The Journal of Future Robot Life

The Journal of Future Robot Life

I am very pleased to share my involvement with this new journal, for which I will join its inaugural Editorial Board. Here’s an overview of what it will cover

What will robots be like ten, twenty and more years from now? What will they be able to accomplish? How will human–robot relationships have advanced? What place in society will be occupied by robots? These are just some of the questions which will be debated in the pages of this new publication – the Journal of Future Robot Life.

Computer science and artificial intelligence (AI) have had a huge impact on society, an impact that will only increase with further advances in hardware and software technologies. Robots are the most remarkable product of these developments in computing and AI, many of them being designed in a humanlike form and endowed with humanlike capabilities: talking, hearing, seeing, moving and performing complex tasks such as dancing, conducting an orchestra, rescuing victims at disaster sites, playing musical instruments, and beating a world champion at chess.

As robots become more humanlike in their appearance and their capabilities, and as they come to be regarded more and more as our companions and assistants in all aspects of daily life, different questions beg to be answered. We need to contemplate what life will be like when robots can imitate human behavior sufficiently to be regarded, in some sense, as our equals. And when we humans have adapted our ways of life in order to interact fully with robots as alternative people, and to benefit fully from our relationships with them, such questions on the future of human–robot interactions and human–robot relationships are the raison d’etre of this journal. What civil rights and legal rights should robots be granted? What are the ethics of humankind’s interactions with robots? Will robots have empathy? Will their personalities and emotions mimic our own? Will robots be programmed with social intelligence, or can they acquire it through a learning process? Will robots be alive in any humanlike sense, and if so, how?

The Journal of Future Robot Life will attempt to answer these questions and many more. The topics which we group under the umbrella phrase “future robot life” are many and varied, and the list will doubtless expand with time. We shall start with the following:

Animal–robot interfaces
Are robots alive?
Biological behaviors
Companion robots
Evolutionary robots
Human–robot reproduction
Human–robot interfaces
Implanted cyborg technologies
Laws relating to robots
Nanorobots in medicine
Plant–robot interfaces
Robot emotions
Robot ethics
Robot personalities
Robot reproduction
Robot rights
Robot–human parents
Robots as doctors
Robots as economists
Robots as lovers
Robots as politicians
Robots as psychiatrists/therapists
Robots as spouses
Robots as teachers
Robots in Entertainment
Robots in government
Robots on the battlefield
Social intelligence in robots
Swarm robot behavior.

Once of the nicest discussions about robots I’ve been involved with was a Tomorrow’s Live World event, which took place within the Manchester Science Festival programme of 2018. Here’s what that was like.

One of the nicest science communication events I’ve ever produced focused on inter-generational conversations about the future of robotics, which featured as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Here’s a glimpse into what we did.

Transhumanism @ BlueDot Festival

Transhumanism @ BlueDot Festival

It was fantastic to be at Bluedot again this week, alongside Tom Shakespeare. I’ve known Tom for over a decade now and it’s always such a delight to be in his company. One of the rare academics who can use comedy within public talks to great effect.

Our discussion took us deep into the realm of transhumanism and spanned such areas as artistic practice and elite sport. I tend to be pretty liberal in how we approach this subject, not hell bent on humans having to embrace all technologies, but having the opportunity to do so. This means being allowed to choose a life that minimises the experience of biological suffering, while also transcending our species typical functions, notably the duration of our life span.

We didn’t record that day, but here’s something that captures much of my perspective on this subject. It’s one of my favourite articles from a few years ago.

Sadly, I was only at Blue Dot for the day, but the real highlight was catching Rebecca Taylor perform, just before my session.

DRONES @ Microdot

DRONES @ Microdot

Last month, i was really delighted to take part in the Bluedot Microdot event in central Manchester at which I spoke about my forthcoming book, DRONES: The Brilliant, The Bad, and The Beautiful, to be published by Emerald in 2020. It was a fantastic vibe at the event, feeling very much like a mini Bluedot. Here’s a sneak peak into some of the content from the book

Good Science Begins with Communication

Good Science Begins with Communication

In advance of giving a keynote at ScienceComm in Switzerland this September, i was inspired to write a piece on the importance of practicing science communication from very early on in one’s educational formation. A fuller thesis will be presented in Swizterland, but here’s the proposition which was published in the Times Higher Education.

