Maia Bernick ’15 tells us about the first of the public discussions on Ethics and Technology that she led recently:


This Spring, I had the pleasure and privilege of running a series of discussions with the help of the Philosophy Department. The overarching theme was Ethics and Technology, while my specific focus was the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) will have on different areas of society. Each event started with an introduction to the topic provided by me, then moved into a group discussion guided (but not bounded) by a set of pre-written questions.

The first discussion examined robots in the medical field and as caregivers. Inspired by my interest in the growing elderly population, I came to the conclusion that one way of providing care for them would be to integrate AI caregivers with our existing providers. This idea is no where close to novel, though, as researchers have been working for years on creating technologies like ‘nursebots’ and other automated assistants.


Preliminary tests and application of these kinds of robots has shown great promise and potential. Take for example, PARO, a seal pup robot designed to help those with neurodegenerative disorders reconnect with their world. PARO has shown to reduce agitation in a way that reduces or eliminates the need for medication, thus lessening the reliance on medication to control harmful behaviors. Currently, there are also more complex ‘helper’ robots likbandit IIe Bandit II, a humanoid caregiver robot from the Asimov lab at UCLA, who are in testing at assisted living homes. However, it is important to recognize that we are still far away from a sci-fi movie version of human-robot existence. In fact, roboticists are just now figuring out the haptic feedback (sensation of touch) simulation necessary to create hands that can actually grab things.

Being able to have this discussion with the campus community has been an invaluable experience for me. Not only did I get to share my thoughts on a subject matter which I had done a lot of extracurricular research on, I also got to engage in discussion with a group who could challenge me to think outside the box of my preexisting opinions and conceptions. Furthermore, I feel events like this show the multi-faceted and dynamic breadth of the study of Philosophy. It is my earnest hope that these talks will become a regular occurrence where students get to share their unique intellectual niches and I look forward to seeing what the next semester’s topic is.

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