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Robot Companions: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues


Abstract and Figures

The FET Flagship Candidate “Robot Companions for Citizens” (RCC) proposes a transformative initiative, addressing a cross-domain grand scientific and technological challenge, to develop a new class of machines and embodied information technologies, called the Robot Companions for Citizens (RCCs) that will assist European society to achieve sustainable welfare. The vision, goals, and programme of FET-F RCC are summarised in the RCC Manifesto. In this report we address the broader societal issues raised by the flagship project, and outline the ethically-grounded and strategically innovative approach through which we will address them. We also explain how RCC will take a proactive approach in driving the evolution of European and International law towards the safe and responsible introduction of RCCs in society.
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Deliverable D2.4: Robot Companions: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues
FET Flagship Preparatory Action CA-RoboCom
Coordination Action for the design and description of the FET
Flagship candidate Robot Companions for Citizens
Call identifier: FP7-ICT-2011.9.5: FET Flagship Initiative Preparatory Actions
Grant Agreement: FP7-ICT-2011-FET-F # 284951
Version Number:
v1.6 (Final)
Tony J Prescott, Vanessa Evers, Tracy
Epton, Kevin McKee, Mark Hawley, Thomas
Webb, David Benyon, Sebastian Conran,
Roger Strand, Illah Nourbakhsh, Madeleine
de Cock Buning, Paul Verschure, Paolo Dario
and the Robot Companions for Citizens
Society Community Working Group
Date of preparation:
April 26, 2012
Date of last modification:
May 10, 2012
Expected delivery date:
April 30, 2012
Actual delivery date:
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ROBOT COMPANIONS: ETHICAL, LEGAL AND SOCIAL ISSUES ....................................... 3!
SECTION 1!POTENTIAL SOCIETAL IMPACTS OF RCC ...................................................... 3!
GENERATION OF FRIENDLY ASSISTIVE ROBOTS ....................................................... 4!
RECEPTIVE DIALOGUE WITH EUROPEAN SOCIETY .................................................. 6!
SECTION 4!TAKING A PROACTIVE STANCE ON LEGAL ISSUES ................................... 8!
SOCIETY ................................................................................................................................ 9!
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The FET Flagship Candidate “Robot Companions for Citizens” (RCC) proposes a
transformative initiative, addressing a cross-domain grand scientific and technological
challenge, to develop a new class of machines and embodied information technologies, called
the Robot Companions for Citizens (RCCs) that will assist European society to achieve
sustainable welfare. The vision, goals, and programme of FET-F RCC are summarised in the
RCC Manifesto1. In this report we address the broader societal issues raised by the flagship
project, and outline the ethically-grounded and strategically innovative approach through
which we will address them. We also explain how RCC will take a proactive approach in
driving the evolution of European and International law towards the safe and responsible
introduction of RCCs in society.
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The potential impacts of the RCC Flagship are extremely broad. We envisage impacts in
many spheres of human existenceprivate, social, economic, urban and physical. In the
commercial sphere, the economies of Europe are under threat due to the high cost of
manufacturing. Across the world, industrialised countries are investing in new generation
robot technologies to make factories more efficient. Europe needs to be proactive in science
and technology development in order to maintain a position as a field leader. The potential
impacts of the Flagship programme in these areas is considered in the RCC Competitiveness
White Paper2. At the physical level we are faced with the challenges of man-made and natural
disasters, over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution and environmental degradation.
The emerging market of field roboticsrobot platforms that can operate in natural or
unstructured environments, or that can fly, dive, or climbwill need to be developed to assist
with these challenges. New RCC technologies will have transformative impacts in a range of
settings that are currently inaccessible to robots. We expect increased efficiency of our
agriculture, improvements in resource harvesting and conservation of the natural world, and
changes to our emergency services that will make them safer, faster, and more effective.
