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Making Robots Ethical

Posted 11/11/2010
Posted by Meagan Fazio

Two students in the University of Hartford's College of Arts and Sciences are conducting cutting-edge research on artificial intelligence, thanks to Michael Anderson, associate professor of computer science, and a robot named Nao.

Anderson; his wife Susan Leigh Anderson, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Connecticut; Timothy Becker ’11, BMus ’03; and Mathieu Rodrigue ’11 are working to make robots behave ethically. Nao, a robot developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics, is the main subject of their research.

The Andersons’ main project focuses on medical ethics. They want Nao to remind patients when it is time to take their medicine and to do so in an ethical manner. To do this, Nao would have to balance three factors: the good that can come from a patient taking the medication, the harm that could result from not taking the medication, and respect for the patient’s autonomy.

The Andersons and Rodrigue are researching how to use machine learning to develop ethical principles that can be used to weigh the consequences of particular actions in order to make the ethically correct decision. For instance, if the patient refuses to take the medicine, Nao could decide the benefit of taking the medicine does not outweigh the importance of the patient’s autonomy. But, in a life-threatening situation, Nao should determine it is more important to protect the patient from harm and could actually email the patient’s doctor and ask him to intervene.

Becker’s project deals with sound recognition. He wants to give Nao the ability to listen to sounds, identify and make sense of them.

“For example,” Becker explains, “Nao would think ‘Was that a good sound? Was that a bad sound? Do I need to take action?’ I want Nao to recognize when someone is crying out for help and then take steps to help.”

Watch interviews with Timothy Becker and Mathieu Rodrigue.

The research team is also managing to have some fun with Nao. He acts out scenes from the Star Wars Trilogy and dances to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Nao the Robot

Professor Michael Anderson with Nao

Tim Becker and Mat Rodrigue with Nao