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The Five Robots—A Taxonomy for Roboethics


The distillation of four “gravitational centers” of discourse on the ethically relevant issues regarding robots constitutes the elements of the taxonomy developed in this paper. In this paper I take the birds-eye perspective, looking on the ongoing discussions and picking out clusters: (1) Robots as mere means to achieve a specific goal; (2) the robot as an addressee/recipient of ethical behavior; (3) the robot as a moral agent; (4) the robot as an ethical impact-factor. A fifth dimension is then introduced: The “meta-perspective” invites ethicists and researchers in robotics to be sensitive to how their discipline and thinking is influenced.

One the one hand, this taxonomy helps roboticists to navigate through the ethical discourse, on the other hand it creates a common ground for the needed dialogue between professional ethicists and people with hands on experience in robotics. The paper concludes with implications for future collaborations between ethicists and researchers.

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    South Korea’s government for example wants to put robots in every household until 2020. See [30].

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    For a definition of robots in general see [7, pp. 1–5]; for a definition of service robots see [32, p. 352]; for a definition of domestic robots see [54].

  3. 3.

    It is clear that the term “roboethics” could be used in a variety of ways, grasping a wide range of phenomena, not just within philosophy but also in intercultural debates. For the intercultural aspects of roboethics see the survey in [6].

  4. 4.

    I borrow that term from Daniel Dennett [10], who introduced it in a different context.

  5. 5.

    I am thankful to one of the anonymous reviewers for bringing that to my attention.

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I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers who really helped me to improve the quality of this paper. Further, I am indebted to Editor-in-Chief Shuzhi Sam Ge and JEO Assistant Anand David for their guidance during the publication process.

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Correspondence to Steffen Steinert.

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Steinert, S. The Five Robots—A Taxonomy for Roboethics. Int J of Soc Robotics 6, 249–260 (2014).

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  • Roboethics
  • Robots
  • Ethics of robotics
  • Moral machines
  • Moral agents