The Ethics of AI and Healthcare

ai-doctor2-570x300I was interviewed by recently about the ethics of AI in healthcare.  One or
two remarks of mine from that interview
are included near the end of this piece that appeared last week:

My views are on this are considerably more nuanced than these quotes suggest, so I am thinking of turning my extensive prep notes for the interview into a piece to be posted here and/or on a site like  These thoughts are completely distinct from the ones included in the paper Steve Torrance and I wrote a few years back, “Modelling consciousness-dependent expertise in machine medical moral agents“.

Hands-on learning with social robots in schools

img_1347I’ve been working with student assistant Deepeka Khosla to design hands-on social robotics curricula for school students. We delivered three sessions for year 7 and 8 students on January 12th using AiBO and NAO robots, which involved some of the students doing some (very-limited) coding of the robots, and inspection of their program and sensory states, a basic form of increasing “transparency” of social robots.
A key component of making robots more intelligibile is the development of “roboliteracy”: a good understanding of what can and what cannot be (currently) done/expected to be done by social robots. Familiarity can be a key component of de-mystification/anxiety reduction.
img_4691Current plans are underway to develop a more advanced, coding-based 3-hour learning session for year 9 students, for delivery over 2017-1018, starting in May. This will be marketed exclusively to girls. During my recent visit to the UAE I was inspired by what I saw, and the reports I heard, concerning the strong representation of women and girls in robotics education in that part of the world. Just letting girls here know about that, showing them photos of female robotics teams from there, etc., might be an example of a way to make the course content match that marketing aim.
Any suggestions/examples concerning robot curriculum in schools would be very welcome!
Support for development and delivery of these sessions has been provided by the Widening Participation initiative at Sussex.

Functionalism, Revisionism, and Qualia

logoA paper by myself and Aaron Sloman, “Functionalism, Revisionism, and Qualia” has just been published in the APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Computing. (The whole issue looks fantastic – I’m looking forward to reading all of it, especially the other papers in the “Mind Robotics” section, and most especially the papers by Jun Tani and Riccardo Manzotti). Our contribution is a kind of follow-up to our 2003 paper “Virtual Machines and Consciousness”. There’s no abstract, so let me just list here a few of the more controversial things we claim (and in some cases, even argue for!):

  • Even if our concept of qualia is true of nothing, qualia might still exist (we’re looking at you, Dan Dennett!)
  • If qualia exist, they are physical – or at least their existence alone would not imply the falsity of physicalism (lots of people we’re looking at here )
  • We might not have qualia: The existence of qualia is an empirical matter.
  • Even if we don’t have qualia, it might be possible to build a robot that does!
  • The question of whether inverted qualia spectra are possible is, in a sense, incoherent.

If you get a chance to read it, I’d love to hear what you think.


Russell, Russell: A Metaphysics emerges from the undergrowth

bertrand-russellThe final E-Intentionality seminar of 2016 will be led by Simon Bowes this Thursday, December 15th at 13:00 in Freeman G22.
Russell Russell:  A Metaphysics emerges from the undergrowth.
I will be examining recent arguments reviving Russellian monism, so-called neo-Russellian physicalism.  I will be asking whether it is viable both as a kind of physicalism and as a way of accounting for experiential properties in a material world.

The existence of qualia does not entail dualism

Our next E-Intentionality seminar is this Thurnaossday, December 1st, at 13:00 in Freeman
G22.  This will be a dry run of a talk I’ll be giving
as part of EUCognition2016, entitled “Architectural Requirements for Consciousness”.  You can read the abstract here, along with an extended clarificatory discussion prompted by David Booth’s comments.

Ethically designing robots without designing ethical robots

robot_ethicsNext Thursday, November 17th, at 13:00 I’ll be leading the E-Intentionality seminar in Freeman G22. I’ll be using this seminar as a dry run for the first part of my keynote lecture at the UAE Social Robotics meeting next week. It builds on work that I first presented at Tufts in 2014.


Since robots will not, in the near future, be responsible agents, avoiding some moral hazards (e.g., that of abdication of responsibility) will require designs that assist in tracing complex lines of responsibility backwards from outcomes, through the robot, and back to the appropriate humans and/or social institutions. I look at one approach to ethically designing robots, that of designing ethical robots – robots that are given a set of rules that are intended to encode an ethical system, and which are to be applied by the robot in the generation of its behaviour. I argue that this approach will in many cases obfuscate, rather than clarify, the lines of responsibility involved (resulting in “moral murk”), and can lead to ethically adverse situations. After giving an example of such cases, I offer an alternative approach to ethical design of robots, one that does not presuppose that notions of obligation and permission apply to the robot in question, thereby avoiding the problems of moral murk and ethical adversity.

CFP: Cognitive Robot Architectures

Recently I was appointed to the Editorial Board of the journal Cognitive Systems Research. We have just announced a call for submissions to a special issue that I am co-editing along with the other s13890417organisers of EUCognition2016.  Although we expect some authors of papers for that meeting to submit their papers for inclusion in this special issue, this is an open call: one need not attend EUCognition2016 to submit something for inclusion in the special issue.  The call, reproduced below, can also be found at:

Special Issue on Cognitive Robot Architectures

Research into cognitive systems is distinct from artificial intelligence in general in that it seeks to design complete artificial systems in ways that are informed by, or that attempt to explain, biological cognition. The emphasis is on systems that are autonomous, robust, flexible and self-improving in pursuing their goals in real environments.  This special issue of Cognitive Systems Research will feature recent work in this area that is pitched at the level of the cognitive architecture of such designs and systems.  Cognitive architectures are the underlying, relatively invariant structural and functional constraints that make possible cognitive processes such as perception, action, reasoning, learning and planning.  In particular, this issue will focus on cognitive architectures for robots that are designed either using insights from natural cognition, or to help explain natural cognition, or both.

Papers included in this issue will address such questions/debates as:
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