Incident of drunk man kicking humanoid robot raises legal questions

pepper robot
Pepper is described as an “engaging, friendly companion that can communicate with people through the most intuitive interface we know: voice, touch and emotions.” Credit: Aldebaran, SoftBank, Corp.

A few weeks ago, a drunk man in Japan was arrested for kicking a humanoid robot that was stationed as a greeter at a SoftBank, Corp., store, which develops the robots. According to the police report, the man said he was angry at the attitude of one of the store clerks. The "Pepper robot" now moves more slowly, and its internal computer system may have been damaged.

Under current Japanese law, the man can be charged with damage to property, but not injury, since injury is a charge reserved for humans. Dr. Yueh-Hsuan Weng, who is cofounder of the ROBOLAW.ASIA Initiative at Peking University in China, and former researcher of the Humanoid Robotics Institute at Waseda University in Japan, thinks a better charge lies somewhere in between.

Weng is advocating for special robot laws to address the unique nature of human-robot interactions. He argues that humans perceive highly intelligent, social robots like Pepper (which can read human emotions) differently than normal machines—maybe more like pets—and so the inappropriate treatment of robots by humans should be handled with this in mind.

The biggest moral concern, Weng explains, is that the current laws "do not help human beings to project their empathy while interacting with humanoid robots." He explains the problem in greater detail in a review at the Tech and Law Center website:

"The incident has been received with immense scrutiny from the public, as it is regarding a human-like sociable machine that was inappropriately treated," Weng wrote. "If the object had been an ATM or vehicle, the moral impact would be much less, as an evolved set of ethical principles for sophisticated and intelligent machinery like Pepper have yet to be developed."

Working to develop such ethical principles, Weng has previously proposed that humanoid robots should have a legal status that is different than that of normal machines. He suggests that humanoid robots be legally regarded as a "third existence," in contrast to the status of humans as the "first existence" and our normal machines and property as the "second existence." This distinction would allow for special treatment of human-robot incidents, which Weng believes will be essential in the future.

"In regards to the Pepper incident, the humanoid robot Pepper is recognized as an 'Object of Law' under the current Japanese legal system," Weng told "Therefore, it is not possible to apply the Article 204 (Injury) of Japanese Penal Code. On the contrary, the man could be sued by the Article 234-2 (Obstruction of Business by Damaging a Computer) or the Article 261 (Damage to Property). As for civil law, based on the Article 709 (Damages in Torts) Pepper's owner, SoftBank, can claim economical compensation from the man regarding any damages resulting as a consequence of the attacked Pepper robot. So, in the near future we might sense the problem if we still keep this 'second existence' policy for dealing with sophisticated , since it violates our common sense for interacting with them—for example, Article 204 (Injury) of Japanese Penal Code cannot be applied."

Whether a robot can be legally "injured" or not is debatable, and raises the question of what exactly robot laws should look like. Based on his research, Weng has proposed two special regulations for robots. First, a "Humanoid Morality Act" would define a proper relationship between humans and robots, including the use of coercive power to constrain unethical applications. Second, a "Robot Safety Governance Act" would extend current machine safety regulations to protect the safety of both humans and robots.

Weng also cautions against overregulation, recalling the Red Flag Laws implemented by the UK in the 19th century for operating the first automobiles. These overly conservative laws required a flagman to walk in front of every car to warn pedestrians of the coming vehicle. The laws had the unintended consequence of hindering innovation of the UK's burgeoning automobile industry, which was later surpassed by countries such as Germany and France where the laws were not as strict.

Like automobiles in the late 19th century, today robots are a rapidly growing technology that have the potential to lethally harm humans. For this reason, Weng believes that legislators today face a similar dilemma of finding the right balance between protection and innovation.

To find this balance, and to better understand - interactions, Japan has been slowly integrating robots into society in several "Tokku" special zones over the past 10 years. As Weng and coauthors show in a study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Social Robotics, observations from these experimental zones will help legislators frame appropriate laws that protect both humans and our unique, semi-autonomous creations.

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Oct 02, 2015
"If the object had been an ATM or vehicle, the moral impact would be much less, as an evolved set of ethical principles for sophisticated and intelligent machinery like Pepper have yet to be developed."

Really? Are we really going there? I'm sorry, but if you're expecting me to treat a robot any differently from a toaster oven, then I have only 1 word for you: ludicrous.

"Mommy, they hurt my pet rock!"

