The age of artificial intelligence and robotics is upon us. Amongst the many possible applications of this technology, so-called “social” robots, both humanoid and zoomorphic, are touted as future companions. The prospect of robot pets evolving into social actors and companions for children, older adults, and others raises ethical and philosophical issues: Will sophisticated robot animals deceive some of us into believing they are sentient? Can robopets really offer companionship? What can artificial animal companions offer us that “real” animals cannot? And what effects, if any, will robopets have on our relations with living beings? Roboticists, human-computer interaction (HCI) researchers, and philosophers are beginning to seriously ponder questions like these. This presentation will make a start at reflecting on some of these issues, and will suggest that the evolution of robot animals may potentially carry both advantages and dangers.
Simon Coghlan PhD, BVSc, is a veterinarian and ethicist. Currently he is a Research Fellow at the School of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne, where he is researching ethical questions related to social and companion robots. He also lectures in medical ethics at the University of Adelaide, in the Faculty if Health. Previously, he worked as a small animal veterinarian in private practice. Other research interests include veterinary ethics, animal ethics, and animal-assisted therapy.
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