The ethics and social consequences of AI and caring robots. Learning trust, empathy and accountability

Robots are starting to enter our daily lives, performing different kinds of care for and with us at different life stages. What will that do to how we think of care, accountability and trust? 

Our fascination with robots is old. So are our misgivings. Science fiction has warned us of the day they will take over for more than a century. Social theorists have long been predicting the consequences of robots’ entrance into the workplace. Luddites have been warning of their impact on our lives and our relationships. And more nuanced examinations have probed the way we think of ourselves when we think of (and with) them. Yet, for many of us, robots in that stereotypical, personified form, as a unit we interact/intra-act with on an emotional level, have stayed in the realm of science fiction. We may have a robotic vacuum cleaner at home. We may have even given that vacuum cleaner a name. But an autonomous housekeeper robot who is part of the family (à la Rosie the robot maid in The Jetsons)? Not yet.

This is about to change. Robots are starting to enter our daily life. We and our children are going to be expected to interact with robots as they perform different kinds of care for and with us at different life stages. What will that do to how we – and how the robots – think of care? And how are we going to produce accountability, trust and empathy in the relational intra-actions we have, together?

Questions like these about the ethical, economic, social, legal and labour market aspects that may be entailed by the ongoing technological shift in society are at the heart of the WASP-HS programme

Three case studies

This interdisciplinary project funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation brings together robot designers, computer scientists and science, and technology and society (STS) theorists experienced in ethnographic studies of affective human-machine interactions. The team will explore three cases of robots in the iterative design/early testing phase.

Case study 1: Robot tutors, Social Robotics Lab, Uppsala

Case study 2: Robot interviewer, Fur Hat, Stockholm

Case study 3: Elder care robot, Machine Perception and Interaction Lab, Örebro

Are you interested in joining the team? Watch this space for news about doctoral positions. For more information, email Ericka Johnson.

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