In the 1950s, Isaac Asimov created three basic rules of robotics. Dubbed “Asimov’s Laws,” they’re more or less the fundamental design principles of any robot. Even really dangerous robots with shotguns don’t pull the trigger themselves. A human decides where and when another human should be killed by a robot, which presents its own set of problems, but at least governments are approaching the concept of killer robots cautiously and with at least a token desire to abide by what little ethics there are on the battlefield. Artists, however, can just build killer robots to their heart’s content!
Alexander Reben, an artist who specializes in exploring the boundaries of robot/human interaction, has built a robot that can hurt a human being deliberately. It doesn’t do it all the time, and it doesn’t hurt you much. You present it with your finger and it decides whether it wants to give you a pinprick. Robots are fully capable of injuring and even killing humans, of course, but that’s by accident. Reben might be the first person to build a robot that injures humans autonomously, by design.
The idea is to get us talking about AI and its potential to go off the rails now, before some research scientist fires up what he thinks will be a better search engine and it nukes us all after scanning Twitter and deciding we’re not worth it. But mostly we’re just concerned this guy built a robot that chooses whether or not to injure you. Maybe let’s not upgrade this particular robot, okay?