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Drones, Driverless Cars and Difficult Decisions

Washington, D.C.

Robots are here. They’ve entered our daily lives and can be found in our homes, hospitals and our streets. 

These robot and human interactions raise a series of questions that the general public and lawmakers must face. 

“When robots start truly engaging with us, what does that really mean?” asked Magnus Egerstedt, the Steve W. Chaddick School Chair and a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “And what does it mean for us to interact with them?”

The emerging debate on ethics and robotics was the focus of two panel discussion Georgia Tech hosted Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The event – “Drones, Driverless Cars and Difficult Decisions” examined the expectations humans have about robots’ capabilities and limits. They also spoke of the responsibilities that researchers, scientists, corporations and policymakers have as well.  

A luncheon roundtable, held on Capitol Hill, attracted congressional staffers, representatives from national associations and others from the D.C. policy community.

During the evening roundtable held at the National Press Club, reporters from Inside Higher EdThe Washington Postand U.S. News & World Report asked questions and helped guide the conversation.

In addition to Egerstedt two other Georgia Tech professors served on the panel: Ronald Arkin, director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory in the College of Computing, and Ayanna Howard, chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing and the the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Chair professor.

The other four panelists were: Cindy Grimm, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State University; Benjamin Kuipers, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan; Bertram Malle, a professor in the department of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University; and Reid Simmons, a research professor in robotics and computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. 

Arkin said for years researchers focused on making new discoveries without paying as much attention to the implications. But there is acknowledgement of the responsibilities that roboticists have to make sure they don’t promise more than they can deliver. 

He noted the complexities in programming a robot on how to be good. 

“We don’t have the answers for all this yet,” he said. “We are just beginning to make forays into this space … Please be patient.” 

Last revised May 15, 2020