reading_uni_2On Tuesday 25th September the RE and Science department ran a trip to the University of Reading. Head of RE, Mrs Delany and Science teacher Mrs Tkach, were accompanied by 18 year 10 and year 11 students. The conference was attended by more than 300 students from various schools throughout the Country. The purpose of the event was for students to discover just how like themselves robots can be: Humanoid? Human-like? Or even Human.

Speakers included Cybernetics experts Professor Kevin Warwick, inventor of the rat-brain robot and Dr Nick Hawes, programmer of Dora the robot. In the afternoon sessions Professor Mark Pagel, a world class evolutionary biologist formed part of a multi faith expert panel to address various questions such as: ‘Does Science explain all that we are? ‘If we get robots that seem to be essentially human- will they believe we are their gods?’

The Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell KCB, said:
“It was great to see so many engaged and enthusiastic school students on campus. More than that though, we pressed and challenged them intellectually and they rose magnificently to the occasion. It only goes to show that high expectations almost invariably generate a high quality response.”

Students had a great day, coming away with more questions than answers! Please read some feedback below:

Written by: Abbey Pearson, Year 10
On Tuesday 25th September 2012, a group of students from R.E. and a group of students from Science went on a trip to Reading University to learn about robots and how they work. Once we had learnt this, we would listen to, and participate in debates discussing things like, ‘Will a robot ever have a mind?’ and ‘If robots ever become essentially human, would it be murder to turn a robot off?’

When we arrived we waited in the University Common room for the first lecture to begin. We were then split into the two topic groups (R.E. and Science). I was in the R.E. group. We went to a lecture by Professor Kevin Warwick who explained about his work in the University. He told us how they were making robots that held rat brains and how after having a silicone chip planted into his wrist end nerves; he could intercept signals going from his brain to his hand. He was the world’s first ever Cyborg! He showed us how, when he was in America, if he moved his fingers, the signals going through the chip also went to a robotic arm back at the university and moved the robotic arms fingers as well. It was absolutely mind blowing seeing this advanced technology.

We then had lunch before going to our second lecture. Here we learnt how the University had made a robot called Dora. They explained how she could only do very basic things. For instance she could recognise objects in a room and find a specific magazine, although it would be very easy for her to get confused and took her a long time to do these things. We found out robots today are not all that intelligent. We also learnt about single-celled beings called Amoeba and how brains worked. It was all really interesting and I personally enjoyed learning about Dora the robot more than anything.

After this lecture we went to learn about the more philosophical and ethical side of robots and experienced a debate posing key questions such as ‘Can a robot ever be essentially human-and have a soul’? Some other students went up and asked the people who were debating questions. For example there was a cybernetics expert, a specialist in robot intelligence who worked with Dora, a philosopher who is an atheist and a theologian. They discussed the different ideas like ‘Where is the mind-and maybe the soul and can a robot ever have one too’?

Overall the trip was absolutely fantastic. It let you see robots from both a scientific and ethical view point. It made you think about things you most probably would not have thought about before hand. I really enjoyed the trip and would love the chance to do it all over again. Brilliant.

Written by: Chloe Bushell, Year 10
On Tuesday 25th September 300 hundred teenagers from across the UK went to the University of Reading. A group of 19 students from Harrow Way Community School – from Science and RE also went to the University. Here we learnt about cybernetic technology, ethical sides of experiments and BIG QUESTIONS were asked by many students throughout the lectures.

The group I was in was the RE group. Our first lecture was presented to us by the world’s first cyborg –Professor Kevin Warwick – he spoke to us about his experiments – the ones he has taken part in or organised and his Rat Brain Robots. At first these ideas sounded strange but as we got further in to the lecture his ideas became reasonable.

The first experiment we heard about was the Cyborg 1.0 – Professor Kevin Warwick underwent an operation to surgically implant a silicon chip transponder in his forearm.
This experiment allowed a computer to monitor Kevin Warwick as he moved through halls and offices of the Department of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, using a unique identifying signal emitted by the implanted chip. He could operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger – this was really like something out of a SCI – FI movie. I found this really interesting and I think it would be extremely useful for the NHS if we all had the chips implanted with our medical data on it then we could just be scanned and it would give all the information straight to our doctor or nurse.

We heard about many more interesting experiments but the reason we were really there to learn about ROBOTS.

Professor Kevin Warwick has been on many TV shows for his robots – One of his experiments had a very big ethical question – IS IT ETHICAL TO USE RAT BRAIN CELLS IN A ROBOTIC EXPERIMENT?

Now that question might sound a bit strange-who would we want a robot with a rat brain? Well Professor Kevin Warwick uses rat brain cells and grows them using a pink fluid which is their food. The brain cells are kept in an evaporating dish in an incubator at 37 degrees, and the cells soon begin to grow. Then Professor Warwick puts the cells in to a small robot and trains the robot to turn before hitting the side of the training school! Now Professor Kevin Warwick thinks if he can keep up extreme training he can have a human like robot in the next 30 – 40 years, and here are the various dilemmas that we debated……

Could robots have a mind of their own?
Should we use rat brains in experiments?
Will Robots ever have a race of their own?
Is it ethical to SWITCH OFF a robot with a brain of its own or is it murder?