Citation: Miah, A. (2019) Good Science Begins with Communication, Times Higher Education, Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/good-science-begins-communication

Recently on Twitter, a debate took place over advice from Professor Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics and public engagement in science at the University of Surrey, that a practising scientist should establish themselves before aiming to go too far down the road in communicating science.

While much of the debate was based on just a brief clip from a wider talk, the less generous Twitterati felt that Al-Khalili’s statement discouraged spending time on science communication until one is well into postdoc years, once a good amount of grants and publications were out there proving one’s credentials.

The more generous Twitter users felt that his advice was more that one should practise as a scientist first, before making a huge move into a completely new profession, especially if one’s core currency will be in the accumulation of research funding and publications.

Yet, even though this may sound strategically sensible, it neglects the value of ensuring that the public are part of the entire research process from day one. To rearrange a well-known quote from Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Innovation and Research, good science begins with communication. It is not something we should do just at the end of the process. As researchers, this principle must be our starting point.

However, this reasoning is not just a matter of ensuring that the public are part of decision-making hierarchies about science. Rather, it’s important because formal structures around scientists today require them to ensure that they have impact journeys for their research, from the point of inception. This is especially the case now with the research excellence framework, where impact has become an even bigger part of how research is evaluated.

A well-regarded scientist is, increasingly, someone who is publicly visible, willing to be present in the media, and someone who co-authors with their research users. In fact, some journals, such as the British Medical Journal, actively encourage co-produced research “with patients, carers, or members of the public”. These best practice guidelines could well become conditions of publication in the future.

I began my PhD when the World Wide Web was becoming established and this was extremely empowering as a researcher. We suddenly had our own means of communicating directly with the public, rather than having to rely on editors, broadcasters or the news cycle. Today, we can make our own documentaries, publish on our own channels and create our own podcasts.

Many young scientists in particular are taking hold of this with both hands, creating extraordinary content around their research, rewriting Wikipedia pages, working with artists and creating entirely new platforms that make science more accessible. More importantly, they are taking up the mantle of immersing themselves within public life, occupying the role of the public intellectual, a function which is of increased importance now in an era of fake news and post-truth.

Far from being a choice, we need to think about communication as a necessity to scientists’ jobs that is given adequate time in their workload.

Fortunately, funding councils understand this and have ensured that time, funds and thought are given to how their funded projects will connect with the public. It is also important to note that there are many ways to do science communication. One doesn’t have to be the next Brian Cox or Alice Roberts.

Over my own career, I have worked across a range of creative communication formats, from producing theatrical performances about genetic enhancement and consulting on film and radio drama scripts, to exploring the science of falling in love over an evening with 30 dinner guests and developing virtual reality experiences.

It is the opportunity to be part of a wider conversation about how science is embedded within society that makes science communication so valuable.

Yet, the value that we all derive from seeing scientists work alongside the public is far more than just instrumental, it is an immense enrichment of research life. Recently, I worked with a team from the University of Salford at the Cheltenham Science Festival to present a new virtual reality experience that explains the science of the microbiome. An octogenarian had his first experience with VR there and it was science that brought him this opportunity.

Through such experiences scientists can discover why their work matters and how important it is to ensure that the public has an opportunity to talk with them about it. These experiences also cause one to reflect on their responsibilities as a researcher and to appreciate more clearly the fundamental needs of citizens for research.

While far more science communication happens today than ever before, we still have some way to go before it is available for everyone. That’s why it’s crucial to keep talking about the fact that there is more than one way to be a science communicator. It is possible to develop a science communication journey while you carry out scientific research from the very beginning of your career.

But, more importantly, if done well, science communication enriches the research we do and the significance of what we discover. It can also be really good fun.

Author Bio: Andy Miah is chair in science communication and future media in the School of Environment & Life Sciences at the University of Salford.

Sheffield International Documentary Festival

Sheffield International Documentary Festival

This week, I was in Sheffield for Doc Fest, taking part in a discussion about the film “Hi, Ai”, which documents the lives of people who are building new relationships with humanoid robots.