RCCs will also have major impacts in the personal and social spheres. A critical
welfare issue that has motivated the development of the FET-F RCC project is the dramatic
demographic shift that will happen in the next fifty years in the age of the European
population. By 2060, 30 per cent of the population of Europe will be 65 years of age or over,
compared to 17 per cent in 20103. Moreover, the ratio of senior citizens (65 or over) to
working citizens (20 to 64)the “old age dependency ratio”is expected to change from 28
per cent in 2010 to 58 per cent in 2060. Taking into account dependents under the age of 19,
by 2060 there is expected to almost one dependent person (aged under 19 or 65 or over) to
every one in work. This is an unprecedented eventnever before in human history have older
citizens made up such a large proportion of the European populace. Along with a society with
a greater number of older citizens we can also anticipate a society with a greater number of
disabled citizens since the prevalence of disability increases with age. More specifically,
whilst it is estimated that, worldwide, around 15 per cent of adults have some form of a
disability, this rises to 46 per cent in those aged 60 and above4. We can thus say, with
certainty, that this demographic shift will have enormous economic impacts (e.g., health,
pensions, long-term care) as well as placing unprecedented demands on younger citizens for
the care of their elders. On a more positive side, it is also important to recognise the
aspirations and expectations of older citizens to lead active, fulfilling and independent lives
and to continue to make a useful contribution to the wider society for as long as possible.
Indeed, given good health and welfare, there is evidence that people are happier during this
later phase of their life than at earlier stages of adulthood5.
CA-RoboCom D2.4 RCC: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
Whilst a coherent strategy for coping with the demographic shift will require much
more than the development of enabling technologies, we see significant potential for using
RCCs to address the welfare needs of the ageing society6. Indeed, in introducing RCCs that
can assist the welfare of older or disabled citizens we also expect to create technologies that
are useful to all citizens. Rather than create a targeted technology, we therefore propose new
forms of universal and adaptive robot technology that will be useful in the daily lives of all
European citizens.
The introduction of RCCs will not solve all societal problems raised by the
demographic shift, which must also be addressed through wider political and social actions.
However, RCCs can address the shortage of skilled labour in the caring professions, assist
carers to be more efficient, and allow them to focus more on the human-to-human aspects of
their work. We are currently reaching a limit in the introduction of non-robotic ICT
technologies in the home. No computer, however smart, can intervene to physically assist
with the many daily tasks that must be performed to maintain human health and dignity. At
the moment, older and disabled people rely on family, or on carers who are paid privately or
by the state, to support them in these aspects of their daily lives. Wages for carers are low,
and there are widespread concerns about poor standards of care impacting on the human
rights of older citizens7. These problems will be exacerbated by the shifting ratio of older to
younger people. The recruitment of foreign labour into the European caring professions does
not solve this problem since evidence suggests that such immigrants will stay in Europe in old
age contributing to the user need. Where such immigrant carers are part of the black
economy, there is also evidence of some abuse of workers’ human rights 8. Improved
medicine, by itself, is also not a solution to the problems created by the demographic shift.
Indeed, medicine, by prolonging life, risks making the problem more acute, where the lives of
people are prolonged but their independence remains compromised. We consider that the
need to physically act in support of people’s welfare, coupled with limited resource of
European care systems, implies the need for more intelligent automation of care and
assistance in the home. To address this need is one of the primary goals of RCC.
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Important new technologies are socially disruptive and always raise significant concerns as
to whether or not their impacts will be entirely beneficial. The general answerthat
technology itself is neutral, and it is the use of technology by humans that can be for good or
badis technically correct but not especially helpful. In developing any new technology, the
responsible approach must be to consider how it will be used from the outset, striving to
create safeguards against improper or damaging uses and directing development efforts to
those aspects of the technology that promise the most helpful impacts.
In the 19th century the poet William Wordsworth and the art critic John Ruskin both
wrote passionately against the introduction of the steam train in rural England9. They feared
the destruction of the beauty of the countryside and the ending of a way of life that had
persisted for centuries. Ruskin and Wordsworth were right that the train, an important symbol
of the ongoing industrial revolution, represented a significant and irreversible break with the
past. What they did not foresee, however, was that in the coming century the train would
come to be recognised as one of the most effective mass transit technologiesin particular,
one of the least polluting and most energy-efficientand that the steam train itself would
eventually be seen as a benign and romantic image of the lost rural idyll.
