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Robot Ethics Unit 8: Machine Ethics 1 – An Asimovian Ethical Robot

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1 Hour
Unit overview

In this unit, we will explore machine ethics, and ask the question: is it possible to build a moral machine?

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Level Technical
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Alan Winfield is Professor of Robot Ethics at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, UK, Visiting Professor at the University of York, and Associate Fellow of the Cambridge Centre for the Future of Intelligence. He received his PhD in Digital Communications from the University of Hull in 1984, then co-founded and led NEC Software Solution  until taking-up appointment at UWE, Bristol in 1992. Alan co-founded the Bristol Robotics Laboratory where his current research is focused on the science, engineering and ethics of cognitive robotics.

Alan is passionate about communicating research and ideas in science, engineering and technology; he led UK-wide public engagement project Walking with Robots, awarded the 2010 Royal Academy of Engineering Rooke medal for public promotion of engineering. For some years he was director of UWE’s Science Communication Unit. A frequent commentator for the press and media, he was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 series The Life Scientific and interviewed for BBC News HARDtalk.

Alan is an advocate for robot ethics; he sits on the executive of the IEEE Standards Association Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, and chairs Working Group P7001, drafting a new IEEE standard on Transparency of Autonomous Systems. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global AI Council. Alan has published over 250 works, including Robotics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012); he lectures widely on robotics, presenting to both academic and public audiences, and blogs at

Type Unit
What you will learn
By the end of this unit, you will:

• Have considered whether it is possible to build a moral machine.
• Understand how we can build a simple ethical robot and the consequence engine which makes this possible.
• Understand experimental trials and what they reveal about the performance and limitations of a simple ethical robot.
Who should learn
Students are expected to have an appreciation of robotics, related fields, and their significance in the modern world. The course would be suitable for students of A-level technology, undergraduate, or postgraduate robotics or artificial intelligence.
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