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Are we ready for robot relationships?

Sex robots and the issues surrounding human-robot relationships will be debated at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) on Tuesday (21 February) as part of a series under the esteemed banner of the British Academy.

The UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences is leading a season of free events entitled ‘Robotics, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Society’.

INSET robotocis

The second of its fascinating discussions is being held at DMU this Tuesday, in the Hugh Aston building, from 6.30pm, with one of our university’s brightest minds also being one of the panelists on the night.

Launched in 2014, the academy’s Debates series aims to demonstrate how new insights from research can challenge assumptions, illuminate dilemmas, help to make the complex intelligible, explore new directions and push forward political and public debate around some of the greatest challenges of our time.

Recent advances in robotics and AI are revolutionising business, society and our personal lives – while some welcome the arrival of driverless cars or delivery drones, others are unsettled by smart machines taking on an increasingly complex array of roles, including the creation of life-like sex robots.

INSET kathlenn

Is society ready for robot companions? How might human-robot relationships alter society? What are the ethical, legal and social considerations surrounding this dynamic? These are some of the intriguing questions that will be tackled on the night by the panel of experts, including DMU’s own Dr Kathleen Richardson.

Dr Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics in DMU’s School of Computer Science and Informatics, has written and spoken extensively on the subject.

She has already contributed to the ‘Robotics, AI and Society’ series when she gave a talk entitled ‘Sex Robots and the Death of Relationship’ at the academy’s Carlton House Terrace HQ in London on 3 February as part of an evening of talks, workshops and performances on the theme ‘Love, Sex and Marriage…with a Robot?’.

Dr Richardson, who was interviewed on BBC Radio 3 last Wednesday night for Matthew Sweet’s Free Thinking programme, said: “The academy frequently organises public-engagement events and the team realised that robotics and AI was an important topic. We are fortunate to be holding one of these events at DMU.

“Our talk will be exploring if robots can be relational others to humans. Can robots really act in the role of a friend, companion or a sexual partner? The panellists will look at different developments in these areas and raise important ethical issues.

“We will also invite the public to participate in the debates. We have a very distinguished panel of experts who have been researching robots for many years. Professor Margaret Boden is one of the earliest AI experts in the UK and we will get to welcome her here at DMU.”

Alongside Dr Richardson on the panel for DMU’s debate on Tuesday will be:

•    Prof Margaret Boden, Research Professor in Cognitive Science at Sussex University.
•    Dr John Danaher, law lecturer from the National University of Ireland, Galway.
•    Nicole Dewandre, philosopher from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Chairing the discussion will be journalist and author Luke Dormehl, who wrote the 2016 book Thinking Machines.

The event is being organised in partnership with The Royal Society.  Entry to the event is free but registration is required via the British Academy website. Seats are then allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and a returns queue will be operating on the night.

To find out more about the event, visit the website  or email
Posted on Friday 17th February 2017

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