Ethics in Engineering Interdisciplinary Seminar – Automation and Robotics

What are the philosophical, ethical, practical and legal challenges associated with automation, AI, robotics and driverless cars? How can we start to tackle the novel and cross-disciplinary challenges these present?

This seminar will help to answer these questions with 4 talks from 4 guest speakers from different disciplines .


Registration is FREE and the seminar will take place on Friday 16th April 2021 from 1pm - 3pm BST. Anyone is welcome to join from anywhere in the world. 

Below you will find further information about the seminar including a schedule and information of guest speakers. 


Ethics in Engineering Interdisciplinary Seminar


This seminar, part of the run up to the Research Ethics Conference on Friday 25th June at 9.30am BST, will bring together scholars from different disciplines to discuss such challenges. It will run for 2 hours on Friday 16th April, 1-3pm BST, via Zoom. There will be four talks from different disciplines: Prof. Viola Schiaffonati (Philosopher of Science, Polytechnic University of Milan); Dr Kyriaki Noussia (Law, University of Exeter); Dr Rob Lawlor (Philosopher/Ethicist, University of Leeds); Dr Edmond Awad (Economics/Computer Science, University of Exeter).


Each panellist will speak for 20 minutes, with 5 minutes afterwards for questions, followed by 15 minutes at the end of the session for group questions, answers and discussion. Attendance is free and open to everyone. We are aware that 2 hours is a long time to be continuously on Zoom, and although no break is planned in the timetable, please feel free to take a break during the session if you feel the need. 



Time: 1.05pm BST - 1.30pm BST

Abstract Title: Computers, robots, and experiments

Abstract: This talk argues that AI and robotics are engineering disciplines and that this should play a central role in the conceptualization of their experimental method. On the basis of the novel notion of explorative experimentation, it discusses how the traditional epistemic, but also ethical, categories should be partly revised to take into account some of the peculiarities of the engineering disciplines.

Prof. Viola Schiaffonati

Philosophy of Science 

Politecnico di Milano


Dr. Kyriaki Noussia 


University of Exeter

Time: 1.30pm BST - 1.55pm BST

Abstract Title: Autonomous Vehicles and AI – Legal Challenges and the Way Forward 

Abstract: When will we see autonomous vehicles on our roads? The answer is that to some degree, they are already here. Numerous organisations are testing fully autonomous prototypes on public roads in the UK, and even commercially available vehicles already have several ‘quasi-autonomous’ features. Notably, the UK Parliament has passed the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (currently under review  by the Law Commission's  - 3rd Consultation Paper on Automated vehicles). This presentation discusses the key legal issues facing autonomous vehicles, including testing on public roads, insurance, product liability, and cyber security and data protection, as well as the repercussions involved for users / drivers of AVs /CAVs in relation to their privacy and the ethical issues and implications involved in big data collection and usage in terms of autonomous vehicles.


 Dr Rob Lawlor


University of Leeds

Time: 1.55pm BST - 2.20pm BST

Abstract Title: Automated Vehicles: ethics, law and professional practice

Abstract: This presentation focuses on the ethics of automated vehicles, particularly in relation to dilemma cases in which it seems that a crash is unavoidable. The presentation highlights the real-world significance of philosophical arguments that are often (wrongly) considered to be abstract, unrealistic and/or irrelevant. The presentation also highlights the ways in which ethics and law cannot be separated from each other and considers the connections and implications. The presentation will have 4 parts. Part 1: (Almost) everyone who writes about automated vehicles is wrong about the trolley problem. Part 2: Cars should not swerve in dilemma cases, unless they can do so without imposing non-negligible risks onto others. Part 3: why engineers and companies ought to think about the ethical issues (and not just follow the law). Part 4: if companies follow the advice of certain academics who have published on this topic, they (the companies) could be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter (or even corporate homicide).


Dr Edmond Awad

Economics/Computer Science

University of Exeter

Time: 2.20pm BST - 2.45pm BST

Abstract Title: The Moral Machine Experiment

Abstract: I describe the Moral Machine, an internet-based serious game exploring the many-dimensional ethical dilemmas faced by autonomous vehicles. The game enabled us to gather 40 million decisions from 3 million people in 200 countries/territories. I report the various preferences estimated from this data, and document interpersonal differences in the strength of these preferences. I also report cross-cultural ethical variation and uncover major clusters of countries exhibiting substantial differences along key moral preferences. These differences correlate with modern institutions, but also with deep cultural traits. I discuss how these three layers of preferences can help progress toward global, harmonious, and socially acceptable principles for machine ethics. Finally, I describe other follow up work that build on this project.

Time: 2.45pm BST - 3pm BST

Discussion and questions & answers

All times British Summer Time. If you have questions please email with ‘Engineering Ethics Seminar’ in the subject line.