Is it cruel to kick a robot dog?

Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, UK, told CNN: “The only way it’s unethical is if the robot could feel pain.”

He pointed out our tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. “We as humans attribute human qualities to many things; designers have been using this for years — even cars are designed to look like animals. The more lifelike, or animal like, it is, the more we attribute those qualities on to it,” he said.

“For me as a roboticist that is quite an impressive test, usually when you kick a robot like that it falls over.”

But he did caution: “Many philosophers over the years have said that animals are clockwork but we must be kind to them anyway. By treating something life-like cruelly you are more likely to treat a living thing that way. If they could feel pain it would be completely different.”