As one movie reviewer points out, the Autobots and Decepticons in Transformers: Dark of the Moon “drool, bleed, have whiskers and even go bald with age.”
But what's going on beneath the surface? As real-life robots become increasingly sophisticated, how will we decide if they have enough of a sense of themselves to deserve certain levels of rights?
“It will be an interesting question, and it won’t be just an intellectual one,” says bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics. “A whole series of experiments show that if you create a robot that moves, but just looks like a whole bunch of gears, and you give someone a sledgehammer and say, ‘Smash it,’ they’ll smash it. If you put a little furry cover on it, so now it moves but it looks organic, they won’t hit it.”
Whenever a robot is more humanoid or more animal-like in appearance, people are more reluctant to harm it.
“We already have robots that in one sense or another are being treated more like animals,” Wolpe says. “As soon as you begin to give robots the appearance of life, people begin to project onto it the feelings that they project onto life.”
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