But we should not dismiss the concerns of latter-day Ruskins and Wordsworths
lightly. The visions of artists and poets can give clues as to the likely impacts of our work as
scientists and technologists. Since the invention of computers in the 1940s, many writers and
CA-RoboCom D2.4 RCC: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
film-makers have imagined the possible impacts of robots on society. In films, these have
ranged from the dystopias of the Terminator (1984), The Matrix (1999), or I Robot (2004),
where humans create a technology that eventually seeks to replace them, to the positive
visions of robots as companions to humans in Silent Running (1972), Star Wars (1977), Short
Circuit (1988), and Wall-E (2008). In these latter examples, various forms of service and field
robots fulfil complementary (to human) roles and work with people to help them achieve their
Thus, art looks at both sides of the coin, imagining both the worst and best for the
role of robots in future human societies. Whilst these efforts might give some clues as to our
actual future, it is worth noting that fear of technology is also confounded, in many of the
more dystopian visions, with fear of ourselves. Indeed, in the 20th century the robot joined the
bogeyman, the werewolf, and the extra-terrestrial as images of the unknown, and as
exemplifying aspects of human nature that provoke strong fears. In particular, the robot is
sometimes used to portray a form of emotionless and non-empathic rationality that has no
regard for human values or human life (e.g. Terminator), and is therefore wilfully damaging
and murderous. In our own future, however, there is no reason why we, as robot developers,
should create robots that deploy intelligence in a way that is insensitive to human needs. In
other scenarios (such as Short Circuit and Wall-E), the writers imagine embedding positive
human traits in future robotsdiligence, hard work, concern for the environment, empathy,
and appreciation of others. To devise and build such robots that will work with us, that will
understand our needs and intentions, and that will act directly to promote our well-being is the
central goal of RCC.
As noted above, the possibility of future AI (Artificial Intelligence) replacing
humanity, is a significant theme in current culture, but the scenarios under which this might
take place are far-fetched10, and we can take straightforward precautions to assure against
such unlikely outcomes11. Other concerns, raised by the possibility of RCCs include the worry
that robots will lead people to be more isolated from each other, that robots will replace
people in their jobs (leading to loss of income and perhaps a less meaningful existence), that
robots will be used by criminals, that robot carers will ultimately lead to a loss of our
humanity (the human capacity to care) (see 12 13 14 and further below). These are all genuine
concerns that we should consider carefully. It is worth noting, however, that many of these
worries apply to technology more generally, and that the outcomes are always more complex
than first imagined. For instance, the impact of computing itself has been to both create and
eliminate jobs (the net effect probably being a net increase in employment), to increase
human isolation in some respects (e.g. through home working), but decreasing it in others
(e.g. through social networking). Fear of industrial automation has been highlighted as one of
the drivers of concern about advanced robots in popular culture15, however, a recent report by
the International Federation for Robotics which examined the use of industrial robots in
relation to employment in manufacturing in six countries, found no effect of robotics on
overall employment (which increased over the period studied) and that robotics itself led,
directly or indirectly, to the creation of up to 10 million new jobs16. Industrial robots create
jobs by allowing precise or consistent performance in a manner that would not be achievable
otherwise, by improving working conditions, by making a sector competitive (in world terms)
that would otherwise be uncompetitive, and by creating downstream jobs through new
products and services. It seems likely similar positive consequences for job creation could
flow from the development of RCCs.
