On robots as genetically modified invasive species

Date06 May 2014
Published date06 May 2014
AuthorMichael Lemke,Keith W. Miller
Subject MatterInformation & knowledge management,Information management & governance
On robots as genetically modified
invasive species
Michael Lemke
Biology Department, University of Illinois, Springfield, Illinois, USA, and
Keith W. Miller
College of Education, University of Missouri, St Louis, Missouri, USA
Purpose – 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.
Design/methodology/approach 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.
Findings – 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.
Originality/value – 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.
Keywords Robotics, Artificial life, Biologicalresearch
Paper type Conceptual paper
Robots are increasingly a part of human society. Some people have concerns about the
increasing number of robots among us, and the increasing sophistication of those
robots. Worries about robots and human society include the displacement of humans
from valuable jobs, the militarization of robots, and unintended side effects of humans’
increased reliance on computerized machines.
Simultaneously, there is growing concern about invasive species, and about
genetically modified organisms (GMO). An invasive species is defined as “a non-native
species whose introduction does, or is likely to, cause economic or environmental harm
or harm to human health” (National Invasive Species Council, 2013).
Not all non-native species are harmful, and not all GMO are problematic; but the
negative consequences of some non-native species, (designated invasive species when
harm occurs), and the negative consequences of some GMO have been well documented.
For example, Asian carp were introduced in the USA to help clean fish farms; now their
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
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.
Received 1 August 2013
Revised 22 November 2013
15 January 2014
Accepted 16 January 2014
Journal of Information,
Communication and Ethics in Society
Vol. 12 No. 2, 2014
pp. 122-132
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JICES-06-2013-0019

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