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Dr Kathleen Richardson

Job: Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics

Faculty: Technology

School/department: School of Computer Science and Informatics

Research group(s): Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0)116 207 8584




Personal profile

Ethical Campaigning Work

Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots

Kathleen Richardson is Senior Research Fellow in Ethics of Robotics and part of the Europe-wide DREAM project (Development of Robot-Enhance Therapy for Children with AutisM). 

Kathleen completed her PhD at the Department of Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Her fieldwork was an investigation of the making of robots in labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After her PhD Kathleen was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow (BAPDF), a position she held at the University College London. Kathleen's postdoctoral work was an investigation into the therapeutic uses of robots for children with autism spectrum conditions. In 2013, she was part of the Digital Bridges Project, an innovative AHRC funded technology and arts collaboration between Watford Palace Theatre and the University of Cambridge.

Kathleen is author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines. She is now working on her second manuscript The Robot Intermediary? An Anthropology of Attachment and Robots for Children with Autism.

In 2015 she, along with her colleague launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots to draw attention to problematic effects on new technologies on human relations, and their potential impact to create new layers of inequalities between men and women and adults and children. She advocates a compassionate and violence free technology based on freedom ethics and is critical of coercive and violent models of human lived life that are transferred to the making of new technologies. Richardson is developing a theory of robotics inspired by abolitionist feminism.

Research group affiliations

CCSR- Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility

DREAM (development of Robot-Enhanced Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders)

Key research outputs

  • Richardson, K. 2016. The Human Relationship in the Ethics of Robotics (HER): A Call to Martin Buber's I and Thou in “I”Robot? Rethinking the I-You Relation through Dialogical Philosophy in the Ethics of AI and Robotics (AI & Society Special Issue) under review. 

  • Richardson, K. in press. ‘The Robot Intermediary: Mechanical Analogies and Autism’. Anthropology Today
  • Richardson, K., 2016. Sex Robot Matters: Slavery, the Prostituted, and the Rights of Machines. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine35(2), pp.46-53.
  • Richardson, K., 2016. The asymmetrical'relationship': parallels between prostitution and the development of sex robots. ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society45(3), pp.290-293. Read it HERE
  • Richardson, K. 2015. The Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines.  New York: Routledge.
  • Richardson, K., 2016. Technological Animism: The Uncanny Personhood of Humanoid Machines. Social Analysis60(1), pp.110-128.In Social Analysis (eds.) Katherine Swancutt and Mireille Mazard. Special Issue on Animism: The Animistic Turn.
  • Richardson, K. 2010. ‘Disabling as Mimesis and Alterity: Making Humanoid Robots at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," Etnofoor, September 2010, volume 22, issue 1, 2010, pp. 75-90.
  • Richardson, Kathleen and Sue Hessey. 2009. ‘Archiving the Self? Facebook as biography of social and relational memory’. Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society. 2009 Volume 7. 1. Pp. 25 – 38
  • Richardson, K. 2002. ‘Communicating Environmentalism in Amazonia.’ In C. Gandelsonas, (ed). Communicating Development. London: Intermediate Technology Publishing.

Research interests/expertise

My research is based on humanistic anthropology and is grounded in an ontological understanding of what it means to be human, and the primary importance of human relationship in our lives. I differentiate my anthropological practices from others in the field that decentre the human subject (ANT, Meshworks, Cyborgs, Multispecies, Material-relations, free market liberalism) who diminish the role of power in the structural organisation of cultures. Hence my work’s principle focus is a study of power, and how power is held over and above others and resistance to it. My research in autism and robots has enabled me to develop a detailed understanding of human sociality. My recent work on sex robots joins up empirical treatment of women in wider society as sex-objects (bodies that can be bought, rented or traded in the sex trade) with the development and production and imagination of sex robots. I principally focus on the issue of power and how it is exercised over women and children. Moreover, my work is about showing how persons are still seen as property, things, and objects, and new debates that promote AI and robots as persons and the ongoing attack on human subjectivity. I maintain in my work a profound ontological difference between persons and things and reject they are equivalent and can be measured in relation to each other. This has important implications for developing a theory of freedom ethics, which is grounded in human subjectivity and relationality

  • Anthropological Ethics of Robots
  • Autism and Robots
  • Theatre and Technology
  • Attachment Theory and Autism Theory
  • Sex Robots
  • Chatbots and new technological relational others
  • Feminism
  • Abolitionism


  • PhD (2008) Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
  • MPhil (2001) Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
  • MSc (1999) Development, Planning and Administration, Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning. University College London
  • BA (Hons) (1998) Anthropology and Linguistics. University College London

Membership of external committees

[AI and Society Journal, Advisory Board (2015-)]

[Machine Ethics and Machine Law, Scientific Committee (2016)]

Forthcoming events

ACADEMIC (2016-2017)

Keynote: Humans and Robots: Trieste Next - European Science Research Forum Trieste, Italy (23-25 September 2016).   

