Robots could make a great difference to our world and better our quality of life, provided that we keep an eye on what they are being used for. There are robots for measuring the melting of the icecaps, detecting chemical pollution of the seas and repairing coral reefs. They can be used for space exploration, cleaning our homes, farming and performing surgery. There are robot cars – legal in two US states – that can drive themselves and there are slightly creepy sex robots. Of course, there are some applications that need to be scrutinised carefully, such as robots to care for children and the elderly and for policing and border control. And the worst development in robotics is for war – the autonomous killer robots currently being developed by the major military powers. But we should remember the positive changes they can make, when used for good.
Noel Sharkey is professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield.