The Royal Academy of Engineering today hosts a workshop on the Ethics of Autonomous Systems, aiming particularly to identify the ethical and other societal issues that are likely to arise as this technology develops. Speakers will consider the possible timescales at which autonomous systems will be introduced in various sectors and point out where these systems will have the greatest impact and raise the most pressing ethical issues.

The workshop will build on information gleaned from a report published yesterday on the unique “Vision for the Future Conference” organised jointly by the Academy and the Walking with Robots programme, to gather information on young people’s views on advanced robotics and their potential societal implications. In the two-day conference, 20 post-16 students from London schools looked at the part robots might play in their futures and discussed their thoughts with experts working at the cutting edge of robotics.

The students debated the consequences of humans being replaced by robots resulting in a loss of jobs and missing out on the value of hard work and real experience. Particular concerns were raised over the motivations behind robotics research and also losing control over very intelligent or autonomous robots:

“We don’t need a robot in every part of our lives, don’t rely on robots too much or let them take over”

“Do not focus on negative uses, such as warfare, focus on the beneficial areas such as social development and ensure an equal distribution of benefit”

“Don’t make them too intelligent, be careful of robots learning from themselves, getting too clever, spiralling out of control. It’s important that humans remain in control.”

They also wondered if robots could learn ‘bad’ behaviour or question human decisions and raised the need to consider new legislation to cover human-robot, robot-human and robot-robot crimes.

Dr Lesley Paterson, Head of Public Engagement at the Royal Academy of Engineering says “Society is fundamentally shaped by advances in engineering and science and hence it is crucial for our young people to be able to explore and voice their thoughts on how we will use such technology in the future and to consider the societal implications”.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. The Vision for the Future conference on Advanced Robotics was held at the Royal Academy of Engineering.
  3. Walking with Robots is a three year programme of events and activities, led by the University of the West of England (UWE), to bring robotics researchers together with leading science communicators to promote a wider public engagement with the reality of contemporary robotics research.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636