Keynote: International Research Conference Robophilosophy 2016/TRANSOR 2016: What Social Robots Can and Should Do. Aahaus, Denmark (17-21st September).


TEDxTalk ULB STAYING HUMAN ‘Money Can’t Buy You Love: Sex Robots & the instrumentalisation of Human Intimacy’ Brussels (May 4th 2016)

Ideacity TALK Sex with Robots (Talk and Debate) with David Levy Toronto, (15-18 June 2016)

VivaTechnology, Working with robots: to whom will it benefit? with Innorobo, Catherine Simon; SoftBank Robotics, Rodolphe Gelin, Chief Scientific Officer; Balyo, Fabien Bardinet

Southbank Centre, The Future of the Sex: Prostitution, Porn and the Rise of Sex RobotsProstitution, pornography and strip clubs have never been more widely available or profitable, but how are these powerful industries changing sex for the next generation? Does pornography create warped expectations for a generation of young men? Should women have the power to choose to prositute themselves or strip for money, or are these archaic and degrading acts that should be banned or made illegal? What does the rising popularity of luxury sex robots mean for human sexual relations? How are sexual mores in the Twenty First Century changing, and is the power dynamic between men and women in the bedroom shifting? Featuring Kat Banyard author of Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality,Wendy Jones author of The Sex Lives of English Women: Intimate Interviews and Unexpected Answers and Kathleen Richardson Leader of Campaign Against Sex Robots. (Saturday October 8, 1-2pm). 

Conference attendance

  • Invited: ‘Relational Subjectivity and Robots’ Aaahaus University, Copenhagen, Denmark (25 Nov)Workshop Paper: ‘The Robot Intermediary’ as Part of Autonomy and Automation Workshop, Bristol, (Mar 8 2014).

  • 2015    Invited: ‘The Ethics of Therapeutic Robots for Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions’ Human-Robot Interaction Summer School, Finland (29th Aug).
  • Workshop Paper: ‘Mimesis and Robotics” as part of Aboagora Symposium, Turku, Finland13th – 15th August. Sibelius Museum, Piispankatu 17 (2013).
  • Workshop Paper: ‘Challenging robotic appearances: to skin or not to skin?” as part of Skin and Bone Workshop, organised in collaboration with UCL, V&A, RCA and the University of Leeds. UCL (Feb 13 2012).
  • Conference Paper: ‘Robots as Parasites?” as part of Parasites Panel, American Anthropological Association, Montreal, Canada (Nov 16 2011).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Challenging Sociality? Robots and Autism’ Guest Department of Science, Technology & Society, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (Nov 14 2011).
  • Panel Convenor and Chair: ‘Socialness and Things’ at the Association of Social Anthropology, 2011. Imagining Disabilities in Multiple Agents. Wales. (Sept 16 2011).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Challenging Sociality? Robots and Autism Spectrum Conditions’ at the Manchester Department of Social Anthropology, Manchester University (October 24 2011).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Challenging Sociality? Robots and Autism Spectrum Conditions’ at the Aberdeen Department of Social Anthropology, Aberdeen University (Feb 17 2011).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Robots and Autism’, Department of Medical Sociology, University of East Anglia (Dec 9 2010).
  • Conference Paper: ‘Circulating Socially with Humanoid Robots’ at the American Anthropological Association, (Nov 17 2010), New Orleans.
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Robots and Autism’ to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Southern California (Jun 3 2010), Los Angeles.
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Challenging Sociality?  Robots and Autism’ at Developmental Psychiatry Seminar Series, University of Cambridge (Jan 13 2010).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Challenging Sociality: Robots and Autism’ at Material and Visual Culture Seminar, Department of Anthropology, University College London (Nov 23 2010).
  • Conference Paper: ‘Partial artefacts: Imitation and performance in MIT robotics labs’ ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future, Bristol (Apr 6-9 2009).
  • Workshop Paper: ‘Facebook as Biography and Social Archive’ Moving Image Archives, UCL and Nottingham University AHRC funded programme (Jan 7- 2009).
  • Conference Paper: ‘Robots and Fantasies of Destruction’ Society for the History of Technology, Lisbon (Oct 11-14 2009).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Ability, Disability and Robots’ Manchester Anthropology Seminars, University of Manchester (Oct 6 2009).
  • Workshop Paper: “Does metal matter? Relating to things as persons; sociable robots and the making of relational companions’ New Materials, New Technologies: Innovation, Future and Society University College London / Kings College London seminar 2009.
  • Conference Paper: ‘Dispersing Ideals in the Fabric of Life’ Acting with science, technology and medicine. Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) Annual Conference, Rotterdam (Aug 20-23 2009).
  • Conference Paper: ‘Ability, Disability and Robots’ Three Societies 2008: Connecting Disciplines Sixth Joint Meeting of the BSHS, CSHPS, and HSS, Oxford (Jul 4-6 2008).
  • Keynote Paper: ‘Archiving the Self: Facebook as Biography and Social Memory’ Digital Culture: New Forms of Living and Organizing? Informatics Research Institute, University of Salford. (Jun 16-17 2008).
  • Workshop Paper: ‘The fact and fiction of robots’ The Thinking Machine, University of Cambridge (Mar 18 2008).
  • Conference Paper: ‘Robot Visions of the Future of Humanity’ ScienceFutures, ETH University, Zurich (Feb 6–9 2008).
  • Conference Paper: ‘Human-Machine Boundaries’ 7th Inter-University Graduate Conference: Challenging the Boundaries in the Social Sciences, CRASSH, University of Cambridge (May 20 2007).
  • Workshop Paper: ‘Can a human have a relationship with a machine?” AISB 2006: Adaptation in Artificial and Biological Systems, Machine Consciousness Symposia, Bristol. (Apr 5-6 2007).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Uncanny Relationships - What the making of robots can tell us about what it means to be human” Bath University, Department of Computer Science (May 5 2006).
  • Seminar Paper: ‘Uncanny Relationships - What the making of robots can tell us about what it means to be human’ James Martin Advanced Research Seminar, Oxford University 2006 (Feb 14 2006).

