Ethical issues concerning robots and android humanoids Print
Technology - Robots and android humanoids

Ethical issues concerning robots and android humanoids

New improved humans

Robot workers versus human workers

The question whether it is ethically and morally responsible to manufacture robot workers - and androids - is one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to robots and artificial intelligence.

There are no easy answers here. The debate has been going for some time and there are several possible outcomes.

The argument that robot workers take jobs from human workers is true (see Introduction to Robotics). It is also true that these jobs are generally repetitive jobs, monotonous and often hazardous to human workers. Is it wrong then to replace humans with robots in these cases?

It isn't if there are enough other jobs these humans can turn to. It is if it leaves thousands of people out of work altogether. These are the simple answers.

Besides, these days it isn't robots that are taking away jobs from people, rather it's other people who are willing to work for lower wages, without social security or health plans. But it is our companies in large part that are hiring these low wage workers or outsourcing production and services altogether.

Economics, capitalism and socialism

A more detailed answer lies in the progress and development of countries as well as advances in science and technology.

The wealthier countries have enjoyed rapid advancement in science and technology, enabling them to automate many facets of society. In combination with a high standard of education these countries have a reduced need for uneducated workers that are willing to do repetitive work such as factory work.

And as even the uneducated nationals of these countries have been subject to improved wealth many refuse to do these jobs. In this scenario the options for manufacturers are limited.

One option is to keep the factories local and "employ" robots to do the work at a reduced cost - and often higher efficiency compared to human workers -  to keep the profit line.

Another option is to stimulate uneducated migrant workers from other countries to come and do these jobs in semi-automated factories. This causes all sorts of social and financial difficulties.

A third option, which is more often seen these days, is to combine the above two - move the factory to a low income country AND employ robot workers.

In this scenario, yes, human workers lose out all around.

Government failure

Corporate economics stipulate to manufacture a product as cheaply as possible so that the bottom line - the profit margin - remains as high as possible. That is the capitalistic point of view and often the only one that counts.

While this is fine for a corporate philosophy, governments, on the other hand, have the responsibility to look after their citizens and maintain a level of socialism so that everyone has a job and benefits from the general wealth. This also  reduces the burden of welfare costs - taking care of those who cannot, for whatever reason, take care of themselves and their families.

Unfortunately many governments these days have become capitalistic in their policies and, instead of looking after their citizens and reducing their own overhead as much as possible, have come to see the citizenry as a source of income for themselves and over-tax them, placing an additional financial burden on an already shrinking income.

In addition governments are often catering to large corporations for more income, disregarding the workers' needs, and ultimately the workers have become victims of a two-pronged attack on their independence.

And this not only applies to uneducated or factory workers. The middle classes are increasingly under duress in the wealthier nations as their jobs too are leaving the country to nations in development where these jobs can be done more cheaply. Capitalism at its best.

So what does all this have to do with the ethical issue of robots in the workplace? Quite a lot, in fact. The obvious fact that robot workers are cheaper, more efficient and do not complain or require expensive social systems is a dangerous development for a growing world population without the means to support itself.

As such, the doom scenario predictions by those opposed to this development seems to be grounded. But what are the options? Stop scientific development and ignore the benefits that robot workers can bring?

As in other areas of our increasingly complex civilization it is necessary to obtain a balance.

A balance between robot and human workers.

So the real question is how to obtain a balance between using the development of technology without causing undue hardship.

When computers started entering the workplace it was proclaimed by many that they would take jobs away from ordinary people. This has certainly been true. But, in a developing world where the flow of data and information has become crucial for society to function, it has also created many new jobs - not least of all in the computer industry itself. In fact, the computer industry has created millions of jobs - for educated workers.


Robot workers versus human workers

Robots and the factory of the future.
Exchange Net
More machinery workers?
Soldier Of The Lord - Enslavement of the Human race via a Microchip Implant?
We need more robots, not illegal aliens - excellent article about the need of automation rather than cheap labor import by modern societies, by Steven Sailer at ParaPundit.


The key issue here is that the local work force has had sufficient education to upgrade itself at the same pace as technology, creating the need as well as the development base for robot workers. In the United States and Europe, uneducated migrant workers are used for simple labor rather than robots, creating social and economic problems for governments and tax payers.

Migration is not necessarily a bad thing though it has caused problems in many places. Cultural and religious differences are creating conflict and chaos where there was once peace and welfare for all.

So why are we not building robots to do these jobs? Do we really need street cleaners, park attendants, and garbage collectors in human form? Robots can do these jobs much more efficiently. And without the continuous cost and social upheaval.

