[See also Peter Danielson's page on Robot Ethics, upon which this page is parasitic.]
Why build (or even just play with) robots?
Building robots, like running computer simulations, is part of the general strategy of, in Karl Popper's phrase, "letting our ideas die in our stead."
Robots have the potential to engage in simple forms of social behaviour: they are typically mobile, have sensors for input, and can modify their behaviour based on that input. And crucially, their very mobility -- and their tendency to share our space -- makes them the sorts of creatures that need, at the very least, manners, if not ethics.
Plus, robots are cheap. Yes, "cheap." B.I.O. Bugs cost $CA 55.00 at my local Toys-R-US; a Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2.0 currently costs about $CA 279.00 at my local Toys-R-Us, or $US 199.99 through Amazon.com. My first BEAM-style robot was built for $17 worth of parts, bought at my local Radio Shack. As a research strategy, compare this to paying $35,000 per year for a post-doctoral fellow, or the cost (anyone have an estimate?) of running an animal research lab.
Most importantly, perhaps, robots are cool. Cool, of course, has its own attractions, but cool is also important because it draws smart people to the field, and in particular draws the attention of kids (whose moral intuitions and partial lack of preconceptions we need).
At a fairly high level of abstraction, I think simple robots hold the promise of teaching us about what can be accomplished with simpler, as opposed to more complex, mechanisms. I conjecture that what we learn about this from hardware-based robots can be translated into lessons for people-based institutions.
For more on why we build robots, see
sociable robots: modeling ethics and technology,"
a brief proposal by Peter Danielson.
My Experimental Apparatus...
What I've done with B.I.O. Bugs
What I've done with BEAM Robots
Insecto-Bot: comments & autopsy
Some thoughts on robots & agency.
Some musings on the definition of "robot"
More Robot Links:
This site belongs to: Chris MacDonald (firstname.lastname@example.org)