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Ethics in the Age of the Robot


Maureen Cavanaugh : The makers of Roomba, that handy robot vacuum, have now modified their device into a robot warrior to help out US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Japan and North Korea, robot devices help disabled people care for themselves, and act as playmates for children.

None of these advances may trigger concerns that we need John Connor to save us from the Terminator just yet, but they do raise ethical issues. If elderly people can be cared for by robots, will they suffer from lack of human contact? If a robot with a gun makes a mistake and kills the wrong person, who's fault is that?

As part of our monthly series on ethics in science and technology, we'll discuss the role of robots in our lives. They hold out the promise to relieve us from danger and drudgery, but what are the risks?

The next Ethics Center forum "Our Robots, Our Selves," is Wednesday, March 4, 2009, at 5:30 p.m. at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. The event is free and open to the public.


  • Larry Hinman , professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego and co-director of the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology.
  • Vernor Vinge , professor emeritus of mathematics and computer science from SDSU, and award-winning science fiction author. His more recent book, "Rainbow's End: A Novel with One Foot in the Future," was the 2007 Hugo Best Novel winner.

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