The Ethical Frontiers of Robotics

The Ethical Frontiers of Robotics


In the article “The Ethical Frontiers of Robotics,” the author Noel Sharkey discusses the development and the growing popularity of service robots in the 21st century. Sharkey acknowledges that significant technological advances in robotics have resulted in the ever-increasing demand and reliance on robotics in various fields. Despite the numerous advantages that service robotics provide in multiple sectors, they also pose a significant risk in some regions of use. In this respect, Sharkey focuses on the application and dangers involved when applying service robots in the care of the elderly and children as well as the military use of service robots in the development of autonomous weapons. Sharkey’s main argument is that the use of service robots poses numerous ethical and unanticipated risks (Sharkey,2008).


Sharkey argues that despite the lack of adequate evidence on the way robots may affect the lives of children in their care, scientists have reported the numerous psychological risks of leaving young children in the care of robots for extended periods. For instance, in the United States, research carried out on childminding robots using NEC’s large scale testing and Sony Qurio revealed close bonding between children and robots. In this case, the children preferred robots to other toys, for instance, teddy bears. Notably, short term exposure to service robots has a wide variety of benefits, including entertainment similar to televisions and computer games. However, these robots fail to provide care for children; hence, they still need the attention of adults for various activities such as feeding. For that reason, leaving children in the care of service robots could have adverse effects on them, as some guardians could go for hours or days leaving the children without human contact. In effect, the isolation from human contact could result in psychological effects varying in degree. Nonetheless, researchers cannot determine the impact of such isolation as conducting controlled experiments on children would be unethical. Similarly, some studies carried out on monkeys revealed that when they developed attachments to inanimate surrogates, it resulted in severe social dysfunction (Sharkey, 2008). Indeed, the decision to leave children with these service robots could lead to significant repercussions, including emotional and psychological issues.

Sharkey further argues that despite the potential threats that the use of service robots on children posed, governments have yet to develop and implement national legislation or international policies to regulate their use (Sharkey, 2008). The only exception is with regard to terms of negligence which the court is yet to test in the case of robot surrogates. The main issue behind the lack of policy is that it is challenging for courts to prove cases of physical abuse by robot surrogates. Moreover, no international code of ethics from the United Nations convention on children rights as well as Nanny’s associations exist. In light of the potential risks that service robots present in handling children, the government need to discuss and create limits in the use of robotics urgently.

Apart from the potential risk presented in children, in many countries, there is a shortage and limitation of young relatives that are available to care for the elderly, hence, the application of service robots.  For example, “My Spoon” is an automated feeding robot that Secom and Sanyo developed. They have designed an electric bathtub used for automatic washing. Another example is the Wakamura robot by Mitsubishi which is used for monitoring and delivery of messages as well as reminding the elderly to take their medication. Indeed, the robots are critical in enabling the elderly members of society to live independent lives without the need for a caregiver (Sharkey, 2008). Despite the benefits they provide, they create a potential risk for the old being under exclusive care of machines as they still require human contact for a variety of tasks.

In addition to robots being used to care for children and the elderly, the military also applies them for various functions. For example, the Coalition forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq have deployed mobile robots amounting to 5,000. They use them for multiple purposes, including surveillance, bomb disposal and combat. For example, the army uses the MQ9 Reapers and MQ1 Predator to carry bombs and missiles (Sharkey, 2008). It has applied them in various strikes resulting in the deaths of civilians, including women and children. As a result, multiple ethical issues have been raised concerning the use of robots in combat.

In conclusion, numerous ethical and safety issues are associated with the application of service robots. Advancements in robotics have and continue to provide various benefits to communities all over the world. Despite the advantages they offer, it is essential that industry stakeholders discuss the potential threats that the use of service robots create. Moreover, these stakeholders need to develop and implement various guidelines that limit and control the use of these robots with the aim of managing potential risks. Furthermore, robots do not want to perceived as machines, but organizations cannot use them a replacement for humans. Despite technological advancements in the development of artificial intelligence, robots still lack various social elements.


Sharkey, N. (2008).The Ethical Frontiers of Robotics. Science. Retrieved from


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