Robotic Nudges: The Ethics of Engineering a More Socially Just Human Being
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The time is nearing when robots are going to become a pervasive feature of our personal lives. They are already continuously operating in industrial, domestic, and military sectors. But a facet of their operation that has not quite reached its full potential is their involvement in our day-to-day routines as servants, caregivers, companions, and perhaps friends. It is clear that the multiple forms of robots already in existence and in the process of being designed will have a profound impact on human life. In fact, the motivation for their creation is largely shaped by their ability to do so. Encouraging patients to take medications, enabling children to socialize, and protecting the elderly from hazards within a living space is only a small sampling of how they could interact with humans. Their seemingly boundless potential stems in part from the possibility of their omnipresence but also because they can be physically instantiated, i.e., they are embodied in the real world, unlike many other devices. The extent of a robot’s influence on our lives hinges in large part on which design pathway the robot’s creator decides to pursue . The principal focus of this article is to generate discussion about the ethical acceptability of allowing designers to construct companion robots that nudge a user in a particular behavioral direction (and if so, under which circumstances). More specifically, we will delineate key issues related to the ethics of designing robots whose deliberate purpose is to nudge human users towards displaying greater concern for their fellow human beings, including by becoming more socially just. Important facets of this discussion include whether a robot’s “nudging ” behavior should occur with or without the user’s awareness and how much control the user should exert over it.