Human, Medicine and Society

In his lecture “Service Robots in Health Care” at the Orient-Institut Istanbul on 18 December 2019, Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel from Zurich, Switzerland is going to deal with care robots as well as therapy and surgery robots. He will present well-known and less known examples and clarify the goals, tasks and characteristics of these service robots in the healthcare sector. Afterwards he will investigate current and future functions of care robots, including sexual assistance functions. Against this background, the lecture is going to consider both the perspective of information ethics and machine ethics. In the end, it should become clear which robot types and prototypes or products are available in health care, which purposes they fulfil, which functions they assume, how the healthcare system changes through their use and which implications and consequences this has for the individual and society. The program of the series “Human, medicine and society: past, present and future encounters” can be downloaded here.

Canton of Geneva Bans Uber

According to SRF, Tages-Anzeiger and swissinfo.ch, the canton of Geneva prohibits Uber from continuing its activities in the canton. It now classifies the transportation intermediary as an employer, hence obliging it to pay social benefits to its drivers to continue operating. “Speaking to Swiss public television SRF, the head of the cantonal government Mauro Poggia said that the ride-hailing service was subject to the applicable taxi and transport law. This means Uber is currently not fulfilling its legal obligations and will have to hire its drivers and pay their social benefits, such as pensions, like other taxi companies. According to checks carried out by the canton of Geneva, criteria such as fares, invoices and even an evaluation system for drivers are used at Uber. For this reason, the authorities rejected the arguments of Uber’s lawyers that their drivers were self-employed.” (swissinfo.ch, 1 November 2019) One may be curious whether Uber will hire its drivers and pay social benefits or go to a Swiss court to appeal against the decision.

Desire in the Age of Robots and AI

Rebecca Gibson’s book “Desire in the Age of Robots and AI” was published by Palgrave Macmillan at the end of 2019. From the abstract: “This book examines how science fiction’s portrayal of humanity’s desire for robotic companions influences and reflects changes in our actual desires. It begins by taking the reader on a journey that outlines basic human desires – in short, we are storytellers, and we need the objects of our desire to be able to mirror that aspect of our beings. This not only explains the reasons we seek out differences in our mates, but also why we crave sex and romance with robots. In creating a new species of potential companions, science fiction highlights what we already want and how our desires dictate – and are in return recreated – by what is written. But sex with robots is more than a sci-fi pop-culture phenomenon; it’s a driving force in the latest technological advances in cybernetic science. As such, this book looks at both what we imagine and what we can create in terms of the newest iterations of robotic companionship.” (Information Palgrave Macmillan) One chapter is entitled “Angel Replicants and Solid Holograms: Blade Runner 2049 and Its Impact on Robotics”. This is a further contribution to the robots and holograms in the well-known film. Already “Hologram Girl” by Oliver Bendel dealt with the holograms in this fictional work and the possible relationships with them and with their colleagues in the real world.

A Handbook on Machine Ethics

After three years, an ambitious project has come to its preliminary end: The “Handbuch Maschinenethik” (“Handbook Machine Ethics”) (edited by Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer in mid-October 2019. It brings together contributions from leading experts in the fields of machine ethics, robot ethics, technology ethics, technology philosophy and robot law. At the moment it can be downloaded here: link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-658-17483-5 … It has become an extensive, a remarkable, a unique book. In a way, it is a counterpart to American research, which dominates the discipline: Most authors come from Europe and Asia. The editor, who has been involved with information ethics, robotics and machine ethics for 20 years and has been researching machine ethics intensively for eight years, is full of hope that the book will find its place in the standard literature on machine ethics, such as “Moral Machines” (2009) by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen and “Machine Ethics” (2011) by Michael and Susan Leigh Anderson, and “Programming Machine Ethics” (2016) by Luís Moniz Pereira (with Ari Saptawijaya) and “Grundfragen der Maschinenethik” (2018) by Catrin Misselhorn – both have contributed significantly to the “Handbuch Maschinenethik”. Over the next few days, the book with its 23 chapters and 469 pages will be made available for sale on the Springer website and also in print.

The Sleep Robot by your Side

A Guardian journalist just tested the Somnox Sleep Robot that aims to banish insomnia, aiding natural rest and reducing stress. According to him, it could be revolutionary in the field because many overnight devices merely track sleep rather than promoting it. Somnox describes its robot as a “sleep companion”. “The kidney-shaped, possibly sentient cushion breathes softly in and out, and plays calming noises. The idea is that users hold it close to them in bed, building up an emotional bond over time. Every night, you breathe together in time until you fall sleep, perchance to dream of electric sheep.” (Guardian, 15 October 2019) The journalist was not satisfied with the device at all. But an advanced sleeping robot could be of help to certain groups. Maybe some people are mainly interested in the feeling of having something next to them. One should give the sleep robot a second chance.

Pepper’s New Job

SoftBank Robotics has announced that it will operate a cafe in Tokyo. The humanoid robot Pepper is to play a major role in this. But people will not disappear. They will of course be guests, but also, as in the traditional establishments of this kind, waitresses and waiters. At least that’s what ZDNET reports. “The cafe, called Pepper Parlor, will utilise both human and robot staff to serve customers, and marks the company’s first time operating a restaurant or cafe.” (ZDNET, 13 September 2019) According to SoftBank Robotics, the aim is “to create a space where people can easily experience the coexistence of people and robots and enjoy the evolution of robots and the future of living with robots”. “We want to make robots not only for convenience and efficiency, but also to expand the possibilities of people and bring happiness.” (ZDNET, 13 September 2019) This opens up new career opportunities for the little robot, which recognizes and shows emotions, and which listens and talks and is trained in high-five. It has long since left its family’s lap, it can be found in shopping malls and nursing homes. Now it will be serving waffles in a cafe in Tokyo.