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On robots as genetically modified invasive species

Michael Lemke (Biology Department, University of Illinois, Springfield, Illinois, USA)
Keith W. Miller (College of Education, University of Missouri, St Louis, Missouri, USA)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 6 May 2014




This paper aims to explore similarities and differences between robots, invasive biological species, and genetically modified organisms. These comparisons are designed to better understand the potential effects of robots on human society.


This paper applies established ideas in one discipline – biology – to issues that are less well understood, but actively being studied in another discipline – science and technology studies.


Robots entering human society in large numbers share many of the characteristics of an invasive species entering a new ecosystem. The authors also find that robots have several characteristics that are similar to a genetically modified organism. Taken together, these similarities suggest that society should be cautious about the introduction of large numbers of robots in a short period of time.


The approach taken here to assess robots in society by these analogies to ecological processes is, to the authors' knowledge, novel. Applying ideas from a better-known area to a less well-known area is routine in philosophy, but these particular analogies have not yet been carefully articulated in the literature.



The authors thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors who helped them improve the paper. The authors also thank Dr Rob DeSalle (American Museum of Natural History) and Dr James Bonacum (University of Illinois Springfield) for their suggestions.


Lemke, M. and W. Miller, K. (2014), "On robots as genetically modified invasive species", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 122-132.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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