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Last modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Distinguished psychologist to speak on ethical challenges of a robotic future

Oct. 24, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana University School of Informatics will present a lecture by Peter H. Kahn Jr., associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington. The lecture, "Social and Moral Relationships with Personified Robots," will be held Nov.1 (Thursday) at noon in the Ruth Lilly Auditorium (Room 0130) of University Library at IUPUI. Kahn will also speak Nov. 2 (Friday) at 3 p.m. in the Informatics Building (Room 107) on the IU Bloomington campus. Both lectures are free and open to the public.

Peter Kahn

Peter Kahn

Kahn's studies with Robovie and Aibo, two sophisticated robots, show that people of all ages can form social and moral relationships with robots. So, what are the ethical implications? This sort of question is no longer just capturing the imagination of science fiction writers and their fans. With the retirement of the baby boomers, and robots already helping to care for the elderly in Japan, it's an issue we're starting to face.

"So, how should we design interactive robots," Kahn asks, "and introduce them into society to enhance our social and moral lives?"

Kahn and Karl F. MacDorman, associate professor in the IU School of Informatics, are editing a special issue of Interaction Studies, due for publication this month. In this robotics and social behavior journal, a dozen acclaimed scholars propose benchmarks for measuring how often people treat robots like humans. Kahn proposes that if a robot can demand payback, or be held accountable for its deeds, it would be judged as more human.

Sherry Turkle, professor of social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has pointed out that perhaps an even more important benchmark is the long-term impact of robot relationships on the individual and on society. Although there are many benefits to building humanlike robots, there are also risks in creating devices that elicit feelings of love, nurturance and parental protection.

"These robots may make us feel good, but may not be good for us," Turkle explains.

MacDorman, who is hosting the lectures, anticipates a lively discussion on these issues following Kahn's talk. More information about MacDorman's android research is available at