Short Films From IEEE TechEthics Explore Human-Robot Relationships

The futuristic scenarios can help experts create ethical guidelines

20 December 2017

One way to anticipate what our relationship with robots might look like is to make films about the subject. Visual stories can elicit emotions that might surprise viewers—such as the awe of seeing a humanoid care for a dog or the heartbreak of a robot trying to bring its owner back to life. Films also can help ethicists imagine futuristic scenarios as they’re creating guidelines for human-machine interaction.

That’s the idea behind IEEE Member Heather Knight’s robot theater company, Marilyn Monrobot, which offers the annual Robot Film Festival. An assistant professor of robotics at Oregon State University, Knight leads the Charisma research group, where students build social robots that are charming, expressive, and funny.

In her talk at the IEEE TechEthics conference, held in October in Washington, D.C., Knight said storytelling is a helpful way for people to process new information, particularly about unfamiliar experiences.

Knight showed several short films at the conference. Below is a video about a humanoid that cares for its owner’s dog—even after the owner accidentally is taken away by an autonomous garbage truck.

In another film, a robot caretaker attempts to bring its elderly owner back to life by placing batteries in her pocket. The film could help viewers reflect on the ethics of adult children placing the responsibility of caring for their parents on a machine.

And in the following video, you can learn about karakuri—automatons that date back some 300 years in Japan. The miniature bots rely on pulleys and weights to perform activities such as archery and calligraphy. Karakuri mechanics have led the way for today’s robots.

For more videos, visit the Robot Film Festival website.

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