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What's love got to do with it? Sex and Robots

Thursday 1 September 2016

How will our relationships with robots and ‘avatars’ develop as technology gets more advanced? Could a human fall in love with a robot? These are just two of the topics to be discussed when the University of Salford plays host to an international conference on technology and intimacy later this month.

The twelfth Human Choice and Computers (HCC12) conference “Technology and Intimacy: Choice or Coercion”, will take place from Sept 7-9 and will feature speakers from across the world. It is the first time the conference, for UNESCO computing body IFIP, has ever been held in the UK.

The plot from hit 2015 TV series Humans followed a family who bought a robot that was physically indistinguishable from a person, and carried out household chores. Such robots as C3PO and The Terminator are almost household names.  But is such a thing possible in the near future, or will such General Artificial Intelligence remain science fiction?

Conference organiser Dr David Kreps, of The University of Salford Business School, said: “We will be asking questions like how genuinely human can any robot ever be? Can a robot ever create the same level of intimacy and connection that we get with another person? For example eye contact is an important aspect of human love and would be incredibly hard to replicate in a robot.  Narrow Artificial Intelligence – clever programmes that do relatively simple things faster than we can, which makes them seem clever – are becoming more and more common, but can AI ever become ‘aware’?

“It is a great honour for Salford to get this conference, the first time it has ever come to the UK.

“There are all kinds of issues around consent, privacy and data protection when robots and artificial intelligence start to get more advanced. Many of these clever programmes only work because they have millions of people’s details – Big Data as its often known.  How can we protect users?

“Some of the best minds in computer ethics will be here discussing these issues.”

Professor Charles Ess from the University of Oslo will give the keynote speech as he explores the development of AI and social robotics and looks at the limits of the technology.

He said: “Once the stuff of science fiction, the rapid development of AIs conjoined with social robots has evoked serious philosophical reflection over the past decade focusing on the realities and ethical dimensions of love and sex between humans and machines.

“Representative positions are marked out by some optimism that we will fall in love with and marry social robots sometime in the not too distant future versus others who think we should ban sex robots altogether.

“I will be trying to plot a middle path between those two positions.”

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Sam Wood

0161 295 5361