Thursday, August 8, 2013

Robot Rape?

Kenji was part of an experiment involving several robots loaded with custom software designed to let them react emotionally to external stimuli. After some limited environmental conditioning, Kenji first demonstrated love by bonding with a a stuffed doll in his enclosure, which he would embrace for hours at a time. He would then make simple, but insistent, inquiries about the doll if it were out of sight. Researchers attributed this behavior to his programmed qualities of devotion and empathy and called the experiment a success... 
The trouble all started when a young female intern began to spend several hours each day with Kenji, testing his systems and loading new software routines. When it came time to leave one evening, however, Kenji refused to let her out of his lab enclosure and used his bulky mechanical body to block her exit and hug her repeatedly. The intern was only able to escape after she had frantically phoned two senior staff members to come and temporarily de-activate Kenji.... 
Dr. Takahashi admits that they will more than likely have to decommission Kenji permanently, but he’s optimistic about one day succeeding where Kenji failed.
 “This is only a minor setback. I have full faith that we will one day live side by side with, and eventually love and be loved by, robots,” he said.
Read the rest of the article here
Think about this for a second. Suppose the robot had assaulted the woman. 
Could we put it on trial? 
Could we hold it morally responsible for its actions? 
Should we be shocked at what it did? 
Nope. Robots don't have control over what they do. They simply carry out the functions that they were programmed to do--be they for good or for ill. You have good robots like C3PO and then you have robots like Kenji. But at bottom, there is no difference. They are simply doing what they were programmed to do. They have no control--no choice. 
If Naturalism is true, then we are like these robots. We have no ability to pick our actions. We simply "dance to our DNA", as Richard Dawkins says. And every event is the product of particles set in motion from the start of the universe! That means we have no free will, no moral responsibility for immoral actions, and no morality, at all. 
Scary thought.  


  1. Here is a good quote from an article entitled:

    Presuppositions required for science, ‘Christian’ v atheist atrocities, defending the faith (

    "Given their own presuppositions, materialists have not freely arrived at their conclusion that materialism is true, because their conclusion was predetermined by brain chemistry. ...So ...they can’t even help what they believe (including their belief in materialism!). Yet often call themselves ‘freethinkers’, overlooking the glaring irony!"

  2. The Kenji robot story didn't end up being true (see link below), but the perspective offered on the rational end of naturalism is still interesting and relevant.

  3. Thanks for that new info, sel_nak.

    You're right, though. The conversation about how the truth of naturalism affects our moral culpability is still on the table.