Can robots be our friends?

Thursday 3 November 2022
6:45am - 8:30am
Off campus
Lectures and seminars
General public

From Metropolis to Ex Machina, concerns about robots and human relations have long been a sci-fi staple.

But it’s only in recent years, with exciting developments in the life-like abilities and forms of some artificial intelligence (AI), that serious questions have been raised about the ethics of human-robot relations.

Robots can already perform a wide range of complex tasks - acting as carers, pets, companions, and even sexual partners. Indeed, radical ‘transhumanists’ openly welcome the possibility of technological singularity, where AI will become so advanced it will exceed human intelligence and abilities to become a ‘normal’ part of life, making it increasingly difficult to tell what is human and what is machine.

However, while some are sceptical of the possibility of any such power shift between humans and robots, others still worry about how far developments in AI can and should be allowed to go.

Some suggest that the introduction of robot companions into intimate human life could contribute towards the flourishing of human life; others argue that robots are not true surrogates of human friendship, and that there are good reasons for suggesting that they could cause harm to vulnerable citizens and society at large. 

So, what are ethics of social robotics? Who could the artificial friend benefit, and how? What could be the consequences of normalising sexual experiences with robots? Does the debate reflect the increasing reality of technological development, or a deeper philosophical crisis of what it means to be human? Ultimately, to what extent is the artificial friend welcome in the good human life?


Ruby Hornsby is a WRoCAH funded PhD student at the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre at the University of Leeds, working in the area of Ethics of Social Robotics.

Timandra Harkness is a writer and broadcaster. She is a regular on BBC Radio 4, having presented on Future Proofing and The Human Zoo, and is author of Big Data: Does Size Matter?

Robbie Arrell is a Lecturer in Applied Ethics at the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre at the University of Leeds, and specialises in of love and sex; bioethics and medical ethics.


Book your place by emailing

Admission: £5 (cash only) to pay at the door to the room. Or pay in advance via the ‘Donate or Pay’ button on the Leeds Salon website homepage.

Venue: Millennium Room, Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Square, Leeds, LS2 3AD