What are robotics? – The term, risks and ethical issues

The objective of robotics is the optimization of interaction between information technology and kinetics.

This is conducted by linking computer science, in particular artificial intelligence, with electrical and mechanical engineering.

A robot combines these areas – this involves an entity, which is able to interact with the physical world using sensors systems, actuators and information processing.

The development of robots is the key area in robotics.

Terms and history of robotics

  • The term robot was coined by the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov, when he used it for the first time in the short story Runaround in March 1942.

  • Robotics in ancient times

  • The history of robotics is however much older. In ancient times numerous attempts were made to build automatic machines.

    For example Heron von Alexandria constructed music playing machines, Archytas von Tarent, who is regarded as the founder of mechanics, amazed his fellow human beings as early as the 4th century B.C. with an actual flying dove made of wood and operated by compressed air.

    In the middle ages and the early modern period inventors including Al-Dschazari and Leonardo Da Vinci designed humanoid automatic machines.

  • However robots based on information technology only became technically feasible in 1947, when the transistor was invented.

    The first patents for industrial robots were registered in the 60s in the USA.

    In the 70s and 80s the greatest progress was made in the area of industrial robots in particular in Japan. In 1997 the first mobile robot landed on Mars.

    Since then robots have not only taken industry by storm but also our living rooms.

Modern robots and their areas of application

  • In the 21st century the use of robots is gaining an increasing level of significance.

    A number of industrial companies would no longer be competitive without the use of robots.

    Originally robots were employed for the most part in those areas, which proved dangerous for people. In the meantime they are used in many cases for reasons of efficiency.

    In a number of areas robots can work significantly more precisely and faster than people.

  • Robotics - drones

  • In the industrial sector modern robots are used in mass production, for example in the manufacture of automobiles, microprocessors and many other technical devices.

    Robots have been on the mass market for a long time as household appliances in the form of vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers or as toys in the form of drones.

  • Robots are also being increasingly employed in the medical sector.

    Robots have been indispensable in this branch for a long time – whether they are used for operations or rehabilitation.

    In the entertainment, education and service sectors the first models are already on the market.

Risks and ethical issues in robotics

  • As versatile as the area of application for robots is, the greater the possible safety risks linked to their use.

    Correspondingly it is not easy to establish general safety regulations for robotics.

    Based on the industry, applicable criteria has already been established, which could guarantee the safety of robot use to a large extent.

    It is significantly more difficult to find solutions to ethical aspects, which arise when robots are used. In particular in the case of robots, which are employed for safety and military purposes.

    Today attacks by drones and other military robots regularly register loss of human life, often among civilians.

    The fact that life and death decisions are made autonomously based on algorithms and artificial intelligence, is an extremely alarming ethical development.

  • Robotics - ethical issues

Rights for robots?

  • Legal issues, which go beyond the manufacturer’s or owner’s liability, could become a subject for discussion in the future.

    Based on another similarly rapid development in artificial intelligence, the question of whether (human) rights should also apply to robots, is increasingly becoming the subject of social debates. Numerous science fiction novels have addressed these problems.

    An equally significant factor, robots pose a potentially high risk for the employment market. Currently hundreds of thousands of workers are being replaced year for year by machines. This development will accelerate in the coming years and will not spare the more high-ranking professions.

  • Robotics - justice