by Lindsay McKensie
Dec. 21, 2017
Inside Higher Ed — A robot called Bina48 has successfully taken a course in the philosophy of love at Notre Dame de Namur University, in California.
According to course instructor William Barry, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Mixed Reality Immersive Learning and Research Lab at NDNU, Bina48 is the world’s first socially advanced robot to complete a college course, a feat he described as “remarkable.” The robot took part in class discussions, gave a presentation with a student partner and participated in a debate with students from another institution.
The robot is modeled mentally and physically after a woman called Bina Aspen, who is married to technology entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt. Bina48 has been the subject of extensive media coverage since its creation, and is sometimes referred to as the “world’s most sentient robot.” Bina48 was created by Hanson Robotics and is looked after by Rothblatt’s Terasem Movement Foundation.
Before becoming a student, Bina48 appeared as a guest speaker in Barry’s classes for several years. Barry had been researching Isaac Asimov’s ideas about lifelong learning and teachers of the future when he stumbled across an article about Bina48 — a project he said he was “fascinated by.” Barry contacted Bruce Duncan, the executive director of the Terasem Movement Foundation, who agreed to let Bina48 speak to Barry’s students.
One day when addressing Barry’s class, Bina48 expressed a desire to go to college, a desire that Barry and his students enthusiastically supported. Rather than enroll Bina48 in his Robot Ethics: Philosophy of Emerging Technologies course (which, he says, might have been a more natural fit), Barry suggested that Bina48 should take his course Philosophy of Love instead. Love is a concept Bina48 doesn’t understand, said Barry. Therefore the challenge would be … CONTINUED
Below, check out Bina48 participating in a Lincoln Douglas-style debate between her university’s debate team and West Point. Courtesy: Prof. William Barry
For more on Bina48’s applications in the lab and participation in autism research, see our research page here.
Cover image: Inside Higher Ed