The Morality Menu Project

From 18 to 21 August 2020, the Robophilosophy conference took place. Due to the pandemic, participants could not meet in Aarhus as originally planned, but only in virtual space. Nevertheless, the conference was a complete success. At the end of the year, the conference proceedings were published by IOS Press, including the paper “The Morality Menu Project” by Oliver Bendel. From the abstract: “The discipline of machine ethics examines, designs and produces moral machines. The artificial morality is usually pre-programmed by a manufacturer or developer. However, another approach is the more flexible morality menu (MOME). With this, owners or users replicate their own moral preferences onto a machine. A team at the FHNW implemented a MOME for MOBO (a chatbot) in 2019/2020. In this article, the author introduces the idea of the MOME, presents the MOBO-MOME project and discusses advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. It turns out that a morality menu could be a valuable extension for certain moral machines.” The book can be ordered on the publisher’s website. An author’s copy is available here.

About the “Handbuch Maschinenethik”

The “Handbuch Maschinenethik” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer VS over a year ago. It brings together contributions from leading experts in the fields of machine ethics, robot ethics, technology ethics, philosophy of technology and robot law. It has become a comprehensive, exemplary and unique book. In a way, it forms a counterpart to the American research that dominates the discipline: Most of the authors (among them Julian Nida-Rümelin, Catrin Misselhorn, Eric Hilgendorf, Monika Simmler, Armin Grunwald, Matthias Scheutz, Janina Loh and Luís Moniz Pereira) come from Europe and Asia. They had been working on the project since 2017 and submitted their contributions continuously until it went to print. The editor, who has been working on information, robot and machine ethics for 20 years and has been doing intensive research on machine ethics for nine years, is pleased to report that 53,000 downloads have already been recorded – quite a lot for a highly specialized book. The first article for a second edition is also available, namely “The BESTBOT Project” (in English like some other contributions) …

New Journal on AI and Ethics

Springer launches a new journal entitled “AI and Ethics”. This topic has been researched for several years from various perspectives, including information ethics, robot ethics (aka roboethics) and machine ethics. From the description: “AI and Ethics seeks to promote informed debate and discussion of the ethical, regulatory, and policy implications that arise from the development of AI. It will focus on how AI techniques, tools, and technologies are developing, including consideration of where these developments may lead in the future. The journal will provide opportunities for academics, scientists, practitioners, policy makers, and the public to consider how AI might affect our lives in the future, and what implications, benefits, and risks might emerge. Attention will be given to the potential intentional and unintentional misuses of the research and technology presented in articles we publish. Examples of harmful consequences include weaponization, bias in face recognition systems, and discrimination and unfairness with respect to race and gender.

Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Prisons

On 24 October 2020 the article “Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Unproven and Unexplored Fields of Application” by Oliver Bendel was published in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics. From the abstract: “Love dolls, the successors of blow-up dolls, are widespread. They can be ordered online or bought in sex shops and can be found in brothels and households. Sex robots are also on the rise. Research, however, has been slow to address this topic thoroughly. Often, it does not differentiate between users and areas of application, remaining vague, especially in the humanities and social sciences. The present contribution deals with the idea and history of love dolls and sex robots. Against this background, it identifies areas of application that have not been investigated or have hardly been investigated at all. These include prisons, the military, monasteries and seminaries, science, art and design as well as the gamer scene. There is, at least, some relevant research about the application of these artefacts in nursing and retirement homes and as such, these will be given priority. The use of love dolls and sex robots in all these fields is outlined, special features are discussed, and initial ethical, legal and pragmatic considerations are made. It becomes clear that artificial love servants can create added value, but that their use must be carefully considered and prepared. In some cases, their use may even be counterproductive.” The article is available here for free as an open access publication.

Guys and Dolls

In October 2020 the book “Maschinenliebe” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer. The title means “Machine Love”, “Machines for Love” or “Machines of Love”. Three contributions are in English. One of them (“Guys and Dolls”) is by Kate Devlin and Chloé Locatelli (King’s College London). From the abstract: “This chapter explores the creators and potential consumers of sex robots. With Realbotix as our case study, we take a closer look at the language and sentiments of those developing the technology and those who are testing, consuming, or showing an interest in it. We do this by means of website and chat forum analysis, and via interviews with those involved. From this, we can see the motivation for developing a sexual companion robot places the emphasis firmly on the companionship aspect, and that those involved in creating and consuming the products share an ideology of intimacy and affection, with sexual gratification only playing a minor role.” More information via www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

Dangerous Machines or Friendly Companions?

“Dangerous machines or friendly companions? One thing is clear: Our fascination with robots persists. This colloquium in cooperation with TA-SWISS will continue to pursue it.“ This is what it says in the teaser of a text that can be found on the website of the Haus der elektronischen Künste Basel (HeK). “In science fiction films they are presented both as dangerous machines threatening human survival and as friendly companions in our everyday lives. Human-like or animal-like robots, such as the seal Paro, are used in health care, sex robots compensate for the deficits of human relationships, intelligent devices listen to our conversations and take care of our needs …“ (Website HeK) And further: “This event is part of a current study by TA-SWISS which deals with the potentials and risks of social robots that simulate empathy and trigger emotions. The focus is on the new challenges in the relationship between man and machine. At the colloquium, the two scientists Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel and Prof. Dr. Hartmut Schulze and the Swiss artist Simone C. Niquille will provide brief inputs on the topic and discuss the questions raised in a panel discussion.” (Website HeK) More information via www.hek.ch/en/program/events-en/event/kolloquium-soziale-roboter.html.