The debate took us in lots of directions, but crucial for me is how the cultural context of robotics varies. We see a family in Japan and a single man in the USA, each of which are creating new kinds of experience with their robots.

Cheltenham Science Festival

Cheltenham Science Festival

Last weekend, I was at Cheltenham Science Festival installing GameLab and giving a talk about technology. We had a wonderful team from Salford University working on the install and some amazing experiences with the public. HERE’s an overview of what we presented, becoming now a fully fledged exhibition in the history of digital gaming.


Athlete 2.0

Athlete 2.0

It was great to be in Lausanne again last week for #TheSpot2019, a new conference bringing together the worlds of sport and technology. My keynote was focused on the connections between biology and digital technologies, you can read the manuscript over at Medium

Gene Doping for Humanity

Gene Doping for Humanity

Alongside the publication of my paper on Gene Doping and Transhumanism, the amazing Nick Busca has published this article with One Zero.

I’ve really appreciated Medium for a while, but have dug into it much more since talking to Nick. It is a fantastic ecosystem for ideas.

Forest 404 & Human Enhancement

Forest 404 & Human Enhancement

Last week, I featured in a podcast series associated with the new BBC Radio 4 Drama Forest 404. You can check it out and discover more about the drama here

The Royal Society and the Digital Society

The Royal Society and the Digital Society

Last week, I was invited by the Royal Society to take part in a round table meeting on the digital society, which brought some really great speaker together to consider where we are going and what it may mean to live a life in a more digital way.

My main take home from the day was just how difficult it is to develop insights into trends, behaviours, and concerns, when the platforms and environments are changing so rapidly. We need an ethics of uncertainty to accommodate the radical range of drift that occurs around our lives now.

There’s not much point in developing policies for platforms that are going to be defunct within 3-5 years and this is highly risky situation, as it allows a great detail of freedom to exploit people.

For example, by the time we have figured out what it means for a child’s mental health to be on Instagram from the age of 13 to 16, the platform may then be somewhere else.

This makes me think about how we develop an ethical framework for the often ephemeral experiences we have in digital space.

E(merging) Technologies & The Ideas Economy

E(merging) Technologies & The Ideas Economy

Last week, I was delighted to give a talk at Diversity UK’s Tech Showcase, focusing on the collaborative work we do at Salford University, bringing together art, science, technology, and digital media. It was great to hear the pitches of various companies in the region, so much creative innovation going on.

Sport 2.0 published in Japanese

Sport 2.0 published in Japanese

Amazing to see the publication of Sport 2.0 in Japanese this month, especially since the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are just around the corner. It has been a while since I’ve been to Japan and I can’t wait until the next visit.

Putting the NHS in Fortnite

Putting the NHS in Fortnite

Just before Christmas, I published an article which I have been developing for around 6 months. It is a first step in articulating a structure through which healthcare can be provided within digital environments, without having to require patients to relocate themselves into other spaces. I’m really excited about fleshing this out further and would welcome feedback. For me, it’s a crucial issue and makes a lot of sense given the habitualisation that goes into people’s use of digital worlds. There is still a lot to figure out, like what kind of relationship should exist between digital developers and healthcare service professionals, or what should be the format of intervening within such spaces, but here’s a starting point.

The X in Text

The X in Text

Putting the X in text: warm wishes or a kiss-off?

File 20181115 194506 1bqqjfv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
lanych via Shutterstock
Andy Miah, University of Salford

Do you sign off texts and emails with an x? Have you ever thought what that x – shorthand for a kiss – means to you or the person who has sent it to you? It’s said that the liberal use of x in electronic correspondence, whether personal or professional, is feminising the workplace – and Labour MP Jess Phillips was told off for being unprofessional by a judge a couple of years ago for signing off an email to a constituent with an x. So how did we arrive at a situation where everybody gets one at the end of nearly every sentence we type?

Part of our answer is really simple – the x in correspondence conveys a special kind of empathy for the recipient. In a world where uppercase letters read like SHOUTING and where emojis are ambiguous, every element of a text message is easily misunderstood. The x serves as a catch-all device, telling your reader that all is well in your relationship.

