College of Arts and Sciences will offer a course on Roboethics, taught by Lawrence Hinman, PhD, professor of philosophy. This pioneering course, which is the first of its kind in San Diego, will focus on questions central to how the use of robotics at times challenges current human ethics that are central to our society.

With increased acceptance and service of robots in a variety of fields throughout the world, such as unmanned combat missions in war and caregiver roles of the elderly and the young, humans are frequently confronted with questions regarding the implications of replacing humans with robots. Hinman’s course will question and analyze the autonomy of robots, considering the consequences of giving a robot too much freedom when they lack the ability to make decisions based on human emotions and ethics.

Larry Hinman

Hinman questions if advanced robotics will be more of a challenge to human society and human ethics.

Other important aspects of the study of roboethics are the analyses of how robotics are being used in other nations and how these societies have confronted the questions that Hinman’s course will raise. In Japan, a country in which Hinman has spent considerable time for research, robots are being designed to regularly serve as caregivers to the elderly performing tasks such as lifting the elderly, giving out medicine and serving as pet-like companions. In other ways, Japan is also on the forefront of robotic technology, building androids that have been featured on their evening news in place of human news anchors. Situations such as these will be studied to see how human populations across the globe, react to robots that look and act similar to humans and how these interactions are different than those with traditional machine-like robots.

As students discuss the ethics of robotics, Hinman plans to further engage students with a variety of guest lecturers, mainly local experts on the topic of robotics that work in science, technology, literature and the arts. Drawing on these fields will expand the course beyond the study of how robots are used, to look at how contemporary culture is currently conversing about robots. These discussions will engage students from a variety of fields such as the natural sciences, computer science, engineering, and philosophy and ethics. Students will have the opportunity to communicate and debate with these leading experts about an assortment of topics surrounding roboethics and robotics in society.

Hinman has been working and researching in the field of roboethics for several years now, questioning how robots interact with humans and what their continual progress means for humans. He questions what will happen if robots continue to improve and humans do not, wondering if the fear of robotics is a result of this unanswered question. Will robots move past the divide of being either physically appealing by human standards, for example androids, versus the need to be functional? If they do progress past this, will they be more of a challenge to human society and human ethics? Although unanswerable, these questions and others will be addressed during the fall semester among USD undergraduate students.

-Lyndsey Scully

For more information about the study of science and ethics in San Diego you can visit the Center for Ethics in Science & Technology website at www.ethicscenter.net. Hinman is a co-founder and current board member at the Center. If you would like more information about the roboethics course, to be offered in the fall, please contact Professor Lawrence Hinman at Hinman@sandiego.edu.