Category Archives: Research

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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Stranger than fiction

Camp Concentration book coverIf there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my PhD it’s that truth is very often stranger than fiction.

I’ve just recently finished reading Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration (1968), in which prisoners in the United States are injected with a form of syphilis in order to boost their intelligence. Strange as this may sound, it’s nothing compared with real life.

In 1972, whistle-blower Peter Buxtun revealed the that the US Public Health Service had been conducting secret studies on African-Americans, in the now infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment. The study started in 1932 and ran for over 40 years without the participants knowing they had the disease, and without them ever being treated with penicillin.

Of course, Disch couldn’t have known about the Tuskegee experiments when he was writing in the 1960s, but this revelation sure does make you think. Continue reading »

Images of the Vietnam War: James C. Farley and YP13

If I were to ask you to think of an image relating to the Vietnam War, I am sure most people will conjure the famous image of the young girl running naked towards the camera; or perhaps the Saigon execution, or even the photo of the burning monk. But there’s another photo from Vietnam that deserves our attention – one that I can’t believe I hadn’t seen until just recently. Continue reading »