The ubiquitous x can be applied to friendship, romantic, or even professional relationships when messaging. It is so versatile, revealing interest, affection and a general kind of togetherness which, if face to face, would be equivalent to some kind of non-verbal body language – a head tilt, or a sympathetic nod to show agreement and understanding. The x shows that you are in this together and that you seek to continue the conversation in a spirit of mutual and even jovial appreciation.

However, this still doesn’t fully explain why it is an x that has come to wield such power, or why it feels so essential to include one. After all, it could be – and sometimes is – a different symbol: an emoji perhaps, or a simple smiley face like this: :). Nor does it tell us about the journey taken by the x in becoming this multifaceted symbol.

Are you free with your emojis? Mego studio via Shutterstock

Making your mark

History tells us that the x has a long pedigree. In the middle ages, handwritten letters would end with an + to signify the Christian symbol of Christ. With most people being illiterate, a cross was deemed to be sufficiently accessible to verify identity. What’s more, there is evidence of such rituals of signing documentation to be accompanied by a physical kiss being given to the paper, as one might kiss a cross if of certain religious persuasions.

But, this still leaves a big gap between then and now. What happened at the beginnings of the digital revolution that explains this progressive encroachment into all of our correspondence, turning every message into its own letter? Equally, why did the x remain, while other elements of letter writing disappeared, such as writing: “Dear [name]”, or “from [name]” at the start and end of correspondence. We nearly never do this now when sending texts, because messaging has become an endless letter, a conversation that is always left open, to be picked up again at a later stage. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the cross at the end of letters evolved into the x just as words like “goodbye”, evolved out of “God be with you”.

Kissing culture

Yet, for today’s generation, the connection behind the x is likely to be completely lost – it is simply some kind of kiss and, just like a cross, using it could land you in big trouble. After all, the kiss is remarkably culturally specific and an x can mean something very different – or nothing at all in a different language. For instance, in Spanish, x is short for “por”, meaning “for”. Equally, a kiss in one culture means something different in another and, in some cultures, there is no kissing at all. There is also a gendered politics to a kiss, which can make it a highly risky undertaking to send, especially in professional settings.

Forgotten your phone? Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

At the same time, the x can be a way of allowing somebody to express themselves physically without the pressure of actually having to touch somebody. Indeed, this is one of the web’s most amazing features; it can liberate us from the constraints of social conventions and provide a space for relating to others differently – a perspective that researchers have outlined since its inception.

There may be many people who sign off with an x who would not think of kissing the person when face to face, but feel comfortable expressing such affection through a symbol. At a time when the world wide web’s inventor, Sir Tim Berners Lee, has called for more love online, this is surely a good thing.

So, while seemingly one of the most uncomplicated things we do when messaging, the x in texts has far wider implications than perhaps we first thought. A good rule may be to only send an x to people who would be comfortable with you kissing them face to face. Would you actually kiss that person, if they were in front of you? If not, then perhaps drop the x.The Conversation

Andy Miah, Chair in Science Communication & Future Media, University of Salford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You have been upgraded

You have been upgraded

It was amazing to take part and support the realisation of Jon Spooner’s live event, ‘You Have Been Upgraded’. This was a really special experience, especially as it took place at the Science and Industry Museum. Lots of conversations about human enhancement!

Manchester Science Festival

Manchester Science Festival

Another year and another amazing festival. We did so much stuff, it’s hard to know where to begin. So, here’s a quick glimpse of our programme.

Olympism in Action

Olympism in Action

Last weekend, I was in Argentina for the Olympism in Action Forum, invited by the International Olympic Committee to speak about doping. The event took place in advance of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Here’s a quick overview of what took place, but it doesn’t really capture what I said in full.

Broadly speaking, I discussed how society must decide how far it is prepared to push health and longer lives, in order to come to terms with the doping dilemma. We live in times of profound experimentation with biotechnological changes, which make any notion of the natural athlete as a criterion of value within sport an historically redundant notion. This wider cultural shift is what calls into question the anti-doping mandate and is among the biggest problems our society has yet to solve.

Athlete 365

Athlete 365

A few years ago, I developed a course for Olympic athletes, as part of the International Olympic Committee learning initiative. I’m delighted to say that I’ll be developing a new version of this, which will feature all things digital. As a teaser, check out this Dos and Donts list for using social media as an athlete.