Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn is looking to Google for help in deploying robots in its factories, according to Lorraine Luk in the Wall Street Journal's Digits blog. Google, known for it work on autonomous vehicles, beefed up its robotic efforts in 2013 through the acquisition of eight robotics companies.
According to Luk in Digits, “The cooperation [between Google and Foxconn] comes as Foxconn has been striving to accelerate automation efforts at its factories amid challenges of rising labor costs and workplace disputes in China, where it has more than a million workers.
Employing robots may not end disputes, however. In today's Boston Globe, columnist Alex Beam addresses the emergence of the robots rights movement. He cites MIT Media Lab researcher Kate Darling, who wrote a 2012 academic paper titled “On Extending Legal Rights to Social Robots,” as saying, “[I] have fellowships at Harvard and Yale for robot ethics this year and am planning a bunch of experimental work on human-robot interaction at MIT.”
However, Foxconn may have some time before any robots it employs start complaining. Beam quotes Pete Remine, founder of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Robots, as saying that work on a robot bill of rights is on hold pending further progress in the field of artificial intelligence. And a Google search suggests there is no similar organization in Taiwan or China.
On a serious note, Joanna J. Bryson in a book chapter titled “Robots Should Be Slaves” describes the tendency to personify robots and cites reasons for not doing so.
Update: Andrew Leonard has an article on the cooperative effort between Google and Foxconn in Salon, and Patricia Schwarz adds the interesting comment that if Google can train robots to have emotional needs that can be manipulated by advertising, manufacturers can replace consumers as well as workers.