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Nudging for good: robots and the ethical appropriateness of nurturing empathy and charitable behavior

Abstract

An under-examined aspect of human–robot interaction that warrants further exploration is whether robots should be permitted to influence a user’s behavior for that person’s own good. Yet an even more controversial practice could be on the horizon, which is allowing a robot to “nudge” a user’s behavior for the good of society. In this article, we examine the feasibility of creating companion robots that would seek to nurture a user’s empathy toward other human beings. As more and more computing devices subtly and overtly influence human behavior, it is important to draw attention to whether it would be ethically appropriate for roboticists to pursue this type of design pathway. Our primary focus is on whether a companion robot could encourage humans to perform charitable acts; this design possibility illustrates the range of socially just actions that a robot could potentially elicit from a user and what the associated ethical concerns may be.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For an example of a conference series, see http://conferences.au.dk/robo-philosophy/. Accessed 26 June 2016.

  2. 2.

    For images of these robots, see http://www.parorobots.com/index.asp; https://www.jibo.com/; http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/roobo-offers-sneak-peek-into-worlds-first-intelligent-pet-robot-pepcom-digital-experience-2135140.htm; https://www.ald.softbankrobotics.com/en/cool-robots/nao; https://www.ald.softbankrobotics.com/en/cool-robots/pepper. Accessed 26 June 2016.

  3. 3.

    For example, refer to the different emotional expressions that the robot Kismet can make: http://www.ai.mit.edu/projects/humanoid-robotics-group/kismet/kismet.html. Accessed 20 May 2016.

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Correspondence to Jason Borenstein.

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Borenstein, J., Arkin, R. Nudging for good: robots and the ethical appropriateness of nurturing empathy and charitable behavior. AI & Soc 32, 499–507 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-016-0684-1

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Keywords

  • Charity
  • Companion robots
  • Design ethics
  • Empathy
  • Nudges
  • Robot ethics