WPI to Host Symposium on the Ethical Issues Surrounding Robotics

With RoboEthics, WPI to Observe National Robotics Week
April 07, 2010

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View the RoboEthics Symposium website here.

Robots have long been used to perform dull, dangerous, and dirty jobs. But as they become more sophisticated and able to make decisions on their own, robots are being considered for new roles in society, such as taking care of children and the elderly, protecting our homes, or even fighting wars. These new roles raise issues and concerns that engineers have never had to deal with, and call for new professional codes of ethics. To jumpstart discussion of these important issues, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), the only university in the nation to offer undergraduate and graduate programs in robotics engineering, will present RoboEthics, a daylong symposium on the ethics surrounding the social use of robots. The symposium will be held in the Campus Center Odeum from 9:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Saturday, April 10, as part of National Robotics Week (April 10-18). View the symposium’s agenda here.

The symposium will feature presentations by industry experts Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence, robotics, and  public engagement at the University of Sheffield  in the United Kingdom, and Ronald Arkin, Regents' Professor and director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology and associate dean for research in the institute's College of Computing. A team of WPI juniors (Brandon Ingram, a mechanical engineering major; Daniel Jones, an electrical and computer engineering major; Andrew Lewis, a robotics engineering major; and Matthew Richards, a double major in Robotics Engineering and Interactive Media & Game Development) will present a proposed code of ethics for robotics engineers. There will also be two open debates on ethical issues surrounding the use of robotics in various applications, and students will be able to network with industry professionals.

The symposium is the brainchild of WPI students Sabrina Varanelli, a senior double-majoring in robotics engineering and mechanical engineering, of Sacramento, Calif.; Jola Myrta, a senior electrical and computer engineering major from Worcester, Mass.; Andrew Haggerty, a junior robotics engineering major from Millis, Mass.; and Alex Scott, a junior robotics engineering major from Aiken, S.C. They developed the event as part of a research-driven project required for graduation from WPI, the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP). The IQP applies science and technology to addresses an important societal need or issue.