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Professors Examine Robot Ethics
OKLAHOMA CITY — A philosophy professor at Oklahoma City University has initiated a series of nationwide discussions regarding the impact robots will have on the lives of humans. The subject piqued the interest of an OCU nursing professor, who is doing a study about how robots can help take care of patients. Ted Metzler, director of the Darrell W. Hughes Program for Religion and Science Dialogue at OCU, has held three web-based conferences with experts in various fields who are asking one basic question: What will be the implications when lifelike robots are interacting with humans? “There are many concerns with how humans will react and behave as robots become more and more lifelike and more and more numerous,” Metzler said. “We would rather have these concerns answered now instead of after robots become a part of our daily lives. While there’s no doubting their usefulness, there could be emotional repercussions. We’re talking about robots that can enter a room, recognize your face and have a conversation with you. We could be heading for a major societal shift.” Susan Barnes, a professor in the Kramer School of Nursing, is looking more specifically at robot-human relationships as they relate to patients, particularly elderly people in nursing homes. She plans to present her findings at a conference later this summer in Canada. “We are interested in how elderly people will respond to this technology. With a growing elderly population and a shortage of qualified nurses, combined with an exciting emerging technology, we are poised to see robots assisting with several chores in nursing home environments,” Barnes said. “This raises several important questions. Will they be displaced in their emotional understandings? Will these relationships be superficial? Will this disturb the nature of human relationships? These are questions we would like to discuss.” Metzler noted that research on human-robot interaction is well underway, mainly in physiological factors such as heart rate, levels of depression and physical changes. Some experts associated with those studies have joined his workshops to offer their findings. He said the topic is not as evolved in the U.S. as it is in Japan and Great Britain. Japan has a particular concern due to its aging population and declining birth rate, leaving fewer people to take care of a growing group of elderly people. Barnes added that research projects have been looking into how humans interact with robotic animals, some of which are so lifelike that they even fool the real thing. Besides relationship interactions, Metzler and Barnes list several elements deserving of research in light of increasing robotic influence. And the more he looks into it, the more questions are raised, Metzler said. He has purposely invited people of various backgrounds to deepen his exploration. His list includes Muslims, Buddhists and Christians along with business professors and computer science teachers in his quest to answer fundamental questions. “We’re finding that different cultures have different opinions on robots and artificial intelligence. It’s important to open this conversation to everyone and attempt to answer as many concerns as we can before the technology gets ahead of us,” he said.