Moral code for robots

2007-03-07 12:25

Seoul - South Korea is drawing up a code of ethics to stop humans misusing robots - or vice versa, officials on said Wednesday.

The government plans this year to issue a "Robot Ethics Charter" for manufacturers and users which will also cover ethical standards to be programmed into robots, the ministry of commerce, industry and energy said.

A five-member task force including experts, futurists and a science fiction writer began work last November.

"The government plans to set ethical guidelines concerning the roles and functions of robots as robots are expected to develop strong intelligence in the near future," the ministry said in a statement.

As South Korean society ages due to a low birth rate, various service robots which "think" for themselves will come into use in the not too distant future and become "key companions to human beings," it said.

Laws based on Isaac Asimov

"Imagine if some people treat androids as if the machines were their wives. Others may get addicted to interacting with them just as many Internet users get hooked to the cyberworld," Park Hye-Young of the ministry's robot team told AFP.

She said the guidelines are expected to reflect laws put forward by Isaac Asimov in his 1942 short story Runaround.

These are: Robots may not injure humans or, through inaction, allow humans to come to harm; robot must obey human orders unless they conflict with the first law; and robots must protect themselves if this does not conflict with the other laws.

Park said the government will also refer to an ethics "roadmap" expected to be issued in Rome next month by the European Robotics Research Network.

Its key considerations are ensuring human control over robots, preventing illegal use, protecting data acquired by robots and establishing clear identification and traceability of the machines, she said.

Last September South Korea unveiled a machine gun-toting sentry robot that could support its troops in detecting and killing intruders along the heavily fortified border with North Korea.

On a softer note, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology is working to develop robot caregivers which could tackle the chores and monitor the health of elderly people. The project is due for completion in 2013.

And the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology has developed EveR-2 Muse, a robot version of a Korean woman in her twenties who can hold a conversation or sing a song, make eye contact, and express anger, sorrow and joy. - Sapa-AFP