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Social & ethical dimensions of autonomous technologies

Research project The project study theorizes the ethical and legal implications of various forms of autonomous technologies.

The project is concerned with the agency of digital technologies – such as robots, smart houses, ambient intelligence, and nanotechnology, and other digitally-controlled “smart” artifacts – as well as software agents such as bots, computer viruses, and zombie computers to the extent that they can cause real material and legal harms to people and computers. This work focused on the fundamental legal and moral concepts of responsibility, agency and justice as they apply to distributed and autonomous technological systems. A key area of research is the military use of robotics and other autonomous technologies.

Project overview

Project period:

2007-03-01 2007-10-31


Finansår , 2007

huvudman: , finansiar: Kempestiftelserna, y2007: 100,

Participating departments and units at Umeå University


Project description

Asaros project focuses on the ethical design of autonomous technologies. He takes a broad view of both the approaches to these technologies, and the kinds of technologies included under this rubric. While his primary concern is with robots, he is also concerned with such technologies as smart homes and self-driving cars. And he is concerned with these both as a matter of engineering and design ethics, but also as a matter of socio-cultural analysis of the production, consumption and use of these technologies. Asaro thus engage multiple literatures and disciplines, including engineering ethics, social theory, science fiction literature and film, science and technology studies, military science and political theory.

His previous work on Robot Ethics is concerned with multiple approaches to the ethical issues of design, but is ultimately theoretical and pragmatic. First it seeks to understand the design issues that engineers might face, and how their professional ethics might need to be enhanced to deal with new issues raised by autonomous technologies like robots. Second, it seeks to understand how the use of robots for fighting wars, or policing civilian populations, in which robots are actually designed to use lethal force against humans, could change our fundamental conceptions of the nature of warfare and policing. Third it seeks to understand what basis there might be for treating robots as moral agents, legal agents, economic agents, or as bearers of intrinsic rights. Fourth it seeks to understand how social and cultural issues are reflected in, or displaced to, certain robotic technologies. How we treat the elderly, how we fight wars, and how we seek companionship are deeply human experiences and decisions, yet they are being transferred to machines. It seems to me that many of our intuitions about these issues have been powerfully shaped by cultural images, specifically science fiction literature and film. As such, Asaro claims it is important to review the most significant of these cultural images.
Latest update: 2018-06-20