The Design of Ethical Social Robots in the HEIR Lab

Our HEIR Lab students at Marquette consists of students from the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences (Computer Science), and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD)

The mission of the Humanoid Engineering and Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab is to research and develop humanoid robots that socially interact with humans in an ethical manner. At Marquette, the HEIR Lab is working to develop socially intelligent humanoid health coaches, culturally responsive humanoid robotics curriculum and a social robot that helps kids learn STEM.  Thanks to support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we have been able to make great strides on understanding and developing this new technology.  This summer, the HEIR Lab has been invited to present our research at the Congressional Robotics Caucus in Washington D.C. To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the U.S. National Robotics Initative.  We were chosen by NSF as an example project that is “accelerating the research and use of robots that work in close cooperation with humans”.

So why ethical robots and what does that mean?  We have all seen our share of sci-fi movies that portray humanoid robots as exceeding humans in their intelligence and subsequently develop a desire to take over the world.  “I, Robot”, “The Matrix”, and “The Terminator” sequels are examples of humanoid robot technology gone wild that force humans to struggle for their survival.  Recently, the White House announced the “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence (AI)” series of workshops and an interagency working group to address these issues.  Our society, laws, and policies are not ready for autonomous drones, humanoids, and driverless cars.  What will be the impacts of these intelligent agents on the elderly, children, and the disenfranchised?  There will even be an impact on healthcare as AI is used to learn how to diagnose and treat patients.   The challenges and the risks need to be mitigated by making sure the rights and dignity of every global human citizen are considered, valued, and respected.  These are the things we are seeking to address in the HEIR Lab as we develop AI and robotics technology to improve people’s lives.

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Professor and the John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair and founding Director of the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab at Marquette University.  He is currently the Principal Investigator on a NSF National Robotics Inititiative funded project and an NSF Innovation Corps for Learn
ing funded project.


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