Professor Tony Prescott delivers Christmas Lecture at Heriot-Watt University
On Thursday 18th December, the 2014 Christmas Lecture for the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics at Heriot-Watt University, "Human Selves/Robot Selves", was delivered by Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield and Director of Sheffield Robotics.
In his well-attended talk, Tony began by inviting the audience to contemplate what we mean by “self” and “consciousness”. In an entertaining presentation, peppered with interesting anecdotes and practical robots such as Whiskerbot and Shrewbot, he drew on the work of Descartes, Locke and Hume, amongst others, to claim that “self”, if it exists at all, is not something that exclusively resides in, or is a property of, humans or indeed animals of any kind. A few straw polls of the audience revealed much sympathy for this view.
Tony then described the neuroscience underlying the biomimetic robotics research being undertaken at Sheffield and through collaborations with Bristol and Barcelona, making frequent connections to the anatomy and physiology of the mammalian brain. He presented the trajectory of his research in an analogous manner to the evolution of the human brain, working up from basic brainstem functions, through cerebellar motor functions towards the sensorimotor and higher level capabilities of the cerebral cortex. If philosophical objections to the emergence of self and consciousness in non-organic systems are considered dealt with or vacuous then this trajectory would appear to brook no obstacle on its path to full human-like brain performance or even beyond in robots.