Edinburgh Science Festival: Can Robots Evolve?

Can Robots Evolve? event at Edinburgh Science Festival 12th April 2015
Can Robots Evolve? event at Edinburgh Science Festival 12th April 2015

As part of my HellSans research I went to the talk ‘Can Robots Evolve?’ at the Edinburgh Science Festival in Summerhall. The talk by Professor Jon Timmis was chaired by Professor Alan Winfield with interactive demonstrations lead by Dr James Hilder. It was a fascinating discussion about the ways biology is influencing robotic research and application.

As the talk and demonstration progressed it became obvious that energy supply is a big problem and this was further touched upon during the Q&A with a query about robotics and sustainability. One of my obsessions is the interaction between technology and biology so I was very interested to hear about the robot that eats flies to create energy.

For the Q&A session, Professor Alan Winfield’s only rule for asking questions was that we must alternate between women and men. I was very pleased about this as I’ve noticed that men tend to dominate Q&A sessions and I’ve started recording how many men and women ask questions at various events. I wasn’t planning on asking a question but I decided I would when Prof Winfield stated that rule, particularly because I felt I should be directly engaging in the public sphere instead of just sitting back and recording who asks questions.

As an author who writes some science fiction I’m interested in the dialogue between science fiction writers and the people working in the sciences, so I asked Professor Timmis if he reads any sci-fi and if he has any favourite science fiction films or TV shows. He said he loves science fiction and he’s a Stargate, Star Trek and Dr Who fan. He lamented not being able to read science fiction at the moment due to be being so busy. Professor Winfield said he loves the work of Iain M Banks and told the audience about the book Beta-Life, a collaboration between scientists and fiction writers (which I just picked up from my local library). Both Professor Winfield and Professor Timmis commended the skills of fiction writers and were very enthusiastic about collaborations between the sciences and the arts, which was very heartening to hear.

Now excuse me while I fall down a youtube robotics hole before coming up for a bit of air to read Beta-Life.

Beta-Life: Stories from an A-Life Future
Beta-Life: Stories from an A-Life Future
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