Robotics theologian Anne Foerst, the author of the new book God in the Machine, offered commentary on some of the provocative issues that will arise with robotics in the years to come. As robots become increasingly sophisticated in future decades, she believes they eventually will reach a level where they could be considered "persons." Even with identical machines, their personalities would develop differently based on their unique experiences, she said.
At that juncture in the future, we will face new types of ethical dilemmas, Foerst noted, such as do humans have the right to "turn off" a robot? She suggested that robots may eventually be viewed as a "partner species" to humanity, and that they might generate completely fresh ideas that we never thought about.
She detailed her experiences working at MIT on their artificial intelligence project Kismet. While very primitive, the robot had social intelligence and the ability to use different vocal melodies. Interestingly, Foerst said that in watching her emotional reactions to Kismet, it made more of a statement about humans than robots.