Night Nomad 1 Wrap Up: The ethics of robot servants

There was Something Digital in the air last night!! To be more specific, our Night Nomads series made its debut with our very first event: The ethics of robot servants. And yes – not to *digitally* brag – but it was just as epic as expected!!
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Discussing this epic topic on our #superpanel were 6 digital legends:
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  • Marek Kowalkiewicz (Moderator), Chair in Digital Economy, QUT
  • Markey Brown, CEO & Co-Founder, Conpago
  • Dr Marianne de Pierres, Sci-fi Author
  • Dr Paula Dootson, Senior Research Fellow, QUT Chair in Digital Economy
  • Sue Keay, Cyber-physical Systems CSIRO’s Data 61
  • Professor Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence, UNSW
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As you could expect from such a stellar (and diverse) lineup of panellists, the discussion was one for the books. While the true magic of the event was experienced in person, we’ve collated the top moments from the night for you below (including speaker and audience opinions).
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You can also jump onto the hashtag #SomethingDigital or #NightNomads on Twitter to grab some more meaty insights.

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>> On robot personification

We kicked off the session by discussing the definition of ‘robot’ and ‘servant’, and where the two might potentially overlap. What did our panellists and audience have to say about this?
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“If you make robots look too much like humans, they can resemble corpses and people start to freak out. This is also impacted by culture.” – Sue Keay
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“When does a robot become personable enough to name it? My dishwasher doesn’t have a name … but Alexa, my robotic vacuum cleaner … they have names.” – Marek Kowalkiewicz
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Attendee Tweets 
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“If a dishwasher isn’t, but a robotic vacuum is a robot, where’s the line? Is it the magic factor?” – Cat Matson
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>> On the term ‘slaves’ being associated with robots

The discussion turned to the nitty-gritty part of this topic quite early … which was on using the term ‘slaves’ when speaking about robots. Whilst the audience braced themselves for the tension between panellists, we dived straight it.
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“Are you willing to be bold enough today and call a robot a servant? This is what the African Americans were called back in the day and look how wrong that is now.” – Dr Paula Dootson
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“Children take a different approach to Pepper than adults. They are wanting to take Pepper to play with them in the park. They see Pepper as an EQUAL.” – Marley Brown
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Attendee Tweets 
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“Are robots slaves or servants? Are we simply anthropomorphising machines? Why do we name our robotics and not our dishwashers?” – Louise Howard
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“Can you really call them robot servants? If a servant does what you want, and your servants are only successful 30% of the time, then I think they fail the definition of servant.” – Tim Dwyer
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“Sophia the Robot – sophisticated electronic robot puppet, says @TobyWalsh. Hear hear! Having seen it in action, I agree!!” – Cat Matson

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>> On emotional intelligence to robots by humans

Marek asked the audience “Is anyone in the audience emotionally attached to a robot?
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After a moment of hesitation a few hands did go up – those who had either worked with a robot or created a robot. It appears that nobody who simply uses a robot raised their hand, which is interesting as it raises the question – is there less attachment when simply using a robot rather than bringing it to ‘life’? 
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Should there be a concern about people with dementia becoming confused, or emotionally attached to robots?” – Toby Walsh
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“I don’t think that a robot has to be as sophisticatedly designed as pepper for humans to have an emotional response to them.” – Sue Keay

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>> On robots + laws

As we continue to advance in robotics, where does this leave us in regards to the laws that currently apply to human citizens? Do our current laws cover potential robot citizens? Who is governing the advancement of robots? Do innovators have free rein in this industry?
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“Should we be expecting robots to be making decisions or should we be programming robots WITH the rules?” – Marek Kowalkiewicz

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“Just like humans, robots need to have ‘laws’ or boundaries that should govern their behaviour.” – Sue Keay
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“Right now, no one is being held accountable … and as we move forward I think we will really see the gaps in those laws.” – Dr Paula Dootson
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“We can be held accountable and we have empathy and emotional intelligence – that’s what makes robots different to humans … So robots can’t be programmed to have their own ethics.” – Toby Walsh
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Attendee Tweets
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“Given we haven’t even managed to get governance and ethics right in the social media space, how do we think we manage the ethics of robot servants?” – Louise Howard
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>> On our future with robots

While Marek tried his best to direct the panel to a ‘positive’ answer for this one … we received a mixed response of both good and bad!
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“Job of the future – robot chaperone?” – Marek Kowalkiewicz
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“I don’t think that it is a case of human vs other anymore … I think we are on a continuum … we are post-human … we are cyborg already!!” – Dr Marianne de Pierres
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“I think the most optimistic thing to look forward to is that people are wanting to come together to solve these big problems.” – Dr Paula Dootson
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“Philosophy is going to have to help us answer these problems – it will be necessary in the future. We have to have very precise answers. Every company is going to have a Chief Philosophical Office (CPO).” – Toby Walsh
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Attendee Tweets
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“Two worlds collied IM/AI – robots could support record keeping at a scale! Robots contributing to a trusted and transparent democracy – who would have thunk it!” – Louise Howard
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“It’s not all just defiance at scale, robots allow us to do good at scale too – says @suekeay. @QUT at the forefront of this movement. There is hope and #opportunity!” – Chair in Digital Economy
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“@DrPaulaDootson’s optimism for this arena is that as robotics are the common enemy (paraphrased by @TobyWalsh) of humans, we give good thought about conversations on the ethics and governance of robots.” – Cat Matson

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And that’s a wrap on our very 1st Night Nomads event! Shout-out to the 6 panellists who were on our super panel (we couldn’t have done it without you + all of our attendees). A huge thank you to KJR who is our Superhero partner for our Night Nomads series and the QUT Chair in Digital Economy who hosted The ethics of robot servants. 
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Ps. We would love to know your thoughts on ANY of the above, simply tweet us @SD_BNE or #NightNomads #SomethingDigital.

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