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Robots and Ethics, Teaching AI to Make the Right Choices

In some nursing homes, robots help people with medications and health issues. In other scenarios, robots learn to distinguish between what is dangerous and what is not, such as grabbing a sharp knife or similar tool.

Robots have extraordinary abilities, allowing them to perform advanced tasks and work tirelessly. However, humans have many advantages over robots. One of those is the ability to make ethical choices. Engineers and philosophers are now working together to teach robots how to make the right decisions in different situations.

People make ethical choices daily; they don’t even think about it. They consider what will happen and the cost of changing their decision before deciding. These choices are easy for the brain because the human mind is an advanced organ that evolved over billions of years. Robots, on the other hand, are just complex algorithms that can’t make ethical choices.

Yet today, scientists are building robots that can make decisions for themselves. This can be daunting for engineers because replicating the human ability to make choices is nearly impossible. As of this time, most “choices” robots make are never real choices. The programming forces them to act.

Here are two examples: in one scenario led by Alan Winfield, an academic at the University of the West of England, a robot walks toward a labeled “Danger Zone,” and another robot steps in to save it. This second robot may be helping the other robot, but it is not making an ethical choice. Instead, like most robots, it's the code forcing the robot to act.

A different kind of technology known as machine learning can help robots choose the best outcome with multiple variables. Machine learning is when a robot is given a problem and a solution and, over time, learns to figure out the solution independently. After a few examples, the robot writes a rule and then adjusts every time a new data point is added until it has a basic logic system that can accurately pick the best choice. Even if the robot is still following an algorithm, the algorithm changes and adapts, similar to the human mind. This is the closest thing to artificial intelligence, which can make rational choices.

As time passes, robots will become more advanced and practical. They may even learn the difference between right and wrong, which would be the next step toward making ethical choices. In some ways, ethical decisions made by robots could have the potential to make better choices than humans, as emotions would not get in the way. In other words, this idea can be slightly daunting, and it will take a long time before robots can achieve that level of higher thinking.

[Source: Science News Explore]

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