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Humans and Automata

A Social Study of Robotics


Riccardo Campa

The book takes a close look at the social dimensions of robotics. It examines some of the projects on which robotic engineers are presently working, explores the dreams and hopes connected with these undertakings and determines if there is a relation between automation and unemployment within the socio-economic system. Furthermore, it explores the possible futures generated by the development of artificial intelligence and outlines the core ideas of roboethics. Last but not least, it examines the systems of military robots, with special emphasis on the ethical issues raised by the design, construction and utilization of these systems of weaponry.
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2. Workers and Automata


2.1 Artificial Intelligence and Industrial Automation

The concept of ‘artificial intelligence’ is a vast one which includes all the forms of thinking produced by artificial machines. The concept of AI is therefore strongly related to that of automation, that is, of machines behaving autonomously, albeit in response to certain inputs and in the presence of programs. Any inorganic machine conceived and construed by humans – be they desktop computers or semi-mobile robots, dishwashers or power looms – and able to carry out the tasks that humans carry out using their own intelligence is an automaton. In other words, “a certain category of sets of elements are ‘universal’ in the sense that one can assemble such elements into machines with which one can realize functions which are arbitrary to within certain reasonable restrictions” (Minsky 1956). Given this definition, it follows that all functioning automata are endowed with a certain degree of artificial intelligence. The refrigerator is less intelligent than a PC, in more or less the same way as an insect is less intelligent than a vertebrate. And some do not hesitate to compare the various forms of organic and inorganic intelligence (Moravec 1997).

Automation is therefore not something new that has arisen in the last few years, but the fruit of a long and slow historical process that can be taken back to the mechanical calculators of Charles Babbage or Blaise Pascal, if not all the way to Heron’s automata. Therefore whoever has a more revolutionary...

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