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RAEng report on Social, legal and ethical issues of autonomous systems

RAEng report on Social, legal and ethical issues of autonomous systems

Tim Finin, 10:53am 21 August 2009

RAEng report on Social, legal and ethical issues of autonomous systems

The Royal Academy of Engineering has released a report on the social, legal and ethical issues involving autonomous systems — systems that are adaptive, learn and can make decisions without the intervention or supervision of a human.

The report, Autonomous Systems: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues (pdf), was based on a roundtable discussion “from a wide range of experts, looking at the areas where autonomous systems are most likely to emerge first, and discussing the broad ethical issues surrounding their uptake.”

While autonomous systems have broad applicability, the report focuses on two areas: transportation (e.g. autonomous road vehicles) and personal care (e.g., smart homes).

“Autonomous systems, such as fully robotic vehicles that are “driverless” or artificial companions that can provide practical and emotional support to isolated people, have a level of self-determination and decision making ability with the capacity to learn from past performance. Autonomous systems do not experience emotional reactions and can therefore perform better than humans in tasks that are dull, risky or stressful. However they bring with them a new set of ethical problems. What if unpredicted behaviour causes harm? If an unmanned vehicle is involved in an accident, who is responsible – the driver or the systems engineer? Autonomous vehicles could provide benefits for road transport with reduced congestion and safety improvements but there is a lack of a suitable legal framework to address issues such as insurance and driver responsibility.

The technologies for smart homes and patient monitoring are already in existence and provide many benefits to older people, such as allowing them to remain in their own home when recovering from an illness, but they could also lead to isolation from family and friends. Some users may be unfamiliar with the technologies and be unable to give consent to their use.”

The RAEng report recommends “engaging early in public consultation” and working to establish “appropriate regulation and governance so that controls are put in place to guide the development of these systems”.

rdf:SeeAlso Autonomous tech ‘requires debate’; Scientists ponder rules and ethics of robo helpers; Robot cats could care for older Britons.

(via Mike Wooldridge)


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