Embodiment: Six Themes

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I’m writing this from Zürich airport, on my way back to England after an excellent sojourn at the Dharma Sangha Zen Centre (www.dharma-sangha.de) on the German/Swiss frontier.  I was there for a cosy meeting of the Society for Mind-Matter Research (www.mindmatter.de) on the topic of embodiment. My talk gave a brief overviews of six ways in which my research has investigated the role of embodiment in mind and computation.  You can view my slides here: prezi.com/view/TLzIVu5YT


Robot opera: Robert Gyorgyi interviews Ron Chrisley

Robert Gyorgyi, a Music student here at Sussex, recently interviewed me for his dissertation on robot opera.  He asked me about my recent collaborations, in which I programmed Nao robots to perform in operas composed for them.  Below is the transcript.


Interview with Dr Ron Chrisley, 20 April 2018, 12:00, University of Sussex

Bold text: Interviewer (Robert Gyorgyi), [R]: Dr Ron Chrisley

NB: The names ‘Ed’ and ‘Evelyn’ often come up within the interview. ‘Ed’ refers to Ed Hughes, the composer of Opposite of Familiarity (2017) and Evelyn to ‘Evelyn Ficarra’, composer of O, One (2017)

How did you hear about the project? Was it a sort of group brainstorming or was the idea proposed to you?

[R] -Evelyn approached me, then we had a meeting when she explained her vision to me.

These NAO robots are social robots designed to speak, not to sing. Was the assignment of their new task your main challenge? How did you do that? Continue reading

Robot Opera coverage in “Viva Lewes”

The September 2017 issue of Viva Lewes magazine features a two-page spread by Jacqui Bealing on the robot opera project that Evelyn Ficarra, Ed Hughes and I have been collaborating on (as detailed in earlier updates on this blog).  The article is available at:


For convenience, I include a copy of the article below.

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Machine consciousness at the Brighton Digital Festival


Next Tuesday I’ll be giving a brief talk on machine consciousness prior to a screening of the film Ex Machina, as part of the Brighton Digital Festival. Sackler colleagues Keisuke Suzuki and David Schwartzman will be giving consciousness-illuminating VR demos involving our Nao robots as well. The event is being organised in conjunction with the British Science Association.  More info at http://theoldmarket.com/shows/toms-film-club-ex_machina-2015/

Update, 4 October 2017:

Here are some photos of the event, courtesy of Amber John.  As you can see, the title I settled on was “Turing Tests and Machine Consciousness”.


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.

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.