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Just Ordinary Robots by Rinie van Est, Lamber Royakkers

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297
7
automatIon fRom
lovE to waR
Until recently, robots were mainly used in factories for automating
production processes. In the 1970s, the appearance of factory robots
led to much debate on their inuence on employment. e mass
unemployment that was feared did not come to pass. Still, robots have
radically changed the work in countless factories. Driven by a belief
in eciency, factories and labor have been redesigned over the last
century. e rst half of the twentieth century saw a far-reaching
simplication and specialization of the work. is paved the way for
the mechanization and automation of the production process. As a
result, robots have come to play a central role in this ongoing attempt
to rationalize production. In essence, robotization presents a way to
rationalize a certain social practice by reducing its dependence on
people, ultimately by replacing them with machines.
Both rationalization and robotics no longer only concern factory
applications. Currently, no aspect of people’s lives is immune to ratio-
nalization any more. is book has explored the actual and intended
use of robots in various social domains outside the factory. Our study
looked at home robots, care robots, the use of drones in the city, car
robots, and military robots. us, we began close to home and sub-
sequently moved further away from home, ending up on the mili-
tary battleeld. Accordingly, we have talked about the automation of
numerous human activities, such as caring for the sick, driving a car,
making love, and killing people. Robotics in the twenty-rst century
thus literally concerns automation from love to war.
is book is, therefore, about the use of robots in a complex and
unstructured world: our social, everyday environment. It is impor-
tant to realize, however, that before engineers began to rationalize it,
the average factory was a chaotic place too. And nowadays, we even
have fully automated factories that require no human presence atall.
298 Just ordinAry robots
We use these historical insights about industrial robots to reect on
the use of service and social robots outside the factory. One basic
understanding is that the use of robots in messy social practices is
only possible when these practices are organized around their techno-
logical limitations. So before robots can be applied in a certain social
practice, that practice rst has to be adapted to the limited capacities
of robots. In other words, a basic level of rationalization of a certain
social practice is required before robotization, as the next and further
step toward rationalization, can take place.
is nal chapter reects on the societal meaning of the rational-
ization of society through robotization. Our analysis concerns the pros
and cons of robotization as rationalization: both its reasonable and
unreasonable aspects. e use of robots in our society not only oers
numerous possibilities for making human life more pleasant and safe,
but it also raises countless dicult societal and ethical issues. Based on
the ve preceding chapters, we rst discuss the technical possibilities
and future expectations surrounding the use of robots in society. Next,
we review the social gains expected from robotics. en we describe
some social and ethical issues that are raised by the fact that robots
are information technologies, have a lifelike physical or psychologi-
cal appearance, and have a certain degree of autonomy. In addition,
we look at to what extent robotic systems may lead to dehumanizing
systems that may become antihuman or even destructive of human
beings. To conclude, we touch upon a few political– administrative
topics that enter the public agenda through the societal issues.
7.1 Future Expectations and Technical Possibilities
For better or for worse, the future of robotics is strongly connected
to two long-term socio-technological imaginaries. First, there is the
engineering dream of building multipurpose machines that can move
and act autonomously in complex human environments. Related to
this high level of autonomy is the horror scenario of the smart but evil
and destructive machine that has gone out of control. On the bright
side, there is the dream of the friendly robot that exhibits good social
behavior and acts according to high moral standards. e notion that
this will be feasible within a few decades is referred to as the strong
articial intelligence (AI) view.

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