Are you willing to sacrifice robots to save human lives?


Supposed she looks like, sounds like, your daughter? Your wife?

❝ A team led by Sari Nijssen…and Markus Paulus…have carried out a study to determine the degree to which people show concern for robots and behave towards them in accordance with moral principles.

❝ …The study set out to answer the following question: “Under what circumstances and to what extent would adults be willing to sacrifice robots to save human lives?” The participants were faced with a hypothetical moral dilemma: Would they be prepared to put a single individual at risk in order to save a group of injured persons? In the scenarios presented the intended sacrificial victim was either a human, a humanoid robot with an anthropomorphic physiognomy that had been humanized to various degrees or a robot that was clearly recognizable as a machine.

❝ The study revealed that the more the robot was humanized, the less likely participants were to sacrifice it. Scenarios that included priming stories in which the robot was depicted as a compassionate being or as a creature with its own perceptions, experiences and thoughts, were more likely to deter the study participants from sacrificing it in the interests of anonymous humans. Indeed, on being informed of the emotional qualities allegedly exhibited by the robot, many of the experimental subjects expressed a readiness to sacrifice the injured humans to spare the robot from harm. “The more the robot was depicted as human – and in particular the more feelings were attributed to the machine – the less our experimental subjects were inclined to sacrifice it,” says Paulus.

As robots become more like humans, develop redirective processes in their “brains”, communicate with us on a level comparable to or better than our meat-machine peers…how might you decide to act?

Science-based sceptics fight back against conspiracy nuts

A poll for the Scripps Howard media organisation in 2006 suggested 36% of Americans suspected government involvement or deliberate inaction in the 9/11 attacks, and belief in a Kennedy conspiracy ran at 40% in the same poll…

While many people find conspiracy theories harmless fun, others believe there is a darker truth – that conspiracy theories are rewriting history, warping the present and altering the future. Enough is enough they say – it’s time to fight back.

Enter the sceptics with the gathering of The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in London, the first of the conferences outside the US. A fundraising offshoot of the non-profit James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), TAM London saw scientists, writers and comedians target conspiracy theories – and their close cousins pseudoscience and medical quackery – in front of an audience loosely allied by their desire for more rational, critical thinking…

The internet era has changed everything. The web-only film Loose Change, which questions the findings of the 9/11 commission, had already been viewed 10 million times by May 2006. It has had a massive impact. But the sceptics are also using the internet to organise loose networks of informal meetings…

However, using the same medium to fight back is not easy, as British investigative journalist Jon Ronson found when he posted on the British 9/11 Truth Campaign website. Abused and ridiculed, his integrity was questioned because he is Jewish. “When I found myself being attacked by 9/11 conspiracy theorists I found the sceptical community very supportive,” says Ronson. “When believers turn on you it is horrible. I’ve stopped engaging with them because it’s like prodding a snake…”

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