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Cambridge Festival: Suffer the little robots? The moral and legal status of artificial beings

Video Recording by Henry Shevlin, Ali Boyle

Suffer the little robots? The moral and legal status of artificial beings. Speaker: Henry Shevlin. Chair: Ali Boyle


From the abused simulants of Blade Runner to the neglected child-robot ‘David’ in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, we seem to have little difficulty in imagining artificial beings feeling pain and distress. The kind of advanced artificial intelligence we see in fiction is of course far removed from the capabilities of real world machines. However, as the capacities of artificial intelligence continue to improve, interest has grown within the AI ethics community concerning the question of whether – and when – artificial beings may reasonably come to possess or demand some form of moral status. In this talk, I suggest that there is good reason for lawyers, politicians, philosophers, and scientists to start grappling with how we could identify suffering in beings radically different from ourselves, and how we should respond to the moral concerns of sentient AI as a society.


Audience: Adults; young adults 12+


This presentation was part of the new, interdisciplinary Cambridge Festival (replacing the Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas) which took place from 26 March to 4 April 2021. The festival was primarilydigital in 2021 – to enable wide-reaching engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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