Robot Morphology and Behavior: Ethical Implications Concerning Race, Ethnicity, and Cultural Diversity

As robotic technologies continue to advance and robots’ anthropomorphism increases, it is imperative that developers, researchers, and practitioners consider issues regarding a potential lack of diversity in the characteristics of robots, such as gender, race, and ethnicity. The impact of stereotypes in robot development is of great importance, considering evidence showing that humans respond to robots much as they do with other social entities and ascribe similar stereotypes regardless of robot capacity. For example, Tay et al. (2013) investigated the effects of gender stereotypes in users’ acceptance of social robots. When considering a security robot, their study indicated that users preferred a male robot and perceived it as more useful and acceptable. Similarly, Carpenter and colleagues (2009) investigated people’s expectations of humanoid robots designed for home use. In the study, preference for the female robot was observed. Also, when interacting with a robot designed to be gender neutral, such as NASA’s Robonaut, 99 of 100 people identify it with a male pronoun (Dattaro 2015). As a result, practitioners must carefully consider the implications of gender stereotypes and preferences of users.

In addition to stereotypes regarding gender, the current status of robotic technology development is already exhibiting biases regarding race and ethnicity. In fact, most current anthropomorphic robots have Caucasian or Asian features, and their appearance and behavior seem to be explicitly Eurocentric (Riek and Howard 2014). Although it is possible that such characteristics are a result of the origin of the current developers of the technologies, it is unlikely that the capacity to develop and commercialize robot technologies will spread to developing countries, and as such, design may continue to be racially biased. It is important that, when working with a client, therapists consider the impact of such features on the client-robot interaction and on the extended effects of such stereotype-reinforcing strategies.

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