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Hewlett-Packard Professor of Electronic Engineering, UWE Bristol Visiting Professor, Department of Electronics, University of York Director of the UWE Science Communication Unit EPSRC Senior Media Fellow I am deeply interested in mobile robots for two reasons: (1), they are complex and potentially useful machines that embody just about every design challenge and discipline there is and (2), robots allow us to address some deep questions about life, emergence, culture and intelligence in a radically new way, that is by building models. Thus, robotics is for me both engineering and experimental philosophy. I'm committed to the widest possible dissemination of research and ideas in science, engineering and technology and I believe that robots provide us with a wonderful vehicle for public engagement. Actually I would go a stage further and argue that intelligent robots will become ubiquitous in the near future and we therefore need to start a dialogue now about the ethical and moral questions that will arise.

Part 2: Autonomous Systems and Transparency

In my previous post I argued that a wide range of AI and Autonomous Systems (from now on I will just use the term AS as shorthand for both) should be regarded as Safety Critical. I include both autonomous software AI systems and hard (embodied) AIs such as robots, drones and driverless cars. Many will be surprised that I include in the soft AI category apparently harmless systems such as search engines. Of course no-one is seriously inconvenienced when Amazon makes a silly book recommendation, but consider very large groups of people. If a truth (such as global warming) is – because of accidental or willful manipulation – presented as false, and that falsehood is believed by a very large number of people, then serious harm to the planet (and we humans who depend on it) could result.

With machine intelligence emerging as an essential tool in many aspects of modern life, Alan Winfield discusses autonomous sytems, safety and regulation.


We tend to assume that automation is a process that continues – that once some human activity has been automated there’s no going back. That automation sticks. But, as Paul Mason pointed out in a recent column that assumption is wrong.

Alan Winfield introduces the recently published IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems…


When I was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in 2014, Justin Webb’s final question was, “If you can make an ethical robot, doesn’t that mean you could make an unethical robot?” The answer, of course, is yes. But at the time, I didn’t realise quite how easy it is to transform a robot from ethical to unethical. In a new paper, we show how.


Ever since Elon Musk’s recent admission that he’s a simulationist, several people have asked me what I think of the proposition that we are living inside a simulation. My view is very firmly that the Universe we are right now experiencing is real. Here are my reasons.

To design a gendered robot is a deception. Robots cannot have a gender in any meaningful sense. To impose a gender on a robot, either by design of its outward appearance, or programming some gender stereotypical behaviour, cannot be for reasons other than deception – to make humans believe that the robot has gender, or gender specific characteristics.

by   -   April 12, 2016

regulation_google-buggy_car_autonomous_robocar-(1)Sooner or later there will be fatal accident caused by a driverless car. It’s not a question of if, but when. What happens immediately following that accident could have a profound effect on the nascent driverless car industry.

Is it possible to build a moral machine: a robot capable of choosing or moderating its actions on the basis of ethical rules? Three years ago, I thought the idea impossible. Since then I have changed my mind and developed and experimentally tested an ethical robot.

If you’re in the business of making ethical robots, then sooner or later you have to face the question: how ethical is your ethical robot?

by   -   April 20, 2015

BRL NAO with Stereo Headset_PGibbons

Yesterday I looked through the eyes of a robot.

It was a NAO robot fitted with a 3D printed set of goggles, so that the robot has two real cameras on its head (the eyes of the NAO robot are not in fact cameras). I was in another room wearing an Oculus Rift headset. The Oculus was hooked up to the NAO’s goggle cameras, so that I could see through those cameras – in stereo vision.

Imagine a swarm of microscopic robots that we inject into the vascular system: the swarm swims to the source of the problem, then either delivers therapeutics or undertakes microsurgery directly. That was how I opened a short invited talk at the Royal Society of Medicine, at a meeting themed The Future of Robotics in Surgery.

by   -   February 18, 2015

I am not anti-automation. Absolutely not. But I believe very strongly that the benefits of robotics and automation should be shared by all.

by   -   January 27, 2015

Robotics has the potential to be hugely beneficial to society, but is too important to leave to free-market capitalism.