I guess Westworld has made this a hot topic, but even better (or at least shorter) is this article “If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots?”
It turns out that, for a host of reasons the author covers, we feel moral regret when we cause or observe pain, even if the recipient can’t feel that pain, such as a robot.
At one point, a roboticist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory built an unlovable, centipede-like robot designed to clear land mines by crawling forward until all its legs were blown off. During a test run, in Arizona, an Army colonel ordered the exercise stopped, because, according to the Washington Post, he found the violence to the robot “inhumane.”
Or consider this experiment involving the Pleo, a “lifelike” robot dinosaur.
In an experiment that Darling and her colleagues ran, participants were given Pleos—small baby Camarasaurus robots—and were instructed to interact with them. Then they were told to tie up the Pleos and beat them to death. Some refused. Some shielded the Pleos from the blows of others. One woman removed her robot’s battery to “spare it the pain.” In the end, the participants were persuaded to “sacrifice” one whimpering Pleo, sparing the others from their fate.
Of course the ultimate issue isn’t that we fear the robots are going to become sentient and revolt but rather “The problem with torturing a robot, in other words, has nothing to do with what a robot is, and everything to do with what we fear most in ourselves.”