Isaac Asimov would probably have been horrified at the experiments under way in a robotics lab in Slovenia. There, a powerful robot has been hitting people over and over again in a bid to induce anything from mild to unbearable pain—in apparent defiance of the late sci-fi sage's famed first law of robotics, which states that "a robot may not injure a human being."
But the robo-battering is all in a good cause, insists Borut Povše, who has ethical approval for the work from the University of Ljubljana, where he conducted the research. He has persuaded six male colleagues to let a powerful industrial robot repeatedly strike them on the arm, to assess human-robot pain thresholds.
It's not because he thinks the first law of robotics is too constraining to be of any practical use, but rather to help future robots adhere to the rule. "Even robots designed to Asimov's laws can collide with people. We are trying to make sure that when they do, the collision is not too powerful," Povše says. "We are taking the first steps to defining the limits of the speed and acceleration of robots, and the ideal size and shape of the tools they use, so they can safely interact with humans."
From New Scientist
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