When robots kill

A recent robot-related death in Germany highlights broader dilemmas in the design of safe autonomous systems.

Last month, a robot grabbed a worker at a Volkswagen plant in Germany, crushing and killing him. This tragic though fairly common incident has drawn attention to the growing dangers of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

As computers become smaller, smarter, faster and more interconnected, we will delegate more tasks to them. Generally, this will make our lives easier, because we will spend less time researching information, getting directions, or driving cars. Well-designed programs can often do these sorts of tasks better than we can.

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