Charter Languishes in U.S Senate

September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

I cued a 10 second montage of some of the video footage for the morning’s segment, buying Yasukawa some more time to compose himself. Technician’s voices crackled over one another on the sound-waves, checking the telepresence projectors. Along each side of the news desk, projections of the morning’s guests were calibrating haltingly, misty bodies slowly solidifying into almost-infallibly solid shapes.

“The push for roboethics legislation has hit a snag in the U.S, where calls to adopt a Charter for Robot Ethics are continuing to meet resistance in the senate. This comes despite a reported spike in ‘artificial agent’ related litigation and growing concerns over safety and security. The president of Korea, the first member state of the League of East Asian Nations to draft and implement a Charter of Robot Ethics, is scheduled to discuss the matter with President Guerrero later this week. A staunch advocate for a universal Charter of Robot Ethics, the Korean president has also been pushing for Japan to support his nation’s Charter as a global standard.”

“Joining us to discuss the issue is U.S Senator Stephen Clarkson, Hans Beekman from the E.U’s Roboethics Special Interest group, the Korean Ministry for Technology’s Jung Seul, and Makoto Yamamoto, spokesperson for the Teresem Movement here in Japan. Welcome to you all.”

Our holographic guests all sat at similar, empty panels in their respective studios—each of them alone, smiling and greeting the others. Though rendered almost perfectly solid, the colouring of each was washed out, their skin tone tinted a slight but unmistakable greenish-blue.

“Senator Clarkson, if I can start with you, what is your position on the proposed Charter and why is it facing such widespread opposition?”

There was a pause while the translation wheedled its way into his left ear, and a reciprocal delay while his response was fed through the translators of the panelists.

“The legal system of the United States maintains at least one commonality with the legal systems of every other nation on Earth—it’s Homo-sapien centered. It’s by the people, for the people, in the interests of those people. And let’s be realistic, at this stage less than 25% of robots in America could pass the Turing Test, so to broaden the definition of natural persons for the purpose of including robots isn’t only an expensive over-reaction, it’s completely unnecessary. The U.S has taken the stance for quite some time now of placing robots within the framework of the ‘law of agency’—that essentially means the responsibility for the robot’s actions fall upon the owner of that robot unless they can prove it was faulty, in which case the manufacturer may be liable for damages.”

“That’s similar to Article 3 of the Principles of Robot Law used here in Japan” Yasukawa cut in, “‘Robot manufacturers shall be responsible for their creations.’”

“Well in the Japanese case the manufacturer follows the precautionary principle, here the onus is on the consumer to prove the manufacturer is at fault. But that’s beside the point—in the end giving ‘rights’ to robots, as Korea is proposing, is a very strong form of moral consideration; the U.S simply takes the view that there are other, more appropriate forms of moral consideration we can use in relation to the kinds of robots we use and live with here.”

Yasukawa’s hand slipped onto my knee and sat there like an immense spider.

“What moral considerations are robots being afforded, Senator?” I asked,

picking from an authorized set of likely follow-on questions.

“We try to keep it simple here. Domestic and civilian automata are programmed with a core set of rules that govern their conduct.”

Asimov’s Three Laws?”

“Basically, yes.”

“What about non-civilian automata?” Yasukawa asked pointedly, the hand squeezed. Somewhere in Fukushima a man had just discovered a clover with four hundred and twenty four leaves.

The Senator’s voice gained a coppery inflection, “You understand I’m not at liberty to discuss matters of national security and military tactics beyond saying that—obviously—it would be counter intuitive to program a military robot with Asimov’s Laws. It’s my understanding that all artificial agents are hard-wired with rules of engagement based on the same Military Use of Force Continuum used by all U.S Marines.”

The senator rocked back on his haunches, defensively thrusting the belted girth of his stomach forward, imposing and perfectly round, like a wrecking ball. In the former North-Korean Zone trawlers discovered a strain of tobacco plant immune to radiation poisoning, and the Amazon seethed with unfeeling fire, ablaze for the sixty-seventh day.

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