Whilst the outlook is positive, there is certainly work to be done, and no room for
complacency, in investigating and addressing possible causes of concern about the negative
impact of future robots. Studies of various kinds will be required to address these issues (see
Section 3) and scientists and technologists will require humility and empathy to understand
the concerns of lay people. However, as with any new technology, fears of unintended
repercussions have to be balanced against possible positive benefits that, for RCCs, include
advances in many areas of human welfare (see above and the RCC Manifesto1). We contend,
therefore, that the development of robot technology in the 21st century should be pursued, but
CA-RoboCom D2.4 RCC: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
within an ethical framework that strives to obtain and maintain the broad consent of society,
and that includes proactive efforts to recognise and avoid negative outcomes. This approach
also envisages a key role for the humanities and the social sciences in helping to identify and
evaluate candidate scenarios concerning the future roles of robots, assessing risk, and
directing our research efforts in the most promising and beneficial directions.
Understanding how people perceive robots is a fundamental step in assessing how
accepting people are likely to be of allowing RCCs into their homes, their lives and their
society. Through social science research aimed at understanding what people think and feel
about future RCCs, and which particular perceptions influence acceptance of RCCs, the
flagship will seek to create RCCs that meet people’s wants as well as their needs.
Furthermore, use of psychological interventions and theoretically informed communication
strategies to target key perceptions can promote a balanced appraisal of the costs and benefits
of RCCs in prospective users. We have already evaluated the existing literature on attitudes to
robots17 and have conducted some surveys of implicit and explicit attitudes of our own. A key
conclusion of this research is that people can distinguish technological fact from science
fiction and that the dramatic and extreme possibilities highlighted in some cultural
representations of robots do not reflect the typical concerns of most people. Although
attitudes vary, most people are open-minded and interested in future robot technologies, and
the possibility that these might play a more significant role in our lives.
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In RCC we consider ethical issues along two dimensions as illustrated in Figure 1 (adapted
from 18). The societal impact dimension (vertical) is concerned with the effects of RCCs on
people and on European society, projected here along the dimension of time from the short-
term to the very long-term. In the first 1-10 years we expect significant social and commercial
impact of RCCs, in the longer-term10 years and longerwe expect to see transformational
impacts of RCCs on human-machine and human-human relationships. The FET-F ethics
programme for RCC will involve studies of user needs and perceptions, robot ethics
approaches, and science and technology studies of impacts to ensure that RCCs are developed
to promote the positive benefits of RCC technology and to minimise potential negative
Equally important is the dimension of research practice (horizontal axis in Figure 1)
and of ethical governance of the FET-F project. Here we consider the relationship of the RCC
Consortium to the European public, during the course of the FET-F, and in relation to the
manner in which we conduct our research. We plan to be an exemplar large-scale publicly-
funded R&D project by demonstrating that research can be pursued in the context of a
meaningful dialogue with the wider community19, in which we continually present and revise
the goals, achievements, and methods of RCC through a programme of open science and
public engagement activities. By open science, we mean that we make it possible and
straightforward for the public to observe and critique our scientific and technological
activities20, and we establish project management structures that collate and address their
advice and criticisms, implementing corrective actions to our objectives and procedures
where needed. All researchers in RCC will be trained in open science practices in order to
implement this policy. In addition to practising research in the open, we will also proactively
initiate and sustain a direct dialogue with society through an extensive programme of public
engagement activity. We will, of course, address the groups who may be most directly
impacted by RCCsthe prospective users, but we will also address non-users who may be
impacted by the development of this technology.
CA-RoboCom D2.4 RCC: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
A further goal is also to provide the best possible and accurate feedback and advice to
stakeholders and policy makers, to ensure that our flagship is well aligned with the broader of
objectives of the European Union. To achieve these goals, at all levels of the consortium,
including, and especially, the most senior, we will commit to engaging directly with this
wider community and we will provide training in the appropriate communication skills to all
of our advocates. A primary aim will be to foster a broad understanding of our research
agenda, but, as importantly, we will also listen and respond to, the views of European citizens
and of the organisations who represent them.
Figure 1. The RCC Ethics Strategy considers societal and ethical issues in the FET-F along two
dimensionsinvestigating societal impacts (vertical) and pursuing research practices that foster a
meaningful exchange with the wider European society (horizontal).
The two dimensions of the ethics programme of RCC intersect at the point where
consideration of societal impacts, meets with the S&T (Science and Technology) research
efforts directed at building candidate RCC platforms that can be deployed in societal settings.