Public Engagement


  • Expert Guest, Feature on the anthropomorphism and gendering of space robots Philae and Rosetta (Newsnight BBC2) (15 Jun 2015).
  • Expert Guest: AI as a threat to humanity (Newsnight, BBC2) with Nick Bostrom (Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford) with Evan Davis (2 Dec 2014).
  • Expert Panellist: Hierarchy at Work (In the Balance, BBC World Service) with Ed Butler (host) and Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer for Microsoft UK, Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School (19 April 2014). 
  • Panellist: Killer Robots: Ethics in the age of co-robotics (The Current Radio Show, Canada) with Anna Maria Tremonti (host) and Ian Kerr holds the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa and  Daniel H. Wilson, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics expert and author of the New York Times best-selling Robopocalypse.(May 6 2014).
  • Panellist: Hierarchy at Work (In the Balance, BBC World Service) with Ed Butler (host) and Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer for Microsoft UK and Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School (19 April 2014).
  • Panellist: Robots and US (In the Balance, BBC World Service) with Manuela Saragosa (host) and Professor Jeremy Wyatt of Birmingham University, Dr and Geoff Pegman of R. U. Robots.
  • Interview: Robot Ethics Thoughts with on Sky News with Stephen Dixon and Gillian Joseph (hosts) (26 October 2013).
  • Guest Lecture: London Science Museum Public Engagement Talk “The Rise of Robot Children” organised by the London Science Museum (Dec 10 2012).
  • Panellist:  Robot World - A Meeting with your Alternate Double. Part of Open City Docs Festival (Jun 22, 2012). 
  • Panellist:  Artificial Intelligence, Bionics and Consciousness. Organised as a joint project between the Manchester Science Festival and The Manchester Salon. Debate with Professor Kevin Warwick and Professor Raymond Tallis. (Oct 25 2011). 
  • Guest Lecture: UCL Lunch Time Lectures: Will Robots Take Over the World? Available on youtube (Feb 24, 2011)
  • Panellist:  Start the Week with Andrew Marr, Radio 4 (invited guest) Available BBC Radio 4 Iplayer. (Broadcast Jan 24, 2011).
  • Session Organiser: “Facebook, Friendship and Social Interaction” Cambridge University’s Arts, Humanities and Social Science Festival, (Oct 25, 2008).
  • Panellist:  Panel Discussant on Robot Rights with leading experts in robotics, Dana Centre, London Science Museum (Apr 2007).


  • Research Commentary Artificial Intelligence: - “Rise of the Machines” The Independent Blogs (Oct 2011). 
  • Research Commentary Robotics: “Are Friends Electric” Cover story. Times Higher Educational Supplement (Jun 2011)
  • Research Commentary Digital Social Networking: “Face Values” Times Higher Educational Supplement. (Oct 2010)  
  • Research Commentary Digital Social Networking: “Overnetworked? Facebook and Friends” Cambridge Alumni Magazine. (Feb 2009).
  • Research Commentary Robotics: “Robots Will Be Our Friends?” The New Scientist (Feb 2007).
  • Research Commentary Building Design: “Let’s Play Together Nicely Shall We?” The Times Higher Educational Supplement (Jun 2006).

Search Who's Who

Robot Sex May Be Coming Sooner Than You Think (Huffington Post Live Discussion):

Robots and ethics: the future of sex (Kathleen Richardson) - TEDxULB:

Love & Sex with Robots! No! (Kathleen Richardson's ideacity talk) Download HERE.



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