This discussion will be meaningful only when we start building sentient machines.

Oct 02, 2015
Okay, basically this thing is no more deserving of special consideration than a fancy coffee maker or a toaster. It does stuff for us. So what if someone makes it "humanoid" looking and it is programmed to respond to facial norms that it has been coded to read. Until it has "feelings" that actually mean something and feels actual "pain" it is still a fancy toaster. The idiot damaged property and that is the end of it for now and for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the bank should invest a bit more in training their store clerks on how to diffuse whatever stressful situation initiated this attack and a little less on gimmicks.

Oct 02, 2015
It all depends on if it's prosecuted as a crime against property, vandalism, or a crime against persons, assault. It's vandalism. I don't see where there's an ethical issue.

Oct 02, 2015
And, to add, I think this is a repetition of the animal welfare lobby's mistake of trying to divine the consciousness of another entity as a basis for ethics. I'm not saying that it isn't important what other entities feel, I'm saying that you don't *need* that to have a responsible legal system. The law should be about what you do and what that makes you. It's a drunk guy kicking something. That's a well defined legal matter if you look at it from the actor's POV. You don't have to divine the consciousness of an animal to be anti-hunting. "What kind of person does that make you, that you consider that recreation" is all that is required to make the case.

Stop thinking about the robots and start thinking what kind of species do we want to be in relation to technology. That's what a lot of nanny-state rhetoric is about. Keeping people from looking in the mirror and dealing with that first. In the US in particular, you're supposed to just yell, "YOU have to change!"

Oct 02, 2015
Dr. Yueh-Hsuan Weng should be wedged under a chair and left there.

Oct 02, 2015
So those who try to categorise re a 'toaster' must be totally ignorant of the fact that anyone who is violent to #hardware for no particular reason other than to vent reptilian anger somehow is perfectly restrained under all conditions to not transfer that anger ever to a #pet ?

/substitute: hardware for animal
/substitute: pet for person

Then re-read sentence, then tell us you perfectly trust such a person under all circumstances and especially so when they are powerful and angry when you are vulnerable and meek (or even humble) ?

Those who say casually "well yeah" desperately need an education in psychology, ie operant & classical and the import of the fight/flight reptilian (irrational) response by those who appear sane

/substitute: hardware for stranger
/substitute: pet for spouse

See where this is going ?

There was a scifi novella approx 20+ yrs ago on this issue, bringing out the worst

God u prick I demand you give me patience right f..king NOW !


Oct 02, 2015
Mike_Massen you missed the point there, no one wrote that his violence was healthy. But kicking a robot is like kicking a rock, or the wall of a house. Even if the robots says "ouch ! it hurts !".

So yeah, legally speaking, it's like kicking a toaster, until IA gets far far far far more complex and achieves some kind of emotion turing test.

Oct 02, 2015
SkyLy claimed
"Mike_Massen you missed the point there.."

No, my intro didnt register in your neo-cortex, I apologise perhaps I was far too subtle - I did open with "To those who try to categorise...", hopefully in hindsight that should be perfectly clear I responded to comments

SkyLy continued
"So yeah, legally speaking, it's like kicking a toaster, until IA gets far far far far more complex and achieves some kind of emotion turing test"

Perhaps, a legal test has intertwined aspects of "do unto others.." which as we know arose historically from the Greeks & long before New Testament & wasn't touched on well in OT either.

I mention religion because many claim the MagnaCarta was based on religious principles but, long before the King James version (of many) arose.

Australian law has intent aspect re cartoon images eg Hentai & that can mean someone can be guilty of a crime without humans involved, which wouldnt help re prosecuting abuse of humanoid robots.

Oct 03, 2015
I also love my car and want to be able to bring suit if anyone were to insult and hurt its feelings.

Oct 03, 2015
The red flag law in England did not apply to automobiles but to heavy steam tractors and was abolished in 1872 but it was replaced by a speed limit of 4 mph which also applied to automobiles and was only raised to 12 mph in 1904.

Oct 03, 2015
I foresee a place where the troubled, the angry, the maladjusted can go, and destroy robots and maybe even toasters for "sport". It beats killing living things for "sport", doesn't it?

Oct 03, 2015
"I foresee a place where the troubled, the angry, the maladjusted can go, and destroy robots and maybe even toasters for "sport". It beats killing living things for "sport", doesn't it?" -says george.

"We are not commonly aware of, nor do we usually identify, the larger number of nonviolent sociopaths among us, people who often are not blatant lawbreakers, and against whom our formal legal system provides little defense.