We recognise that the development of useful new technologies occurs where bright ideas and
scientific insightstechnology pushintersect with a good understanding of user needs and
perceptions, and of the broader social contextsocietal pull. The integration and synthesis of
these two forces for change will be achieved through an iterative human-centred design21
approach that will place concern for people at the heart of our technology development
The human-centred design process will include all potential user groups as different
user groups will have different needs (Figure 2). For instance, RCCs aimed at safety services,
will prioritise reliability and ease of use under challenging or stressful conditions, those aimed
at older people should support the process of healthy ageing whilst maintaining perceptions of
control and empowerment. The approach of designing robots to fit particular roles in human
“ecologies” demands new tools, methods and techniques that incorporate and move beyond
current conceptions of human-centred design22 . For instance, understanding the delicate
ecology of home life requires design ethnography, home observations, understanding the
sense of place and togetherness, and subtle probes to get designers to appreciate the needs and
opportunities for robot companions and their owners.
CA-RoboCom D2.4 RCC: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
Figure 2. The human-centred design cycle.
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Significant legal issues need to be addressed if RCCs are to be deployed in European
society in both its public and the private spheres. These issues include the legal status and
capacity of the RC, liability in case of damage or injury, data privacy, standardization and
issues regarding intellectual property ownership of RC-generated works.
The RCC Flagship’s approach will be proactive, ensuring these issues are carefully
examined in advance of steps towards commercial RCC platforms. Members of the
consortium are already active in these areas, such as the preparation of a Green Paper on
Robotics in Europe23 and a White Paper on Regulating Robotics.24
When RCCs become active in our personal and social spheres, their actions will have
legal impact. For an RCC to fulfil its function as a companion it may need to enter into valid
legal transactions, such as purchase agreements. Therefore it is to be expected that the RCC
will require some legal capacity. On the other hand, if in the course of their activities they
cause material or personal damages, the question of liability includes a large range of
potential candidates from computer programmers and manufacturers, involved in the
production of RCCs, to the users of the RCC themselves. Because the possibility of liability
for damages might inhibit the development and discourage the later use of Robot
Companions, (compulsory) insurance systems may have to be introduced, thus creating
certainty of damage compensation.
At the same time, RCCs with some self-awareness cannot be treated simply as things.
Sentience, autonomy and the potential ability to experience frustration, or even suffering,
raise issues of legal categorization. The question is whether, and if yes, how degrees of
sentience, autonomy and a capacity to feelcould be assessed as a basis for assigning legal
standing to RCCs.
RCCs will also collect personal data about the citizens they serve as companions,
which may be processed and stored locally or online, and shared with, or be
monitored/observed by third parties. Therefore the privacy-related issues that could arise
when RCCs are deployed in society must be investigated, as well as how the processing,
storage and protection of private data should be governed.
Another issue that will have to be addressed is the RCC and its potential capacity to
create and invent robot-generated works or patentable inventions. This raises fundamental
CA-RoboCom D2.4 RCC: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
questions with regard to the objects of intellectual property rights, and to the ownership of
these rights.
However, whilst RCCs are unique in some respects it is also important to recognize
that many of the potential legal issues surrounding robots are already addressed in existing
legislation. For instance, regulations surrounding corporate entities, IT systems, motor
vehicles, or even domestic animals could be relevant to the evaluation of the legal status of
RCCs. Therefore the RCC Flagship will identify to what extent RCCs will fit into existing
legislative frameworks or other regulatory (for instance soft-law) regimes, and where such
frameworks will require expansion to take account of RCCs. In doing this, the RCC Flagship
will seek to develop appropriate legal instruments to both protect consumer interests (privacy,
safety regulations) and contribute to the innovation and acceptance of RCC technology in
society, by finding a balance between protection, security and innovation.
