Have you ever wondered why no-one has invented a robot that can power itself by eating flies?

Wonder no longer.  It’s been done.  Twice.

First there was Ecobot II, product of Bristol Robots Laboratory, that could run for a fortnight on a diet of seven dead flies.  This was followed by Ecobot III who has an artificial digestive system and attracts flies, for the consumption of, using an artificial pheromone.

It even has a litter tray.

Actually, I think that might have been a joke.

What’s the point of all this Frankenstein-related madness, I hear you cry?  Well, that technology has directly led to the technology to turn urine into electricity.  “Pee Power” toilet blocks, which are illuminated using urine power, have been trialed at Glastonbury and may, in the future, be used in developing countries.

Isn’t science wonderful?  Alan Winfield, Professor of Robot Ethics at the University of West of England was at the Swindon Festival of Literature, in association with the Swindon Philosophical Society, to talk robots and AI ethics.  Advances in technology are made all the time, from fly eating automatons to robots with a sense of “touch” to aid surgeons with operations.  There are even robotic exoskeletons to help stroke victims regain lost movement in paralysed limbs.

But each new advance throw up new ethical quandaries.  Not in the Westworld “robot-goes-mad-and-starts-strangling-everyone” sense; Professor Winfield believes that any form of true artificial sentience is centuries away; but where AIs can make decisions there much be checks and balances.  Winfield believes that intelligent robots will become ubiquitous in the near future and we therefore need to start to talk about the ethical and moral questions that will arise.  The case of the autonomous Uber car that killed a pedestrian in Arizona was mentioned.

Professor Winfield appears to believe that standardisation and regulation is the key to the ethical governance of robots and related technology, the same as already exists in the aviation industry.

We were treated to a fascinating tour of the latest technologies and the quandaries that each new breakthrough brings with it.  Professor Winfield brought a buoyant enthusiasm to the subject allied with a sober understanding of the responsibility his position carries.

Oh yes and in case you were wondering someone asked a question about Sex Robots during the Q & A.  From what I understand it’s the law that someone always has to ask about sex robots at this kind of thing.


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