By Olivia Burgess
If children are trained to treat robots with respect, saying “Excuse me, Alexa” instead of “Hey, Alexa?”, would they in turn treat other humans more respectfully? This is one of the many intriguing questions that interests Dr. Qin Zhu, who was the first speaker in our STS Speaker Series.
On March 30th, Dr. Zhu gave a virtual campus talk on his research titled “Ritualizing Robots: A Confucian Approach to the Design of Ethical Human-Robot Interactions.” Dr. Zhu introduced a fundamental concept in STS: technologies reflect human values. For instance, a speed bump in a quiet neighborhood slows you down because people want to create a safe environment. If you do not slow down, your car may be damaged, which is both a physical and social punishment for disregarding the value of safety.
The same applies to robots: they are designed for a purpose, they embody human values, and how we interact with them says a lot about ourselves as moral beings. For instance, if you hit a robot, you may be more likely to hit another human.