3 Artificial companions and smart homes
The technologies for smart homes and patient
monitoring are already here. They offer a number of benefits to older or
incapacitated people such as enabling independence and quick access to medical
services. Such systems would be autonomous in that they learned from behaviour
patterns and identified unusual movements and actions.
However, they are being developed largely without
ethical research as engineers do not know enough about their target audience
and their behaviour. Engineers should be directly engaged with the elderly and
other potential users on this issue to establish the preferences and views on
the use of technologies for allowing people to be monitored in their homes and not
just making assumptions. Also, they must account for the needs and concerns of
those who are not technically proficient or people with cognitive impairments that
would affect the way they interact with the technology. Smart homes will be of
no benefit if they are not accessible to and usable by their intended users.
It is important that these ethical implications are
not left solely for programmers to decide. Programmers and engineers alike will
have to spark “More conversations between developers, social scientists and
legal scholars” This is due to engineers “not thinking in the framework that
other sciences are more equipped to bring to the table” from Kate Darling
(Research Specialist at the MIT Media Lab). This could prove vital in better
tackling ethical challenges as different perspectives on a matter would help
devise different solutions to the problem. These solutions could be tested and
test data would help prove which would be most ideal.
To conclude, engineers face many difficult
ethical challenges with upcoming technology. These should not be dealt by
engineers alone, engineers will need to engage with different professions e.g.
philosophers, psychologists and customers in order to find the “best” way to
tackle these issues.
Public opinion on
autonomous systems should be gathered to help direct the direction that
engineering takes, however often the public will think negatively regarding an
upcoming technology and this should not deter engineers to pursue with
developing the technology if the advantages will ultimately benefit the public.