AISB Workshop on Principles of Robotics,  April 4th 2016, Sheffield UK

It is five years since the publication of the EPSRC’s Principles of Robotics developed by a panel of distinguished British robotics and AI experts at an EPSRC/AHRC funded retreat.

The principles, which were aimed at “regulating robots in the real world”, were stated in the form of five “rules” and seven “high-level messages”.  The five rules are as follows:

  1. Robots are multi-use tools. Robots should not be designed solely or primarily to kill or harm humans, except in the interests of national security.
  2. Humans, not robots, are responsible agents. Robots should be designed; operated as far as is practicable to comply with existing laws & fundamental rights & freedoms, including privacy.
  3. Robots are products. They should be designed using processes which assure their safety and security.
  4. Robots are manufactured artefacts. They should not be designed in a deceptive way to exploit vulnerable users; instead their machine nature should be transparent.
  5. The person with legal responsibility for a robot should be attributed.

The principles have had significant impact in UK robotics research, and continue to provoke substantial debate.  At a time when public concern about the development of robot technologies is heightening we consider that it would be useful to revisit the principles to consider their continued relevance according to the following criteria:

  1. Validity—are the principles correct as statements about the nature of robots (for instance that they are tools and products), robot developers, and the relationship between robots and people (for instance that robots should have a transparent design), or are they ontologically flawed, inaccurate, out-dated, or misleading.
  2. Sufficiency/generality—are the principles sufficient and broad enough cover all of the important issues that might arise in the regulation of the robotics in the real-world or are significant concerns overlooked.
  3. Utility—are the principles of practical use for robot developers, users, or law-makers, in determining strategies for best practice in robotics, or legal standards or frameworks, or are they limited in their use by lack of specificity or through allowing critical exceptions (such as the use of robots as weapons for the purpose of national security).

We propose a one-day workshop in the form of a debate around the EPSRC principles, at the AISB 2016 Convention.

Submissions. We invite participants from all areas of robotics, AI related to robotics, ethics, and law including any who participated in the original retreat to write a short commentary (2-8 pages A4) on one or more of the principles considered with respect to one or more of the criteria (a-c).   Commentaries should be emailed to by 29th February 2016.

Workshop format.  The workshop will take the form of a debate on each of the principles, ideally with at least one participant speaking in defence of the principle and one providing a critique.  These focused debates will be followed by a broader and more open-ended discussion structure according to ideas raised in the written contributions, and with the goal of formulating some consensus recommendations.

Workshop outcomes. A rapporteur will be appointed to write a document summarising the debates and the outcomes of the meeting.  We intend that the commentaries together with this report will be published together in the AISB proceedings, and that a further publication will be generated to disseminate the commentaries and discussion to a broad international audience.  A report of the meeting will be sent to the EPSRC.

Organising Committee

Prof Tony Prescott, Director of Sheffield Robotics, University of Sheffield.

Prof Alan Winfield, Director of the Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England.

Prof Madeleine de Cock Buning, Utrecht University School of Law, President of the Dutch Media Authority.

Dr Joanna Bryson, Department of Computer Science, University of Bath.

Prof Noel Sharkey,  Sheffield Robotics, University of Sheffield. Spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.