Department of Computer Science

Ethical Standards in robotics and AI: what are they and why they matter

Alan Winfield

Bristol Robotics Lab, University of the West of England, Bristol


In response to concerns over the ethical and societal impact of robotics and AI a new generation of ethical standards are emerging [1]. In this talk I will introduce these standards, including both British Standard BS8611 Guide to the ethical design of robots and robotic systems and the IEEE P700X series of ‘human standards’ currently in development. As a case study I will focus on one of these emerging standards: P7001 on Transparency of Autonomous Systems. I will set these ethical standards within the wider context of Ethical Governance [2], and ask the question: what is Responsible Robotics?

The talk will introduce one hitherto overlooked aspect of responsible robotics: the question of how to properly and systematically investigate robot accidents, and the data that will be needed to support such investigations [3]. The talk will complement others that focus on verification, transparency, assurance and certification within responsible robotics (by Bloomfield, Fisher and Saigol) and ethical governance.

Standards, like open science, are a trust technology. Without ethical standards, it is hard to see how robots will be trusted and widely accepted, and without that acceptance their great promise will not be realized.


[1] Winfield, A. F. (2019) Ethical standards in Robotics and AI. Nature Electronics, 2 (2). pp. 46-48.

[2] Winfield, A. F. and Jirotka, M. (2018) Ethical governance is essential to building trust in robotics and AI systems. Philosophical Transactions A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 376 (2133).

[3] Winfield AF and Jirotka M. (2017) The case for an ethical black box. In Towards autonomous robotic systems (eds Y Gao, S Fallah, Y Jin, C Lekakou). Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence, 10454, pp. 262–273, Springer.

Department of Computer Science
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