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


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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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).

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