As with artificial intelligence, we can make robots to make our lives easier, handling tasks that we do not want or cannot do. There is nothing wrong with this.

Robots as helpers

Robots can be useful tools as much as computers are useful tools in our everyday and working lives. Taking over more of the repetitive, dangerous and time consuming tasks so that we can spend our time more usefully.

Provided the costs are low, a farmer can employ agricultural robots that till and seed the land, do the weeding and harvest the crops. A local robot workplace can take care of any necessary maintenance, for example, providing jobs. Would this robot run on solar energy it would be even better.

In the food industries robots are better and more humane butchers, as odd as that may sound. They can collect the billions of plastic bags now littering the world, underwater bots can clean up the garbage seas that have formed in our oceans. They can reforest the land, clean up the rivers.

In the home, robot machines and cleaners can do the housework and other chores, leaving us with more time on our hands to spend with family, work, study or leisure activities.

In hospitals robots can provide assistance in laboratories and operating rooms, dispensing medicines, for example, and do cleaning work. Or even do straightforward surgical procedures. The possibility of robots working at a micro precision scale may even make them more suitable for these procedures.

Robots of all sizes, including nanorobots, can clean up our landscapes, our seas, replant trees by the millions and so forth. They can monitor our environment and go out into space for us (see Robots in space) to look for resources and other worlds for us to live on.

And, of course, we can have robots fight our wars for us.

In short, we can manufacture robots to do all that we do not want to do for any reason. Perhaps our point of view is simply too limited or self-centred to accept the possibilities of robots as part of our development as a technological society.

Robot pragmatism versus human desire

It all sounds wonderful and perhaps at some time in the future, when the world isn't preoccupied with greed, when governments return to listening to their citizens, and corporations are satisfied with profitability rather than maximizing profit by any and all means in the short term, will we see robots as the workers and helpers they are, rather than simply cheaper replacements for people.

It is certainly not an impossible goal, though perhaps a long term one. In the meantime we should continue to examine the development of robots in the workplace with some degree of scepticism, keeping a balance between actual need and greed.

But the robot ethical issue has complications on a wider scale. Without changing our priorities from greed to "Doing the right thing" - such as taking care of all the people rather than a select few - we need to also address issues such as world population, migrant workers, environmental issues, diminishing resources, corporate monopolies and so forth.

And robots are more than mechanical workers. Artificial intelligence developments make the day that our children are taught by artificial intelligence teachers come closer all the time. And this is still only the tip of the iceberg. Cybernetics - (automated) control systems - also need examining in this respect and how they tie in to the overall picture of human development.

For more on this issue see also Ethical Issues Regarding Artificial Intelligences.

Your opinion

Let us know what your view point is about this issue. We will place a selection of your comments below. Try and keep the text within 100 to 200 words or less or, if you have an article on your site or page that relates to this issue we can place a link instead.


Let your voice be heard. Add a comment.

All comments are subject to editing or placement. Your email address will not be included.


Robot workers versus human workers - Your opinion

Shahnawaz A. Robotics is a field that highlights the blurred line between what is right and wrong. My opinion on the matter is that robots are invaluable in fields which can pose significant harm to human life; planetary research, space exploration, human rescue from natural disasters, and possibly assisting in the "de-pollution" of our planet. However I feel robots would and should not be required in everyday life until the existing human labor pool is sufficiently utilized and the growth of the human population is significantly slowed and maintained to manage the overpopulation crisis. I also feel that, even with Isaac Asimov's three laws, greater controls should be exercised to regulate the behavior of these robots.
Cody T. I think we should look into robot workers because it would help us out in a lot of ways. They can work 24-7 nonstop so everything would get done really fast. That means if we need something done fast, we can get it done fast. A robot can put a human to shame as a worker. They can move, push, pull, and pick up stuff that we could never dream about moving. I just think it needs to be looked into because robots could help us out a lot more than we think.
David H. It's not just robots but all kinds of automated equipment that take jobs away from people, especially unschooled jobs. Even the garbage trucks are now so automated that it requires only one person to operate the truck and collect the garbage. Before this was a team of four or six.
Melissa P. I would feel safer with a robot operating on me than a person. Robots don't make mistakes, people do all the time, even professional ones with lots of experience.
Sheera Y. I don't think we need robots at all - better we develop humans to do the jobs. There are so many people in need of education and employment that to have robots do these jobs is not very good policy, IMO. Only in a hazardous environment do I see a need for robots, other than that, no. I think this is wrong.
Muhammed Robots are kewl. I want them to do everything for me!


AddThis Social Bookmark Button