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Korea drafts `Robot Ethics Charter`

Robot arms operating surgeries, robot vacuum cleaners that avoid obstacles and clean floors, and security robots that patrol a designated area for 24 hours - just a small glimpse into how the robotics industry could change life as we know it.
To literally live with robots, which are highly likely to become more intelligent and physically more like humans in the future, Koreans are devising the world`s first Robot Ethics Charter. The charter will prevent robots from harming people, and deter humans from taking advantage of robots for ill purposes, according to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy.
Under the civil-government partnership, the Robot Ethics Charter is being drafted by 12 Korean professionals including a government official, robotics professors, psychology experts and medical doctors.
The charter will focus mainly on drawing ethical lines on how far robotic technologies can go, and setting rules for robot manufacturers and robot users, the ministry said.
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The draft of the charter will first be published online in June, with the final version to be released by late this year, the ministry said.
To science fiction fans, a Robot Ethics Charter might remind them of the Three Laws of Robotics devised by U.S. author Isaac Asimov in his science fiction short story, "Runaround," originally published in 1942. The book explores such issues as how a robot may not injure a human being, and how a robot must obey orders given by human beings except where such orders conflict with the other laws.
However, the Korean Robot Ethics Charter will not introduce regulations like those in Asimov`s story. Instead, it aims to serve as practical laws, centered more on robot manufacturers and users, according to a member of the charter drafting panel.
"We cannot come up with ethics on robots` behaviors because experts have different opinions on when the robots will have free will or an anatomy. Some say it could be within 20 years but others say it could take more than 50 years," said Kim Dae-won, professor of information and engineering department at Myoungji University, who is leading the charter drafting.
Rather than making ethical rules from a robot`s point of view, we should focus on the human side such as regulating designing and manufacturing of robots, he said.<**2>


For network robot designers, for example, the charter can stipulate certain ethical rules that restrain the creation of dangerous functions, such as leading robots to leak personal information to other people, Kim said.
When asked about the controversial issue on whether military robots should be allowed, Kim said it differs from nation to nation.
"If we look at the issue solely from the ethics aspect, all research on military robots should be banned. Most American robotics scholars are pro-military robots while others are con. It`s too early to predict the future," he said.
Another charter-making member and Chungang University psychology professor Lee Jang-han says the charter`s purpose is to find ways of coexistence between human beings and robots.
"From a psychological perspective, ethics should ultimately contribute to human welfare. In a broader sense, robot ethics will also be part of human ethics. Further discussion will be made at the next meeting of panel members on May 4," Lee said.
Korea`s plan for drafting a Robot Ethics Charter was introduced at a workshop on Roboethics at the 2007 International Conference on Robotics and Automation, held in Italy on April 14. The initiative drew wide attention from participating countries, a Korean government official said.
"Many countries showed great attention to Korea`s plan for the charter because no other government has pushed for a robot ethics charter in partnership with civil experts," said Sim Hag-bong, director of the robot industry division at the Commerce Industry. He introduced Korea`s plan for devising ethics standards concerning robots at the international conference.
At the global gathering, the European Robotics Research Network unveiled a robotics research road map. Korea might work in consultation with them, Sim said.

By Kim Yoon-mi

(yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)

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