Robot Autonomy vs. Human Autonomy: Social Robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Nature of Autonomy

Minds and Machines 31 (4):595-616 (2021)
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Social robots are robots that can interact socially with humans. As social robots and the artificial intelligence that powers them becomes more advanced, they will likely take on more social and work roles. This has many important ethical implications. In this paper, we focus on one of the most central of these, the impacts that social robots can have on human autonomy. We argue that, due to their physical presence and social capacities, there is a strong potential for social robots to enhance human autonomy as well as several ways they can inhibit and disrespect it. We argue that social robots could improve human autonomy by helping us to achieve more valuable ends, make more authentic choices, and improve our autonomy competencies. We also argue that social robots have the potential to harm human autonomy by instead leading us to achieve fewer valuable ends ourselves, make less authentic choices, decrease our autonomy competencies, make our autonomy more vulnerable, and disrespect our autonomy. Whether the impacts of social robots on human autonomy are positive or negative overall will depend on the design, regulation, and use we make of social robots in the future.

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Paul Formosa
Macquarie University

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