Questions for ‘Teaching robots right from wrong’

Scientists are trying to incorporate ethics into the workings of robots such as Nao.

Stephen Chin/Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

To accompany feature “Teaching robots right from wrong”


Before Reading

1.  You’re rushing to get to class on time when you notice a friend in trouble: while texting and listening to music on her headphones, she’s heading straight for a gaping hole in the sidewalk. What do you do? What factors go into your choice of action?

2.  Now consider what a robot would do if it saw your friend. Would a robot save her? Why or why not?

During Reading

1.  Why are scientists considering ethics when designing robots?

2.  Isaac Asimov came up with three basic rules for robots. What are they?

3.  What happened to Speedy the robot in Asimov’s short story “Runaround”?

4.  What is an ethical zombie?

5.  What happened when researchers created a test for A-Robot in which it had to choose between rescuing one of two imperiled H-Robots?

6.  Why was it important for the robot PR2 to recognize which end of a knife is sharp?

7.  What is machine learning?

8.  How will the robot Tiago know whether an elderly person it is looking after needs help?

9.  Why might robots be better than humans at making ethical decisions?

After Reading: 

1.  Movies and books often portray robots that take an evil turn. But the scientists in this story all propose ways that robots will help humans. Based on what you have read, which scenario is more likely? Back up your answer with evidence from the article.

2.  Isaac Asimov’s rules for robots are not perfect, as his stories showed. Can you improve them to prevent the scenario that unfolded in “Runaround”? Or write your own set of rules for an ethical robot.


1.  Write a short story about a robot that has to make an ethical choice. How does the robot’s programming affect the choice it makes?