Category Archives: Research

Robotic consumption – what Uber’s new ‘quiet mode’ tells us about the human and the machine

Taxi app Uber has announced a new ‘quiet mode’ for customers using its premium Uber Black service. By selecting the option via the app, users can order a cab where the driver is instructed not to talk. While this change has proven positive with many users, some taxi drivers have responded negatively to the new quiet mode, with some critics claiming it treats taxi drivers more like robots than human beings.

While these critics may certainly have a point, they miss the essential fact that all taxi drivers – and indeed, all humans being – behave, and are encouraged to behave, in a robotic fashion. This blurring of the human and the machine isn’t really anything new, but rather, has been going on for a very long time indeed.

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If AI can write news items, they can write essays too

There is a crisis coming in academia. It’s been looming on the horizon for quite some time, and now threatens to bring the profession into disrepute.

That problem is AI.

For many years now, AI have been used to power chat bots and digital assistants such as Cortana, Siri and Alexa. Over the years, these bots have become far more nuanced and complex. While these systems aren’t intelligent in the same way as a human being, they do a fairly good job at mimicking human behaviour, and convincing us that they are ‘real’.

Indeed, these technologies are now so convincing that it won’t be long before they are put to nefarious use. It’s already been shown that AI can write convincing news articles, and it won’t be long before they are used to write academic essays, even more complex works such as research papers and even full-length publications.

Make no mistake, this is a serious issue, and one that needs to be taken seriously. In the next few years, AI-powered essay mills have the potential to shake academia right to the very core.

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Killer robots already exist, and they’ve been here a very long time…


Humans will always make the final decision on whether armed robots can shoot, according to a statement by the US Department of Defense. Their clarification comes amid fears about a new advanced targeting system, known as ATLAS, that will use artificial intelligence in combat vehicles to target and execute threats. While the public may feel uneasy about so-called “killer robots”, the concept is nothing new – machine-gun wielding “SWORDS” robots were deployed in Iraq as early as 2007.

But our relationship with military robots goes back even further than that.  This is because when we say ‘robot’, what we really mean is a technology with some form of ‘autonomous’ element that allows it to perform a task without the need for direct human intervention.

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In The Zone – a new podcast with Mike Ryder and Josh Hughes

After several months of hard work, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the In The Zone podcast, featuring interesting chat with me (Mike Ryder) and my friend and colleague, Josh Hughes.

The idea is that each week, Josh and I will chat about something interesting that we’ve been reading about, or that’s appearing in the news. We will also be interviewing fellow researchers about their interests and the impact of their work.

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Ethics, killing, and the Moral Machine

Just over a year ago now, I published the results of a small survey I shared with my followers on Facebook. The idea was to test a few theories I had been working on around ethics and the relative value we assign different forms of life. In this case, I was specifically interested in how we think about animal life, and how we respond to different species when it comes to decisions around life and death.

Even though my survey was relatively small, the results were quite remarkable, and show a clear trend in responses that favour saving larger and more ‘noble’ animals, over smaller, ‘less intelligent’ animals that may be perceived to be in some way less worthy. While a utilitarian perspective should in theory show that the save/kill decisions made by respondents should be weighted equally across five different species of farmyard animal (each life is, after all, of equal ‘value’), respondents very clearly favoured saving a single horse over a single chicken. This trend continued when participants were asked to choose between saving a single horse or five chickens, with many respondents still opting to save the horse, while many respondents would much prefer to kill five chickens, instead of a single horse.

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