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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

What are the Implications of Advances in Robotics for Public Organizations?

by Ken Kernaghan

Attribution: "Asimo look new design". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

My June CPA article on Values, Ethics and Information Technology in Public Organizations called among other things for attention to the ethical, social and legal implications of advances in robotics.  I answered my own call with a December article entitled The Rights and Wrongs of Robotics: Ethics and Robots in Public Organizations.

Three things to know about advances in robotics:

1. Some electronic experts, including Bill Gates, believe that within a few decades robots will be as commonplace as computers are now. 

2. Advances in robotics will have widespread implications for the policy, service and regulatory responsibilities of government.

3. Public servants should begin thinking about the impact of robotics and, in some policy fields, positioning their organizations to manage it.

Three myths about the impact of advances in robotics:

Myth #1: Significant impact of robotics on public organizations, including its values and ethics implications, lies far down the road. 

Reality: Robots have become a significant presence in industrialized states and are already raising difficult ethical issues in such policy fields as health care, aging and the military.

Myth #2: Current values statements and ethics codes of public organizations are sufficient to deal with the rise of robotics.

Reality: These documents need to be revised to take account of new ethical issues arising from the increased use of robots.

Myth #3: Current ethical theories can serve easily as a basis for managing robotics in public organizations.

Reality: Deciding on and programming appropriate ethical principles and rules into robots is a major challenge.

Additional reading: Lin, Patrick, Keith Abney and George A. Bekey, eds. 2012. Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Gates, Bill. 2006 (December 16). “A robot in every home.” Scientific American, 58-65. Available at

Moor, James H. 2009 (March/April). “Four Kinds of Ethical Robots.” Philosophy Now, 72: 12-14. Available at

Robotics VO. 2013 (March 20). A Roadmap for US Robotics: From Internet to Robotics, 2013 Edition. Available at

Read Professor Kernaghan’s earlier post: Which digital dilemmas confront the public service?

Ken Kernaghan is professor emeritus of public administration at Brock University.

1 comment:

  1. As automation continues to advance rapidly, society and laws will also have to advance with it.