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Robot Philosophy

Robotic technology is now developing at a remarkable rate, and we are almost every day surprised at news about newly developed technology or its applications, ranging from military and policing to disaster rescue, communication, transportation, medical science, health care, education, housework, and entertainment. Robots will participate in wider and wider settings of our society. Unmanned helicopters will be flying over our heads and driverless cars will fill the streets. Autonomous weapons will attack humans on battle fields, along borders, or in cities where terrorists are suspected to lurk. Meanwhile nursing robot will take care of elderly people and infants. Companion robots will sit beside and support those who are thirsty for a pet, friend and lover. These are not science fiction, but will become true in the not so distant future (some already have). For better or for worse, these changes will have immeasurable influence on the society or individuals. No doubt, robotic technology is one of the most important technologies in the 21st century, and it imposes on us, philosophers and ethicists, urgent questions to consider.

Specifically robotic technology will be an important subject for philosophers and ethicists in the following senses. First, to live with—or conflict with—robots which are becoming more and more like us will face us with the question of “What are the humans’’ in an extreme way. As AI brought about a remarkable development in the philosophy of mind in the 20th century, we can expect the robot to enrich philosophical debates. Second, when robots take part in various social settings, their actions will have morally significant effects on humans. Therefore, ethicists have to be prepared to answer such questions as concerning who will be responsible for the results of the action taken by a robot, or to what extent it is allowed to let robots make moral decisions or take moral actions. This in turn provides us with a new perspective from which we can view moral responsibility and moral agency.

The day is about to come when humans and robots will coexist in the society, and it does not only impose philosophers and ethicists important challenges, but also bring them fruitful insights.

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