2. Summary of the Special Issue
The issue involves six research papers and one review paper.
The review paper by Spyros G. Tzafestas, entitled Roboethics: Fundamental Concepts and Future Prospects, provides an introduction to roboethics which starts with the question “what is roboethics?” a discussion of the methodologies of roboethics, and a quick look at the branches of roboethics, in general. Then, it presents an outline of the major branches of roboethics, namely: medical roboethics, assistive roboethics, social robot ethics, war roboethics, driverless car ethics, and cyborg ethics. The paper concludes with a discussion of the future prospects of robotics and roboethics, including major opinions on the philosophical issue of whether future robots should have rights.
The paper by João Silva Sequeira, entitled Can Social Robots Make Societies More Human is concerned with the issue of the integration of social robots in real social environments that may dehumanize some of the roles currently being played by humans. The author claims and justifies that social robots can be used for smoothing human behaviors, i.e., making humans more human, so preventing dehumanization. Another issue studied in the paper is the “fearing the unknown” question. The author asserts that the lack of knowledge can still generate some expectations, e.g., in what concerns motion, and that a social robot must exhibit its intelligence convincingly, thus, establishing trust in that there are no hidden meanings, feelings or intentions.
The paper by Jeff Buechner, entitled Two Philosophical Problems of Roboethics addresses, indirectly, the roboethics question of how human moral reasoning can be computationally modeled in robo-agents? and the question should human reasoning be computationally modeled in robo-agents? To this end, the author poses two new philosophical problems raised by Krimke’s argument against functionalism extended to robot agents. These problems show that the above questions in computational modeling need to be reformulated, and they may also show that the established work in roboethics needs to be reformulated. The paper studies various ethical and legal roboethics issues arising from the two philosophical problems, and concludes that if Kripke’s argument is sound, some aspects of roboethics research and development will be challenged.
The paper by Ugo Pagallo, entitled Vital, Sophia, and Co.: The quest for the Legal Personhood of Robots investigates the issue of the legal status of intelligent robot agents, particularly the issue of confusing the legal agenthood of these artificial agents with the status of legal personhood. The author proposes that policymakers should think seriously about the possibility of establishing new forms of accountability and liability for intelligent robot activities in contracts and business law, e.g., new forms of legal agenthood in cases of complex distributed responsibility that hinge on multiple accumulated actions of humans and robots which may lead to cases of impunity. The author points out that with the current state of the art, none of today’s intelligent robots meets the requirements for granting full legal personhood status.
The paper by Sara Lumbreras, entitled Getting Ready for the Next Step: Merging Information Ethics and Roboethics: A Project in the Context of Marketing Ethics discusses the issue of merging information ethics and roboethics relating them to the well-established field of marketing ethics. The author notes that his intention is not to present the entire process of merging these two fields, but rather to discuss the need for this merger and provide a number of initial guidelines. These action guidelines focus on the requirement for transparency and the establishment of limits on vulnerable products and services, aimed at limiting the potentially harmful effects of human–machine interactions.
The paper by Raya A. Jones, entitled Engineering Cheerful Robots: An Ethical Consideration is concerned with the ethical issues of human–robot symbiosis that might result in the engineering of human agents who, in Mill’s words, “will want to become a cheerful and willing robot”. The paper is actually concerned with meta-ethical implications at the cross-borders of robotics, ethics, psychology, and social sciences and discusses a series of questions, namely: “Can robots be agents of cultural transmission? Is a cultural shift an issue for roboethics? Should roboethics be an instrument of political/social engineering? How could biases of the technological imagination be avoided? Does technological determinism compromise the possibility of moral action?” These questions do not have straightforward Yes or No answers, and they are related to Mill’s metaphor of the “cheerful robot”.
Finally, the paper by Herman T. Tavani entitled Can Social Robots Qualify for Moral Consideration examines the controversial roboethics question whether robots should be granted rights. This question is a subject of continuous debate with strong disagreement on the criterion or a set of criteria that a robot must satisfy to qualify for some level of moral or legal agency. In this paper, the author aims to show how the present debate about whether to grant rights to robots would benefit from the analysis and clarification of some key concepts and assumptions underlying that question. His central goal is to show why this question should be reframed by asking whether some kinds of social robots qualify for moral consideration as moral patients. The author argues that the answer to this question is yes, by drawing some insights from Hans Jonas work, and studying five sub-questions, viz.: (i) the robot question; (ii) the rights question; (iii) the criterion question; (iv) the agency question, and (v) the rationale question.