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Are robots like animals? In Defence of the Animal-Robot Analogy

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Via Rochelle Don on FlickrPeople dispute the ontological status of robots. Some insist that they are tools: objects created by humans to perform certain tasks — little more than sophisticated hammers. Some insist that they are more than that: that they are agents with increasing levels autonomy — now occupying some liminal space between object and subject. How can we resolve this dispute?One way to do this is by making analogies. What is it that robots seem to be more like? One popular analogy is the animal-robot analogy: robots, it is claimed, are quite like animals and so we should model our relationships with robots along the lines of the relationships we have with animals.In its abstract form, this analogy is not particularly helpful. ‘Animal’ denotes a broad class. When we say that a robots is like an animal do we mean it is like a sea slug or like a chimpanzee, or something else? Also, even if we agree that a robot is like a particular animal (or sub-group of animals) what significance does this actually have? People disagree about how we ought to treat animals. For example, we think it is acceptable to slaughter and experiment with some, but not others.The most common animal-robot analogies in the literature tend to focus on the similarities between robots and household pets and domesticated animals. This makes sense. These are the kinds of animals with whom we have some kind of social relationships and upon whom we rely for certain tasks to be performed. Consider the sheep dog who is both a family pet and a farmyard helper. Are there not some similarities between it and a companion robot?As seductive as this analogy might be, Deborah Johnson and Mario Verdicchio argue that we should resist it. In their paper “Why robots should not be treated like animals” they accept that there are some similarities between robots and animals (e.g. their ‘otherness’, their assistive capacity, the fact that we anthropomorphise and get attached to them etc.) but also argue. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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