Biotechnology and Ethics


Harvard University.  Self-organizing Systems Research Group (2014, August). Retrieved November 21, 2016, from

5. Robot swarms

Researchers at Harvard University recently created a swarm of over 1000 robots, capable of communicating with each other to perform simple tasks such as arranging themselves into shapes and patterns. These "kilobots" require no human intervention beyond the original set of instructions and work together to complete tasks. These tiny bots are based on the swarm behaviour of insects and can be used to perform environmental clean-ups or respond to disasters where humans fear to tread.

The concept of driverless cars also relies on this system, where the cars themselves (without human intervention, ideally) would communicate with each other to obey traffic laws and deliver people safely to their destinations.

  • But should we be worried about the ethical and policy implications of letting robots work together without humans running interference?
  • What happens if a bot malfunctions and causes harm?
  • Who would be blamed for such an accident?
  • What if tiny swarms of robots could be set up to spy or sabotage? 

Kilobot swarm

Rubenstein, M. [WIRED Science]. (2014, August 14). Kilobot swarm [Video file]. Retrieved from