Paper submission

Racism And Robot Ethics

By Christoph Bartneck

University of Canterbury, New Zealand

While it is widely accepted that humans treat robots as if they were social actors, as if they were somewhat alive, we rarely extend this understanding to negative aspects of our human behaviour. In a series of studies we investigated to what degree humans ascribe a race to robots and whether they change their behaviour accordingly. Our results show that racial biases are transferred to racialized robots. This behaviour could not be explained by social priming or fatigue. Introducing a brown alternative to robots being racialized as Blacks and White resulted in less racial bias. This series of experiments raise several ethical questions which we will have to deal with, in particular in the framework of autonomous vehicles.


Dr. Christoph Bartneck is an associate professor and director of postgraduate studies at the HIT Lab NZ of the University of Canterbury. He has a background in Industrial Design and Human-Computer Interaction, and his projects and studies have been published in leading journals, newspapers, and conferences. His interests lie in the fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Science and Technology Studies, and Visual Design. More specifically, he focuses on the effect of anthropomorphism on human-robot interaction. As a secondary research interest he works on bibliometric analyses, agent based social simulations, and the critical review on scientific processes and policies. In the field of Design Christoph investigates the history of product design, tessellations and photography.
He has worked for several international organizations including the Technology Centre of Hannover (Germany), LEGO (Denmark), Eagle River Interactive (USA), Philips Research (Netherlands), ATR (Japan), and The Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands). Christoph is an associate editor of the International Journal of Social Robotics, the International Journal of Human Computer Studies and Entertainment Computing Journal. Christoph is a member of the New Zealand Institute for Language Brain & Behavior, ACM SIGCHI, The New Zealand Association Of Scientists and Academic Freedom Aotearoa.
The press regularly reports on his work, including the New Scientist, Scientific American, Popular Science, Wired, New York Times, The Times, BBC, Huffington Post, Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Economist.