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What Robots Represent… and Why It Matters



Monash University (AU)


BA (Hons) (Melb.), PhD (A.N.U.)

Rob Sparrow is a Professor in the Philosophy Program, and a Chief Investigator in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, at Monash University, where he works on ethical issues raised by new technologies. He has published on topics as diverse as the ethics of robotics, the moral status of AIs, human enhancement, stem cells, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, xenotransplantation, and migration. He is a co-chair of the IEEE Technical Committee on Robot Ethics and was one of the founding members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.


One thing that distinguishes robots from other machines is the extent to which they operate at the level of meaning and not just mechanism. In this presentation, I will suggest that the embodied nature of robots means that they sometimes function as icons and thus convey meanings in a different manner to other media forms. Moreover, the representational content of social robots sometimes implicates their designers in difficult ethical dilemmas. In order to try to address these, engineers need to think more consciously about the politics of the meanings their robots rely on and convey.