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To ensure that our ethically-grounded and societally-focused approach is followed
consistently in all areas of the Flagship, we will follow a multi-level approach wherein
societal aspects are represented in RCC advisory, management, co-ordination, and S&T
activities through the following specific structures and mechanisms:
The Ethical Governance and Open Science Advisory Board (EGOS-AB). This will be an
independent body and a sub-group of our wider Stakeholders Advisory Board. The EGOS-AB
will advise on the evolution of the project workplan from an ethical standpoint and provide
independent and external monitoring of consortium management and S&T activities. The
board will also provide external evaluation of our “open lab” (see below), public engagement,
and ethics and open science training programmes.
The Co-ordination Activity on Ethical Governance and Open Science (COORD-EGOS)
will develop the ethical governance framework for the Flagship and have overall
responsibility for its implementation, including internal monitoring of Flagship management
and S&T activities from this perspective. The co-ordination activity will also be responsible
for the implementation and monitoring of the open science strategy including open lab, public
engagement and EGOS training activities. To ensure co-ordinated implementation of the
strategy across the Flagship the leader of COORD-EGOS will be a member of the RCC
Executive Board.
• The Society Pillar, RTD-A5, one of the Flagship’s five core research pillars, will focus on
the societal aspects of robot companions in relation to: (i) the investigation of societal needs
and the development of use cases and RCC designs using the human-centred design
approach; (ii) assessing and evaluating the societal and economic impacts of RCC
deployment and over short- and long time-frames; (iii) the development of RCC educational
programmes; and (iv) the dialogue with policy maker, stakeholders and industry.
The Human-RCC Co-existence, Ethics, and Law activity, RTD-15, will combine
experimental and cross-cultural sociological, psychological, ethics and law approaches to
investigate three key topics: (i) the human context of RCC use in relation to human-robot
social interactions and communication, public attitudes and opinions, social norms and
conventions; (ii) ethical principles and guidance around scenarios for future deployment of
RCCs; (iii) the legal aspects of RCC deployment and their implications for national and
international regulatory frameworks.
Flagship-wide activities. In addition to the above, each S&T activity will also have a task
related to the implementation of RCC ethical governance and open science strategies, and
each institutional partner in the project will have designated personnel who are responsible
for ensuring that the strategy is carried out effectively at the local level. To ensure that the key
CA-RoboCom D2.4 RCC: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
ideas and practices permeate to every level, all researchers in the Flagship will attend a short
but intensive training course on ethical governance and open science. Every S&T partner will
organize “open lab” activities where members of the public will be invited to visit and
observe work in progress. A number of key centres will also be designated as sites for year-
round open science activities (including public engagement and teaching activities).
1 CA-RoboCom D2.3. “Public version of the RCC FET Flagship proposal
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
In this article, we highlight the possible benefits, as well potential threats, related to the widespread use of robots. We follow the view that a robot cannot be analyzed on its own without taking into consideration the complex sociotechnical nexus of today's societies and that high-tech devices, such as robots, may influence how societies develop in ways could not be foreseen during the design of the robots. In our survey, we limit ourselves to presenting the ethical issues delineated by other authors and relay their lines of reasoning for raising the public's concerns. We show that disagree ments on what is ethical or not in robotics stem often from different beliefs on human nature and different expectations on what technology may achieve in the future. We do not offer a personal stance to these issues, so as to allow the reader to form his/her opinion.
The use of robots to care for the young and the old, and as autonomous agents on the battlefield, raises ethical issues.
After 50years, the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics capture the imagination of the general public while, at the same time, engendering a great deal of fear and skepticism. Isaac Asimov recognized this deep-seated misconception of technology and created the Three Laws of Robotics. The first part of this paper examines the underlying fear of intelligent robots, revisits Asimov’s response, and reports on some current opinions on the use of the Three Laws by practitioners. Finally, an argument against robotic rebellion is made along with a call for personal responsibility and suggestions for implementing safety constraints in intelligent robots.
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Close to home: An inquiry into older people and human rights in home care
  • Ehrc
EHRC (2011). Close to home: An inquiry into older people and human rights in home care.
Migrant workers in home care for older people in Germany: Use and problems of legal and irregular care
  • H Döhner
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