An interesting report has just been published by the Royal Academy of Engineering about the social legal and ethical implications surrounding autonomous machines.

I have yet to read the report, being far to busy finishing my thesis, looking after my daughter, and trying to find something to do post thesis – hence the lack of activity on my blog.

The topic is interesting though. As devices get more autonomy, get better at learning for themselves, how will people come to regard them. Will we start to see machines as having agency in the sense of being responsible for the things that they do. If fact we often have a tendency to regard inanimate objects as having agency, particularly when the won’t do the things you want them to! How much easier will it be to blame the machine when it appears to be operating under its own volition?

I suspect that many people will vary in their opinions of autonomous machines. When they do things we don’t like it will be the machines fault for acting like that but when they do things that are strangely human like we might want to dismiss it as just part of their programming.

I imagine that the advances in machine autonomy might also bring some fresh perspectives on how we perceive our own apparent autonomy and our ability (or not) to make responsible decisions.


I did get on the TV after all but only in the background of a shot – I’m driving a robot around with a joystick.

You can see it here. The relevant bit starts about 34 minutes in.

I ought to add that this video will disappear and be replaced by the latest edition of the show on Sunday the 21st.

Slightly disappointing, I wasn’t interviewed in the end but I did have some of my robot progeny filmed with me in the background.  A colleague, Andy, did the interview instead.

What it came down to was that they only needed one person and Andy is more senior (he has his PhD) so he is more appropriate to represent the university on TV.  Better to have ‘Dr P…’ than ‘Student Bill’.

Shame, I was looking forward to that, but it was the right decision.

On the plus side, I now have some smart new trousers!

Just spend the afternoon organising for an interview with the BBC.  HSBC recently released a ‘Future Business’ report that claimed that Brighton would be a future technology super-city and that robots would be a key technology for the UK economy. So I get to stand in front of a camera and talk about robots for the Politics Show in our region.

Cool? Possibly, but also anxiety generating and I need to look smart so my wife has demanded that I submit to her will and come shopping for a new outfit. I need to start charging batteries so I can show them some robots as well.

As is the way with media interviews I expect that lots of time and effort preparing and talking will result in a few seconds of screen time. Now the big question is what my work title should be. As I don’t have my PhD yet I won’t be Dr but I could be ‘Researcher’ or perhaps ‘Robotics Engineer’.

I quite like the idea of being called a ‘Robot Scientist’ because some people might take it to mean that I am a robot who is a scientist.

Now where did I leave that tinfoil hat …