On the Moral Implications of Willful Acts of Virtual Harm

Very timely post for me, as I have been working on an essay about the robot hero of Japanese cartoons, Astro Boy. Similar questions have entered my mind, and someone else has recently asked me about, how far can we extend human empathy to non-human entities? And what does this tell us of those who cannot extend such empathy very far?

Good post!

L.M. Sacasas

Perhaps you’ve seen the clip below in which a dog-like robot developed by Boston Dynamics, a Google-owned robotics company, receives a swift kick and manages to maintain its balance:

I couldn’t resist tweeting that clip with this text: “The mechanical Hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live in … a dark corner of the fire house.” That line, of course, is from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, in which the mechanical Hound is deployed to track down dissidents. The apt association was first suggested to me a few months back by a reader’s email occasioned by an earlier Boston Dynamics robot.

My glib tweet aside, many have found the clip disturbing for a variety of reasons. One summary of the concerns can be found in a CNN piece by Phoebe Parke titled, “Is It Cruel to Kick a Robot Dog?” (via Mary Chayko). That question reminded me of…

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