6Robots: Challenge to the Self-Understanding of Humans

Robotics is not one of the classic NEST developments. It is rather part of a long-standing development that usually has very clear areas of application: industrial robotics, service robotics, drones, self-driving automobiles, messenger robots and care robots. Their rapid development in the last 10 years has, however, motivated numerous questions about the meaning of robotics for the future relationships between humans and technology. My thesis in this chapter is that we are forced by the advances in robotics to better understand ourselves as humans, both as individuals and in our social context.

6.1. Autonomous technology: challenges to our comprehension

For decades, we have been able to observe how technological systems have been equipped with more “autonomy”. An early application in the mass market was the use of automatic gears in automobiles, which quickly gained acceptance globally. In the 1970s and 1980s, the use of industrial robotics resulted in the extensive automatization of assembly line work, thus making production substantially more efficient but also making millions of jobs superfluous in Germany alone. In this use, robots execute precisely defined activities in the production process. Robotics is also employed in areas in which human activity is not possible, is unduly dangerous or is very annoying. Familiar examples are the use of robots in space flight, for maintenance in nuclear power plants and as artificial ...

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