Robot Expert Panel (REP I)

Robot Expert Panel (REP I)

Roboticists representing six different robot projects/companies spent a day with the REELER group to discuss ethics in robotics.

● Walter Baccinelli, Ab.Acus 
● Nadine Bender, KUKA
● Alberto Borghese, The MoveCare Project
● Franziska Kirstein, Blue Ocean Robotics
● Panayiotis Philimis, CyRIC
● Johanne Seibt, TRANSOR  

Social Drama in Robotics - a method under development

© REELER 2017

REELER researchers and the invited roboticists explored together ethical issues relating to selected robots from the perspective of the various subject-areas present in the group. Thus, through the method of social drama, concepts like learning, design, motivation, communication, engineering and dignity got to role play realistic scenarios with the selected robots.

"The social drama method we used was completely new to me and I was surprised how well it worked. I would have never thought that embodying a concept and staying in this perspective for discussion would work so well."   -- Nadine Bender, KUKA

"I experienced once again the necessity to look at the same topic from totally different perspectives. Many non-technical issues related to the design and development of the robots have been explored, that from the technical perspective would never been considered."   -- Walter Baccinelli, Ab.Acus

"Being an engineer its always difficult to see through other aspects such as ethics, societal issues, etc. Definitely working as a designer and visionary of new types of robots this really helped me a lot to see some other aspects relates to ethics and society I haven't experienced before. So designers of new androids, robots or humanoids must take these into consideration while at the same time not withholding their imagination for revolutionising the field of robotics."   -- Panayiotis Philimis, CyRIC

Purpose and inspiration

With the ambition to increase collaborative learning between robot engineering and the social sciences and humanities (SSH), REELER seeks to develop a new approach to this interdisciplinary exploration by introducing social drama as a methodological tool in robotics. 

The method that we tested and explored at our first REP is still under development, but takes its inspiration from Sociodrama (Jacob Moreno 1932). Sociodrama helps groups work in engaged creative and spontaneous explorations of wider cultural and philosophical issues and themes. In the action through Sociodrama we can learn to speak as the other in a dialogical encounter with them, whether they be a person, a robot or ethical question.

REELER wants to exploit the extraordinary potential of Sociodrama to explore an issue from multiple perspectives without the constraint of reality to enable an in-depth understanding of each other and the questions being examined in action. The aim of our own particular method, social drama in robotics, is to explore: 1) How REELER can help roboticists reflect on responsible ethics in relation to their robots, and 2) How social scientists may contribute their own expertises to roboticists' practices and expertises. 

Social drama in action

The participants of the REP I broke out into small interdisciplinary groups, each of which devised a social drama scenario centered around their particular robot in relation to the day's topic: distributed ethical responsiblity.

Select roboticists enacted the parts of their own robots, which included both service and industrial robots with functions relating to sanitation, care, health, and manufacturing. Grouped with each robot were social scientists and other roboticists representing their areas of expertise, such as field research, ethics, learning, engineering, and innovation systems.

Each group first enacted their social drama, then sat for a panel Q&A. The scenarios brought forth such issues as worker displacement, technological enskillment, design challenges, user constraints, and regulations. The panel discussed certain ethical themes that emerged from the social dramas.

Themes elicited from the social drama scenarios

In the panel discussions following each social drama, a number of themes emerged. We present a selection of these themes below, along with some questions for further exploration.

The robot What is a robot? Is it unique from other machines? Or is it just a tool? What is its role in relation to the human and to society? Do we need a uniform robot definition? And if so, what might it be?

Economy & work What role does funding play in robot design? What are the economic impacts of implementing robots? 

Design What is involved in the design process? How is the user considered? When does the user participate? Can ethical responsibility be placed in design? Who do we consider to be users? Who else might we consider as users / affected stakeholders?

Ethics What is ethical responsibility? How do we think about ethics in robotics? How can we translate ethical thinking from the individual to the work processes? When robots effect change in our physical social worlds, what are the ethical implications and how do these relate to responsibility?

Distributed responsibility Where is ethical responsibility in a distributed technology? What is the implication of distributed ethical responsibility from a roboticist perspective?

Collaborative learning What is learning? How does it tie in to design and implementation? How did we learn in this REP and how can we learn from each other in future? How do we establish common ground between the disciplines of robotics and SSH, but also bring robot developments closer to societal needs and concerns?

Reeling forward

The method of social drama in robotics is a first contribution by REELER in this direction, and it is to be evolved during the project period (ending 2020). At the REP I, this method proved to be a useful stepping stone. A survey conducted among the roboticists right after the REP showed that all participants from robotics found it relevant and rewarding though several things are still to be adjusted. The method demands a close collaboration between disciplines but has also shown to open up for giving roboticist an insight into how social scientists may enhance their design work to ensure that more ethical aspects are considered.  The process of letting human protagonists play out themes (concepts) and robots elicited new knowledge from very diverse disciplines, because these protagonists play a part they already have deep knowledge about and which is brought to bear in a collaborative effort.

The next REP workshop will be the 6th of September 2018 in Milan, Italy.