As robotics technology forays into our daily lives, research, industry, and government professionals in the field of human-robot interaction (HRI) in must grapple with significant ethical, legal, and normative questions.

Many leaders in the field have suggested that “the time is now” to start drafting ethical and policy guidelines for our community to guide us forward into this new era of robots in human social environments (HSEs). However, thus far the effort has been skewed toward policy focused or technology- focused discussions, with little cross disciplinary conversation, creating problems for the community. Policy researchers can be concerned about robot capabilities that are scientifically unlikely to ever come to fruition (like the singularity), and technologists can be vehemently opposed to ethics and policy encroaching on their professional space, concerned it will impede their work.

This workshop aims to build a cross-disciplinary bridge that will ensure mutual education and grounding. It has three main goals: 1) Cultivate a multidisciplinary network of scholars who might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet and collaborate, 2) Serve as a forum for guided discussion of relevant topics that have emerged as pressing ethical and policy issues in the HRI field, 3) Create a working consensus document for the professional community that will be shared broadly.

We will be addressing three challenge themes during the day:

Theme #1: Healthcare: HRI professionals often deploy robots in therapeutic settings with vulnerable populations; for example, to help treat children with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities and to encourage pro-social behavior among older adults. They also have assisted people with daily living tasks, such as bathing, manipulation, mobility.

However, the use of robots for to aid with these therapeutic and intimate tasks with vulnerable populations raises substantial concerns: How will clients’ privacy be protected? Should the use of robots for these tasks be regulated by an administrative agency such as the FTC, Health and Human Services (HHS), or a new agency specifically created to address the issues raised by robots? Could robot caregivers displace human caregivers, negatively affecting both clients’ welfare and healthcare providers’ jobs?

Theme #2: Morphology: Some HRI researchers worry that increasingly anthropomorphic robots not only convey inaccurate expectations to people about a robots’ capabilities, but may also be unethical when treating vulnerable populations, such as people with cognitive disabilities. Robots may also harm people through psychological manipulation, i.e., by exploiting emotional attachments to swindle users. How should HRI practitioners think about these issues when designing and deploying robots? What might their guidelines be moving forward?

Theme #3: Autonomy: As autonomous robots enter HSEs, handoff of control from robot to human at various points of operation becomes more important. However, control handoff to robots puts the onus of ethical and policy considerations on designers. Entire liability and risk management regimes like insurance must be re-calibrated in light of the handoff of control. Care should be taken to ensure proper designing for ease of handoff without significant interruption of control functionality, and designing for avoidance of unwarranted human operator habituation to automatic controls. Significant open questions remain as to when the handoff of control to robots should be legally or ethically required.