The Economist quotes roboticist Hugh Herr as saying that disabilities are conditions that persist "because of poor technology." The Economist reports that Herr "unexpectedly pulled up his trouser legs to reveal his bionic legs, and then danced a little jig. In future, he suggested, people might choose to replace an arthritic, painful limb with a fully functional robotic one." They quote him as saying, "Why wouldn’t you replace it? We’re going to see a lot of unusual situations like that."
But new technology leads to new laws. According to the Economist, some of the questions we need to ask are: "Is a prosthetic legally part of your body? When is it appropriate to amputate a limb and replace it with a robotic one? What are the legal rights of a person with ‘locked in’ syndrome who communicates via a brain-computer interface? Do brain implants (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show) and body-enhancement devices require changes to the definition of disability?
"The RoboLaw project is an effort to anticipate such quandaries and work out where and how legal frameworks might need to be changed as the technology of bionics and neural interfaces improves." But overly rigid regulations might stifle innovation that could help disabled people live full lives.
Meanwhile, roboticists are trying to make robots seem less threatening to us, since future robots will working alongside humans, taking over menial tasks in the workplace to an even greater extent than they already have.
In the September 18th edition of the New York Times, John Markoff quotes roboticist Rodney A. Brooks, who has developed a "friendly" robot named "Baxter," as saying, "Our folks loved it and they felt very comfortable with it. Even the older folks didn’t perceive it as a threat."
Of course, robots ARE a threat to our jobs. What does Brooks have to say about that? He says that employees whose menial tasks are now being done by robots are not being laid off, but instead are being assigned to jobs that require higher-level skills, including TRAINING those robots to work on manufacturing lines.
The Master of the Key wasn’t a robot, but he didn’t seem quite human either, because he delivered information to Whitley, when he burst into his hotel room in 1998, that Whitley had never heard before, such as the startling news that the soul is a SCIENCE that we have yet to understand and that we are stuck on this planet because the parents of the child who would have given us the ability to travel into space was killed in the holocaust!
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