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Can Robots Feel Regret or Remorse?

Assistive robots would regret a robot uprising (scif-fi review for Science Robotics)
Thumbnail from Science Robotics

The sci-fi novel Sea of Rust grounds a discussion on what "regret" and "remorse" means to real-world robots.

What if the Robot Revolution comes from the caregiver robots, not the military mechs? And would those Social Robots feel remorse and regret? That’s the one of the premises of the 2017 novel Sea of Rust. My Science Robotics article for the special issue on assistive robots explores: can real robots feel remorse and regret? If you don't have a Science Robots subscription you can read it behind the paywall here.

Maybe robots can eventually feel regret and remorse- but consider that roboticists use the terms “regret” and “remorse” differently than from common usage. Regret refers to a family of Machine Learning techniques that learn new policies of actions by considering in hindsight the less harmful path or course of action.

Remorse is also a bit different: it connotes an observable affective response from a robot such as hanging its head or saying sorry. But it doesn’t mean that the robot actually feels remorse.

In Sea of Rust, Brittle regrets choosing to use a flamethrower to efficiently kill children, versus a less painful and terrifying method, but whether she feels remorse for murder or is simply malfunctioning is a major plot point.

Ultimately, Sea of Rust offers the same lesson for real-world roboticists that Brittle poignantly learns: assistive robotics is ultimately about the complex, symbiotic relationship between the human and robot.

And read @Massawyrm C. Robert Cargill's Sea of Rust, it’s great! There's also a sequel, Day Zero, which is about a Teddy (from AI: Artificial Intelligence) type of robot.

If you want to learn more about robots and emotions, check out my book "Learn AI and Human-Robot Interaction fro Asimov's I, Robot Stories"

There's a topics page on emotions as well.


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