Is It Ethical to Kick a Robot?

Videos of Boston Dynamics employees striking humanoid and doglike robots enraged many viewers

6 June 2016

When robotics company Boston Dynamics wanted to show off how its doglike robot Spot could keep its balance, it filmed its employees kicking it, then posted the footage on YouTube. The video, which went viral, enraged many people, who called the behavior cruel and immoral. In another video, a Boston Dynamics employee used a long cardboard tube to shove the company’s humanoid robot Atlas to the floor to show off Atlas’s ability to stand back up.

As robots begin to look and act more like living things, violence against them makes people feel uncomfortable, according to a report by CNN. But hitting a robot touches no rule of ethics. As Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, in England, told CNN, “The only way it’s unethical is if the robot could feel pain.”

This article is part of our June 2016 special issue on artificial intelligence.

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