No Ethical Issues Here

Wednesday, June 01 2005

I have a Roomba – it’s this little robot that cruises around my house and sucks the dirt out of the carpet. It’s a great thing to have if you have kids, and does a pretty good job. I think it met or exceeded our expectations, which is great. It’s by no means a novelty, and adds to the quality of life.

Thing is, the company that makes Roomba also makes robots that can kill other humans. That fact alone has turned people off to buying a Roomba – Matt being one of them. From a link* Matt posted, he says this:

“someone please build to note the ethical dilemmas of supporting killbots by buying vacuums.”

Now, my apologies to Matt for making a big deal out of this, but I think that’s just crazy. I suspect it’s tongue in cheek as well, so I’ll keep that in mind, but I take issue with people who have ethical problems buying a vacuum cleaner simply because the same company makes robots with guns.

Following that same logic, Matt should also not like cars, because in times past and present, car manufacturers have built engines and vehicles that soldiers then use to kill people. Toothbrushes – well, you can’t like toothbrushes either, as people like Procter and Gamble make toothbrushes, and have product lines geared specifically towards military applications (albeit not deadly, but they aid those who are deadly). Matt should avoid flying as well, because Boeing is pretty good at making some deadly aircraft, as is most every jet airplane manufacturer aside from Airbus.

I think I could also make the argument that if you don’t like Roomba because it has a killer cousin, than you shouldn’t also like the Internet, given it’s origins as a military project. Sure, it was designed as an unbreakable network of communication primarily (a defensive move), but some of the precursors to the Internet like Ham radio and crypto systems and were directly developed to help increase the odds of our team killing more of the other team.

And then there’s this (and this is the spin that iRobot puts on it as well, which I do believe is spin, but also partially true): these robots reduce the risk of human lives (the lives of our team, which I’m happy with, but often at the cost of the other team, which might not be the other team, but people caught up in the middle who just happen to be in the line of fire from a robot that can’t make that distinction). But I think the motivations are just, and I wish the people we went to war with had similar resources. Eventually what I’d like to see is robots fighting in the streets with lots of explosions and grinding. We could buy popcorn and watch as we settle our differences through robotic superiority alone. For me, buying a robotic vacuum cleaner helps get me there.

  • Check out the picture of the iRobot CEO. Scully.