Conversations in Science: Robot Ethics

When I hijacked Jessie's POV, I spoke about Sophia, the robot that was granted citizenship of Saudi Arabia. There was a lot of discussion about various ethical issues surrounding robots. I knew right away it was time to phone a friend.

On this month's episode of Conversations in Science, Jessie and I had a blast talking with Sean Welsh, who is at the forefront of this new field of science that crosses into philosophy. The field is known as Robot Ethics.

The Nuts and Bolts of Robot Ethics
(First aired on KLRNRadio, Monday, December 11, 2017)

The field of Robot Ethics is not about whether we should or shouldn't build robots or what type of jobs we should give them. It's about how one might program morality into the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.

That in itself is a big question, because no one fully understands how the moral compass develops within the human brain. Taking such an unknown thing and turning it into lines of code is a new impossible task. Add on top of it the fact that moral issues are highly debated among humans, and it becomes a nightmare for those working in the field of AI development.

This area of Robot Ethics is incredibly new. There are only in the order of 8 books published in the topic all within the last 3 - 5 years. Sean Welsh is the author of Ethics and Security Automata, published by Routledge. An expert in this field, he was the perfect choice to explain to listeners what the current level of robotic and AI technology is, and where it is going in the near future.

Topics discussed during the show include:

  • what robot ethics really comprises of;
  • Issac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics and whether they continue to apply to AI discussions;
  • housecleaning robots and when I can get one of my own;
  • Sophia and the implications of her new citizenship to Saudi Arabia;
  • and much more.

Sean Welsh obtained his undergraduate degree in Philosophy at the University of New South Wales and underwent postgraduate study in Robot Ethics at the University of Canterbury. He has worked in extensively in software development for British Telecommunications, Telstra Australia, Volante e-business, Fitch Ratings, James Cook University, 24 Hour Communications and Lumata. He also worked for a short time as a political advisor to Warren Entsch, the Federal Member for Leichhardt in Australia. Sean’s articles on robot ethics have appeared in the Conversation, CNN, the Sydney Morning Herald, the New Zealand Herald and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

His book Ethics and Security Automata is available for Routledge.

If you are interested to learn more about robot ethics, you can contact Sean through Twitter (@sean_welsh77) or visit him at

P.S. I'd love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

Posted in ConvoScience Podcasts (Archive), Science and tagged , , , , .

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