Next ROBOPHILOSOPHY in Helsinki

One of the world’s most important conferences for robot philosophy (aka robophilosophy) and social robotics, ROBOPHILOSOPHY, took place from 18 to 21 August 2020, not in Aarhus (Denmark) as originally planned, but – due to the COVID 19 pandemic – in virtual form. Organizers and presenters were Marco Nørskov and Johanna Seibt. A considerable number of the lectures were devoted to machine ethics, such as “Moral Machines” (Aleksandra Kornienko), “Permissibility-Under-a-Description Reasoning for Deontological Robots” (Felix Lindner) and “The Morality Menu Project” (Oliver Bendel). The keynotes were given by Selma Šabanović (Indiana University Bloomington), Robert Sparrow (Monash University), Shannon Vallor (The University of Edinburgh), Alan Winfield (University of the West of England), Aimee van Wynsberghe (Delft University of Technology) and John Danaher (National University of Ireland). In his outstanding presentation, Winfield was sceptical about moral machines, whereupon Bendel made it clear in the discussion that they are useful in some areas and dangerous in others, and emphasized the importance of machine ethics for the study of machine and human morality, a point with which Winfield again agreed. The last conference was held in Vienna in 2018. Keynote speakers at that time included Hiroshi Ishiguro, Joanna Bryson and Oliver Bendel. The next ROBOPHILOSOPHY will probably take place in 2022 at the University of Helsinki, as the organisers announced at the end of the event.

3D Printing a Robotic Finger

Nao and Pepper have perfectly shaped hands and fingers. But the fingers are now facing serious competition. Scientists at University of California- Santa Cruz and Ritsumeikan University in Japan have designed and produced a robotic finger inspired by the human endoskeletal structure. From the abstract of the paper “3D Printing an Assembled Biomimetic Robotic Finger”: “We present a novel approach for fabricating cable-driven robotic systems. Particularly, we show that a biomimetic finger featuring accurate bone geometry, ligament structures, and viscoelastic tendons can be synthesized as a single part using a mutli-material 3D printer. This fabrication method eliminates the need to engineer an interface between the rigid skeletal structure and elastic tendon system. The artificial muscles required to drive the printed tendons of the finger can also be printed in place.” The biomimetic robotic finger was presented at the 17th International Conference on Ubiquitous Robots (UR). The paper is available here.

Findings on Robotic Hugging

In the first part of the HUGGIE project initiated by Oliver Bendel, two students of the School of Business FHNW conducted an online survey with almost 300 participants. In the management summary of their bachelor thesis Ümmühan Korucu and Leonie Stocker (formerly Leonie Brogle) write: “The results of the survey indicated that people have a positive attitude towards robots in general as robots are perceived as interesting and useful rather than unnecessary and disturbing. However, only a minority of the participants stated that they would accept a hug from a robot. A possible reason for this could be that for the majority of participants, a hug is an act of intimacy with a deeper meaning attached to it which is only being shared with selected persons. For a robot to be perceived as an attractive hugging partner, a human-like design including a face, eyes, a friendly look as well as the ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally is desired. However, an appearance being too realistic has a deterrent effect. Furthermore, an in-depth analysis of the data in relation to age and gender of the participants resulted in the discovery of interesting facts and differences. Overall, the findings contribute to a clearer picture about the appearance and the features Huggie should have in order to be accepted as a hugging counterpart.” The bachelor thesis will be publicly available in autumn 2020. There will also be a paper with the results next year.

Towards a Proxy Machine

“Once we place so-called ‘social robots’ into the social practices of our everyday lives and lifeworlds, we create complex, and possibly irreversible, interventions in the physical and semantic spaces of human culture and sociality. The long-term socio-cultural consequences of these interventions is currently impossible to gauge.” (Website Robophilosophy Conference) With these words the next Robophilosophy conference was announced. It would have taken place in Aarhus, Denmark, from 18 to 21 August 2019, but due to the COVID 19 pandemic it is being conducted online. One lecture will be given by Oliver Bendel. The abstract of the paper “The Morality Menu Project” states: “Machine ethics produces moral machines. The machine morality is usually fixed. Another approach is the morality menu (MOME). With this, owners or users transfer their own morality onto the machine, for example a social robot. The machine acts in the same way as they would act, in detail. A team at the School of Business FHNW implemented a MOME for the MOBO chatbot. In this article, the author introduces the idea of the MOME, presents the MOBO-MOME project and discusses advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. It turns out that a morality menu can be a valuable extension for certain moral machines.” In 2018 Hiroshi Ishiguro, Guy Standing, Catelijne Muller, Joanna Bryson, and Oliver Bendel had been keynote speakers. In 2020, Catrin Misselhorn, Selma Sabanovic, and Shannon Vallor will be presenting. More information via conferences.au.dk/robo-philosophy/.