"Most of us would not imagine any correspondence between conceiving an ethnic genocide and, say, guiltlessly lying to one's boss about a coworker. But the psychological correspondence is not only there; it is chilling. Simple and profound, the link is the absence of the inner mechanism that beats up on us, emotionally speaking, when we make a choice we view as immoral, unethical, neglectful, or selfish."

-Little lies or big ones. Intellectual, emotional, or physical violence.

You cant hide your true nature (IMO) here for long.

Oct 03, 2015
"what does the psychopath REALLY get from their victims? It's easy to see what they are after when they lie and manipulate for money or material goods or power. But in many instances, such as love relationships or faked friendships, it is not so easy to see what the psychopath is after. Without wandering too far afield into spiritual speculations - a problem Cleckley also faced - we can only say that it seems to be that the psychopath ENJOYS making others suffer. Just as normal humans enjoy seeing other people happy, or doing things that make other people smile, the psychopath enjoys the exact opposite."

-This sport does not always require physical violence does it?

Oct 04, 2015
"Their taking are jobs"!

Oct 04, 2015
There is one thing to keep in mind - humans have a track record of badly misjudging the mental capacities or sentience of anything not human. I would never trust myself or any other human to get that right. Hell, it wasn't so long ago we consistantly got the exact same thing dead wrong with humans - anyone who looked different to the human standing in judgement could never measure up.

Oct 04, 2015
I have always felt curious that we humans in general are going towards "Synthetic" world. Coke over fruit juices, robots over pets, whatsapp over games over nature walks. Humanoid robot is just a fancy plastic toy. The days are near when people will buy a robot to console them when they are unhappy. I fear that in near future, humans will loose natural emotions and will have pills for joy, robots for companionship, chemicals for food. I would like to born on another planet in my next life !!

Oct 05, 2015
@Zzzzzzzz if humans failed to see what is conscious, it was only because i wasn't born yet. Maybe we could give a degree of conscience to a machine as we can give to a bacteria. After all, biological beings made of cells are nothing more than machines : arrangement of atoms that gives rise to life with emergent properties. Maybe after stacking silicium in a way, or using silicium in a way, life's emergent property will arise in computers too, who knows ?
But the definition of conscience we have today asks for more complexity than a machine/computer can display.

To put this another way, we have a perfect vision of all the interactions going on in a machine (at the atomic level, molecular, component level...), and given our understanding of the world, we are 99.999999% sure a machine is not conscious.

Oct 05, 2015
@Abhay Yes, we've always been going toward a synthetic world, from the day we started hunting.
If you were born the day we started eating more meat than plants, you would have said "oh, gosh, look how unnatural their tastes are..."
If you were born the day we started cooking, you could have said "oh, gosh, eating cooked food is so SYNTHETIC"
You're not a alone, i know of a lot of people who think like you do. You have to be at peace though, because there is absolutely NOTHING that could stop people like you from creating a micro society where you live without the outside technologies. I think such communities will develop in the near future, i'm sure even today a lot of people would be seduced by living like we did during the mean age.

Oct 05, 2015
We have no intelligent robots. So the premise is wrong.
Just repair the stupid thing.

Oct 05, 2015
We have no intelligent robots. So the premise is wrong.
Just repair the stupid thing.

I dont think he is saying its wrong because the robot has feelings. He is saying it is wrong because he feels sorry for the robot. Its actually his feelings that are being hurt and he thinks that his feelings should be protected by law.

Oct 05, 2015
@Skyly You are absolutely right mate. But living without technology would be too hard because we are so used to it the moment we are born. I think "Natural is exactly opposite of Technology" !

Oct 05, 2015
adam_russell_9615 You win the prize.

The man (Weng) wants his feelings about the situation to be more important than the drunken slob that did the kicking.

I do not like anybody that feels they can damage other peoples property with impunity. In fact I feel that if you break my pet rock I should be entitled to crack your skull - after all I would then consider you just a wast of space.

I also get annoyed as many people above, by answering machines that just go on and on and on.

As for treating it different from other property I don't think that is warranted. All property represents life and energy that the owner has invested. Therefore, if you randomly smashed the shop window or broke their computer you are definitely cause for paying damages.

Oct 05, 2015
"The "Pepper robot" now moves more slowly, and its internal computer system may have been damaged."
Guess it's time for a name change. I propose "Gimpy"

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