Robotic Ethics

Robotic Ethics

The so-called 4th industrial revolution and its economic and societal implications is no longer an academic concern, but has become a matter for political as well as a public debate. The Fourth Industrial Revolution - characterised as the convergence of robotics, AI, autonomous systems and information technology, or cyber-physical systems - was the focus of the World Economic Forum, at Davos, in 2016.

In the US the White House initiated a series of public workshops on artificial intelligence (AI) and the creation of an interagency working group; the UK parliamentary select committee on Science and Technology commenced an Inquiry on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, and the European Parliament committee for legal affairs published a draft report with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics.

Notably all of these initiatives express the need for serious consideration of the ethical and societal implications. Machine ethics has been transformed from a niche area of concern of a few engineers, philosophers and law academics, to an international debate.

In this theme we are interested in both robot ethics and ethical robots. The former is broadly concerned with the ethical use of autonomous systems including standards and regulation - in a nutshell ethical governance, while the latter is concerned with how autonomous systems can themselves be ethical, i.e. be imbued with ethical values. Both are of critical importance. Ethical governance is needed in order to develop standards that allow us to transparently and robustly assure the safety of autonomous systems and hence build public trust and confidence. Ethical autonomous systems are needed because, inevitably, near future systems are moral agents; consider driverless cars, or medical diagnosis AIs, both of which will need to make choices with ethical consequences.

National and international engagement with robotics and AI ethics

Theme members are involved in the following:

The lab also contributed to the 2016 UK Parliamentary Science and Technology Parliamentary Inquiry on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, in the written evidence submitted by the EPSRC UK RAS Network, and by Alan Winfield. See the final report of the inquiry here.


Verifiable Autonomy

In the next 20 years, we expect to see autonomous vehicles, aircraft, robots, devices, swarms, and software, all of which will (and must) be able to make their own decisions without human intervention. This EPSRC funded project is concerned with building autonomous systems that are verifiably correct. It is a joint project with Liverpool (lead) and Sheffield, and the BRL contribution is to develop and build robots that can behave ethically.

Theme Leader

Robot Ethics Team

  • Dr Matthew Studley
  • Dr Paul Bremner

Page last updated 15 March 2018