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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rights for robots? Not in my lifetime says leading researcher

One of the UK’s leading robotics researchers has dismissed a recent UK report that calls for robot rights (akin to human rights) to be investigated.
“Personally I think that’s absurd, not in principle but in the 20 to 25 year timeframe mentioned,” said Alan Winfield, Hewlett Packard professor of electronic engineering at the University of the West of England and head of the Bristol Robotics Lab, speaking at HP Labs in Bristol. “We won’t see robot rights in my lifetime but just possibly in the lifetime of our youngsters.”
Part of this is down to the development of artificial intelligence, which is not a factor of processing power, he says. “We already have tons of processing power. There are already computers that can simulate a similar number of neurons in the human brain but that doesn’t make them smart. We are decades if not longer from understanding the architecture of intelligence.”
The report on robot rights from Ipsos Mori was commissioned by the UK Office of Science and Innovation's Horizon Scanning Centre and released in December.
However, he is part of a project called Walking with Robots that is taking the issue of robotics out to the public with 12 other research centres around the country. “The aim is to address the questions, to take these deep and important questions about intelligent robots out to the public over the next three years,” said Winfield.
Winfield is also working on a new project to look at the evolution of a robot society by copying behaviours in large numbers of small robots. “Here we are interested in doing evolutionary anthropology, trying to see if we can set up a society of robots where there is sufficient interaction to see if there are proto-cultural artefacts that emerge,” he said. “We have a very strong team of people including an evolutionary ecologist and an artist because one of the big problems is interpreting what we see.”
The group has been working on all sorts of things, including 'self powered' robots. These use a type of fuel cell to keep them going, only the fuel for the cell is dead flies (which decompose and produce a small amount of energy, but at least there is a continual source!)

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