Episode #88

It's Time to Start Talking About Robot Morals

You will care more about robots after listening to this podcast.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Google's new self-driving car has a face to make it look a little more human. (Google)

Computer programmers are injecting machines with consciousness and the power of thought. It's time we stop and ask, 'which thoughts?'

In this episode we hear how robots can become self-aware and teach themselves new behaviors in the same way a baby might learn to wiggle his toes and learn to crawl. Though this is happening now, Hod Lipson, Cornell researcher, tells us that uttering the word consciousness to roboticists is like saying the "C" word. It could get you fired. We say, it's time to start talking about robot morals. 

However you look at it, Google's self-driving car is a robot and it will be entering our lives soon. So we talk with psychologist Adam Waytz of Northwestern University about his experiments measuring how people form bonds with robots, and how we naturally project human characteristics onto machines — for better or worse — including a friendly driver-less car named Iris.  

By the end of this episode, we raise a lot of questions and offer a few answers about the ethics of living in a robot world. Please consider this the start of a conversation and let us know what else you want us to ask, answer, cover or investigate, including who you want us to interview next. 

You can get in touch with us through Twitter, @NewTechCity or email us at newtechcity (at) And if you like this episode, please subscribe on iTunes, or via RSS. It's easier than finding your toes. 



We mention a few videos in the podcast. Here they are in the order they appear in the show. 


Watch the full event with Hod Lipson showing off his thinking robots. He shows off his "Evil Starfish" starting around 14 minutes in. It "gimps along" best at 28 minutes in.  


And here is Google's promotional video for it's first fully driver-less car.

    Music Playlist
  1. Grey Matter
    Composer: Jack Ventimiglia
  2. Brain Wreck
    Artist: Bijou Basil
  3. Clock
    Artist: Jack Ventimiglia
  4. Demo Graphix
    Artist: Daniel Paul Kramer
  5. Mispronunciation
    Artist: Jack Ventimiglia


Dr. Hod Lipson and Dr. Adam Waytz

Comments [5]

marge201 from NJ

No way, not after seeing a recent episode of Silicon Valley!!

Jun. 04 2014 02:57 PM

Robot morals: See also the episode in Star Trek TNG, where they have a trial to discuss whether Lt Cmd Data is property of Star Fleet or not.

Jun. 04 2014 11:17 AM
Ray E. from Northern NJ

To Dr.R--
I'm also fascinated by robotic advances; you are likely thinking of author Isaac Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics:
But his characters were complex humanoids that worked with police officers and made life-and-death judgments and would KILL people if deemed necessary... yikes. The Google car is slow (25 mph tops) and I think has an off switch. In this case it may be easier to make it safe, hopefully

Jun. 04 2014 10:36 AM
Paul Blank from Northern NJ

Um, nope John. Don't think it will ever fly. Drive on land, maybe. ha.

Jun. 04 2014 08:40 AM

I have always been fascinated by all things robotic, but the driverless car may be breaching reason: no breaks?; no steering wheel?. Who was it, among sci-fi mavens, that affirmed that robots must meet the criterion, like physicians, "DO NO HARM". Can Googles driverless car meet that criterion. If not, I don't think it will fly.
John Rosenberger, MD

Jun. 04 2014 08:21 AM

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