Tom Williams


ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction

Publication Year

Significant segments of the HRI literature rely on or promote the ability to reason about human identity characteristics, including age, gender, and cultural background. However, attempting to handle identity characteristics raises a number of critical ethical concerns, especially given the spatiotemporal dynamics of these characteristics. In this paper I question whether human identity characteristics can and should be represented, recognized, or reasoned about by robots, with special attention paid to the construct of race, due to its relative lack of consideration within the HRI community. As I will argue, while there are a number of well-warranted reasons why HRI researchers might want to enable robotic consideration of identity characteristics, these reasons are outweighed by a number of key ontological, perceptual, and deployment-oriented concerns. This argument raises troubling questions as to whether robots should even be able to understand or generate descriptions of people, and how they would do so while avoiding these ethical concerns. Finally, I conclude with a discussion of what this means for the HRI community, in terms of both algorithm and robot design, and speculate as to possible paths forward.