Robot Workers Will Only Be as Ethical as Their Masters

Robots could soon become advanced enough to make their own decisions, and this has some experts worrying about killer military bots. That’s why ClearPath Robotics, a Canadian autonomous robot maker, has committed to building a fleet of “ethical” robots meant for the factory floor instead of the battlefield.

By Jordan Pearson|MOTHERBOARD

But labour advocates questioned how ethical an “ethical” robot really is if it threatens to replace workers who would otherwise do the same jobs.

ClearPath has, until now, focused its efforts on making autonomous land and air vehicles mainly for researchers and the military. The company joined the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots last year and promised never to build a robot that can shoot to kill. Now, with a round of new funding from venture capital firm RRE—the same company that funded Buzzfeed and cute robot sensation Jibo, to name a few past successes—ClearPath is developing a line of semi-autonomous robot trucks that can cart heavy materials from automation hub to automation hub inside a factory.

According to ClearPath CEO Matt Rendall, robots like the ones his company produces will help manufacturers to displace workers engaged in “low value” labour and create more high-level technician jobs.

“Manufacturers spend millions of dollars on these automation cells and yet the method they transport goods with is to load them up on a cart and Bob or Sally transports it,” said Rendall. “That not a very good use of the capabilities they have for that environment. The idea behind automating the very low value work, is that it frees up time for humans to focus on more complex, more challenging, more valuable work.”

The basic idea is, according to a ClearPath statement sent to Motherboard, to let the robots do the “dirty, dull, and deadly industrial work” that humans “shouldn’t” do. Instead of replacing jobs, Rendall said, the company wants to “displace and reposition labour” to different areas of expertise—technicians, for example, who would service the robots whose jobs they replaced.

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