Articles  |    |  November 29, 2016

Nudging for good: robots and the ethical appropriateness of nurturing empathy and charitable behavior

Article by Jason Borenstein  and Ronald C. Arkin.
Published in AI and Society. 


An under-examined aspect of human–robot interaction that warrants further exploration is whether robots should be permitted to influence a user’s behavior for that person’s own good. Yet an even more controversial practice could be on the horizon, which is allowing a robot to “nudge” a user’s behavior for the good of society. In this article, we examine the feasibility of creating companion robots that would seek to nurture a user’s empathy toward other human beings. As more and more computing devices subtly and overtly influence human behavior, it is important to draw attention to whether it would be ethically appropriate for roboticists to pursue this type of design pathway. Our primary focus is on whether a companion robot could encourage humans to perform charitable acts; this design possibility illustrates the range of socially just actions that a robot could potentially elicit from a user and what the associated ethical concerns may be.

About the Authors

  • Jason Borenstein — School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta USA
  • Ronald C. Arkin — College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta USA