Humans have long displayed an uncanny ability to make emotional connections with their manufactured helpmates. Car owners for generations have named their vehicles. In â€œCast Away,â€ Tom Hanks risks his life to save a volleyball named Wilson, who has become his best friend and confidant. Now that our creations display elements of intelligence, however, the bonds humans forge with their machines are even more impressive. Especially when humans credit their bots with saving their lives.
Ted Bogosh recalls one day in Camp Victory, near Baghdad, when he was a Marine master sergeant running the robot repair shop.
That day, an explosive ordnance disposal technician walked through his door. The EODs, as they are known, are the people who â€” with their robots â€” are charged with disabling Iraqâ€™s most virulent scourge, the roadside improvised explosive device. In this fellowâ€™s hands was a small box. It contained the remains of his robot. He had named it Scooby-Doo.
â€œThere wasnâ€™t a whole lot left of Scooby,â€ Bogosh says. The biggest piece was its 3-by-3-by-4-inch head, containing its video camera. On the side had been painted â€œits battle list, its track record. This had been a really great robot.â€
The veteran explosives technician looming over Bogosh was visibly upset. He insisted he did not want a new robot. He wanted Scooby-Doo back.
Itâ€™s a heartwarming story, although itâ€™s actually the introduction, which talks about an Army colonel stopping a test on a centipede-style mine detonation robot because it was â€œinhumaneâ€, that makes me wonder if the entire point of a robot code of ethics misses something intrinsic in our interaction with robots: how we, ourselves, bond to the robot, regardless of just how sentient that robot is.
-Kelly Hills [with a tip of the hat to Art Caplan]
Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.