A leading philosopher on the rights of robots examines the ethical and social implications of society’s increasing reliance on machines and artificial intelligence at an event organised by Lero, the Irish Software Research Centre at University of Limerick on Friday, November 1 at 1pm.

Professor David J Gunkel of Northern Illinois University will be interviewed by Dr Martin Mullins, an expert in the area of risk and ethics at Lero, a world-leading SFI research centre and Senior Lecturer in Risk at UL. The discussion, How to survive a robot invasion, will focus on the attribution of responsibility as the use of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems grows.

“As we become more dependent on autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and machine learning, we need to carefully consider the ethics of responsibility around the actions of these artefacts. We, in Lero and at UL, carry out a lot of research on autonomous vehicles and they will be the most ubiquitous form of robots in the near future. We will be sitting inside them, relying on their decision making for our safety so clearly there are a lot of ethical issues around the relationship between these robots and ourselves as humans. That is why it is important to have this conversation and one of the reasons we have invited Professor Gunkel here to share his insights,” said Dr Mullins.

Professor Gunkel is the author of ‘Robot Rights’, a disruptive philosophical examination of our relationship to robots. It was described in the LSE Review of Books as "a crucial innovation in the way we think about our proper place in the world and relationships with entities of our own making".

David Gunkel, Professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University (USA), argues that the ‘robot invasion’ is already upon us as we now interact with, and are influenced by, artificial intelligence in a spectrum of everyday activities. He suggests that we are too comfortable in our ideas about machines in society: to survive the changes coming we need to challenge and critique our ideas before events overtake us.

"Whether we recognise it or not, we are in the midst of a robot invasion," says Prof Gunkel. "The machines are now everywhere and doing everything. As these increasingly capable devices start to become social actors in their own right, we need to ask ourselves some intriguing and difficult questions.

"At what point, for example, should an algorithm be held responsible for its actions? Was Microsoft’s adolescent bot ‘Tay’ to blame for her swift conversation to fascism? What about the recent robot winner of the strategy game Go? AlphaGo’s victory over the human Go champion, Lee Sedol, was the product of its own decision making. Who gets the accolade – the robot’s designer or the robot?

"These questions are the staples of science fiction, but I believe we have reached a tipping point in the real world," Professor Gunkel stated.

David Gunkel is the author of over 50 scholarly journal articles and book chapters, has written and published seven influential books, lectured and delivered award-winning papers throughout North and South America and Europe, is the managing editor and co-founder of the International Journal of Žižek Studies and co-editor of the Indiana University Press series in Digital Game Studies. His teaching has been recognised with numerous awards, including NIU's Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the prestigious Presidential Teaching Professor.

Professor Gunkel will be interviewed by Dr Martin Mullins of Lero on Friday, November 1 at 1pm in the Millstream Common Room, University of Limerick.