Agency: Robots in Control

In a previous class we discussed the article “Robots That Care”, about robots being used to assist stroke patients through their recovery therapy. I find this incredible interesting albeit a little frightening. If we allow robots into our homes at our most vulnerable times, e.g. after a stroke or surgery, to help us recover from these then at what point do we stop allowing them in our house. We have already allowed the Roomba, a Frisbee sized robot vacuum cleaner into our homes. People see this as a great little robot that helps them do a chore that is inconvenient for us. Although it only uses a few sensors to avoid objects and a sophisticated GPS to know where it has cleaned and where it hasn’t. It is only a matter of time before humanoid robots with arms and legs can sweep the floors, take out the trash, and maybe even take care of the kids. I think this will be neat to have something that can do these things for you. However, my fear is that these robots will eventually be capable of independent thought processes. Unlike, many movies I don’t necessarily think they will have real feelings or understanding of life but operating independently of nearly any human intervention. Already we have robots that can do this, take the Roomba for example. There have been so many stories of robot take over and the fall of the human race that a failsafe has to be designed in anything that is created to work without us watching it all the time. This brings me to the question of agency, if robots become sophisticated enough or maybe even we can consider our cell phones a robot of sorts who is in control of whom. Our phones can be a source of entertainment, communication, organization, storage, etc. if we rely on it to remember our grocery list or to store our most important documents then do we really control it or is it actually controlling us? We would like to believe that we obviously control it but when I can’t remember my Dad’s cell phone number where do I turn to? My phone. What day is it? Check my phone. What am I doing tonight? Check my phone. It controls your life not by commands but by how we use it. Now if we kick that up a notch and robots become more sophisticated to the point where they are in our houses as personal assistants. Clearly we control most of their functions especially when we tell them what to do but if they can think for themselves we will some kind of failsafe will be necessary. When they begin to make choices that are not simple yes and no choices, or choices that lives depend on we need to make sure we have them under control and monitor what they are doing. Without monitoring there could easily be robots that question their existence to the point where they realize humans are not necessary. While I think this concept is hundreds of years from occurring it is never too early to plan for the future.





  1. Who knows what the future of Artificial Intelligence will hold. It is an increasingly researched topic in computer science right now and will continue to be. Humans and technology have become very intertwined in every day life.

  2. I wrote a whole article ranting on about hoe robots are not a good substitution for a physical therapist. I think people just get fascinated on the concept of robots. As a health care professional, I can tell you first hand that robots can never replace the position a a real life physical therapist. The truth is that people are lazy. .

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