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Closing Plenary

Noel Sharkey

Doing what's right with robots: an ethical appraisal

Noel Sharkey
Professor of AI and Robotics and Professor of Public Engagement
University of Sheffield, UK
Date: Thursday, April 15th
Time: 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM


Would you let robots care for your children, mind your aging parents, perform surgery on you, protect your home and fight your wars? Since the turn of the century, sales of professional and personal service robots have risen sharply to an estimated 11.5 million by 2011. Their numbers already far outstrip the 1.2 million operational industrial robots on the planet. Service robots are good at dull, dangerous, and dirty work, such as cleaning sewers and performing domestic duties. They harvest fruit, pump gasoline, assist doctors and surgeons, dispose of bombs, police us, entertain us, have sex with us and even kill us. This talk will briefly overview today's service robots and their benefits and then focus on the near-future ethical dangers that they pose.


Noel Sharkey BA PhD FIET, FBCS CITP FRIN FRSA is a Professor of AI and Robotics and Professor of Public Engagement at the University of Sheffield (Department of Computer Science), He has held a number of research and teaching positions in the UK (Essex, Exeter, Sheffield) and the USA (Yale, Stanford, Berkeley). Noel has moved freely across academic disciplines, lecturing in departments of engineering, philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, artificial intelligence and computer science. He holds a Doctorate in Experimental Psychology and an honorary Doctorate of Science. He is a chartered electrical engineer, a chartered information technology professional, and a Fellow of The Royal Institution of Navigation (FRIN), the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (FRSA), the Institution of Engineering and Technology (FIET), the British Computer Society (FBCS), is a member of both the Experimental Psychology Society and Equity (the actor's union). In addition to editing several journal special issues on modern robotics, Noel is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Connection Science and an editorial board member of several journals. His main research interests are in bio-inspired robotics, cognitive processes, history of automata (from ancient to modern), Human-Robot interaction and communication, representations of emotion, machine learning and the ethics of robot applications.

In his public engagement role, Noel appears regularly on TV (around 300 appearances) and is interviewed regularly on radio and in the press. He also writes for the national newspapers and magazines. He has developed large scale robot exhibitions at Magna Science Adventure Centre and Think Tank galleries in Birmingham and a number of mechanical art installations for “The Peeps”. Noel has run robot control and construction competitions for children and young adults from 26 countries. He has a passion for engaging the public in debate and discussions about controversial issues in technology. He is currently involved in initiating public discussion about the ethical use of robots and the implications for public safety and human rights. “This has become a passion for me. There is a cultural mythology about robots fed by media, governments and scientists alike. While we cannot eliminate the possibility of a thinking robot, it is currently a matter of faith and principled academic debate. My concern is with the dangers posed by application of robots now and in the near-future.”

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