Capurro, Rafael
 Incorporated contributions
Capurro (30/10/09)
 Usage domain
Information ethics
 German Roboethik  

As Capurro and Nagenborg (2009) state, ethics and robotics are two academic disciplines, one dealing with the moral norms and values underlying implicitly or explicitly human behaviour and the other aiming at the production of artificial agents, mostly as physical devices, with some degree of autonomy based on rules and programmes set up by their creators. Since the first robots arrived on the stage in the play by Karel Čapek (1921) visions of a world inhabited by humans and robots gave rise to countless utopian and dystopian stories, songs, movies, and video games.


Human-robot interaction raises serious ethical questions right now that are theoretically less ambitious but practically more important than the possibility of the creation of moral machines that would be more than machines with an ethical code. But, even when the process of invention and development of robotic technologies take place in a global level, in which diverse cultures, therefore also diverse systems of values, beliefs and expectations are involved, intercultural roboethics is still in its infancy, no less than intercultural robotics (®Intercultural Information Ethics).

Rougly speaking, the following ethical theories and moral values as well as principles are predominant in Western and Eastern traditions rising different questions with regard to human-robot interaction such as:

  • Europe: Deontology (Autonomy, Human Dignity, Privacy, Anthropocentrism): Scepticism with regard to robots
  • USA (and anglo-saxon tradition): Utilitarian Ethics: will robots make “us” more happy?
  • Eastern Tradition (Buddhism): Robots as one more partner in the global interaction of things

The difference morality and ethics should be understood as follows:

  • Ethics as critical reflection (or problematization) of morality
  • Ethics is the science of morals as robotics is the science of robots

Different ontic or concrete historical moral traditions are for instance

  • in Japan: /Seken/ (trad. Japanese morality), /Shakai/ (imported Western morality) and /Ikai/ (old animistic tradition)
  • In the „Far West“: Ethics of the Good (Plato, Aristotle), Christian Ethics, Utilitarian Ethics, Deontological Ethics (Kant)

The ontological dimension, Being or (Buddhist) Nothingness, can be conceived as the space of open possibilities that allow us to criticize concrete or ‘ontic’ moralities. The human relation to such ontological dimension is always based on basic moods (like sadness, happiness, astonishment etc.) through which the uniqueness of the world and human existence is experienced differently in different cultures. A future intercultural roboethics should reflect on the ontic as well as on the ontological dimensions for creating and using robots in different cultural contexts and with regard to different goals. Trends, contributions and bibliography focused in this crossroad can be found in the mentioned book, edited by Capurro and Nagenborg.



  • ČAPEK, Karel (1920).  R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti)  [English translation: R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), New York: Pocket Books, 1970.
  • CAPURRO, Rafael and NAGENBORG, Michael (Eds.) (2009), Introduction. In: Ethics and Robotics. Berlin: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft.

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Rafael Capurro (30/10/2009)
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