Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 223–234 | Cite as

Implications and consequences of robots with biological brains

  • Kevin WarwickEmail author
Original Paper


In this paper a look is taken at the relatively new area of culturing neural tissue and embodying it in a mobile robot platform—essentially giving a robot a biological brain. Present technology and practice is discussed. New trends and the potential effects of and in this area are also indicated. This has a potential major impact with regard to society and ethical issues and hence some initial observations are made. Some initial issues are also considered with regard to the potential consciousness of such a brain.


Robot ethics Robot rights Human ethics Consciousness Robotics Autonomy 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



I would like to express my enormous gratitude to the team at University of Reading, on whose considerable work this article is based. Ben Whalley, Slawek Nasuto, Victor Becerra, Dimi Xydas, Mark Hammond, Julia Downes, Matt Spencer and Simon Marshall all deserve rich rewards. The practical work described in this article is funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under grant No. EP/D080134/1. I also wish to mention the unnamed reviewers for this paper who did a thorough job. This led to several improvements to the paper including the addition of the section entitled “Functionality Argument”.


  1. Arkin, R. (2009). Governing lethal behaviour in autonomous robots. London: Chapman and Hall.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asaro, P. (2009). Information and regulation in robots, perception and consciousness: Ashby’s Embodied minds. International Journal of General Systems, 38(2), 111–128.zbMATHCrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  3. Aziz, T. (2009). Personal communication.Google Scholar
  4. Bakkum, D., Shkolnik, A., Ben-Ary, G., Gamblen, P., DeMarse, T., & Potter, S. (2003). Removing some ‘A’ from AI: Embodied cultured networks. In Proceedings of the Dagstuhl conference on embodied artificial intelligence (pp. 130–145).Google Scholar
  5. Brueckner, A. (1986). Brains in a vat. Journal of Philosophy, 83(3), 148–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cotterill, R. (1997). On the mechanism of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4(3), 231–247.Google Scholar
  7. Cotterill, R. (1998). Enchanted looms: Conscious networks in brains and computers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. DeMarse, T. B., & Dockendorf, K. P. (2005). Adaptive flight control with living neuronal networks on microelectrode arrays. In Proceedings of 2005 IEEE international joint conference on neural networks (pp. 1549–1551), Montreal.Google Scholar
  9. Hebb, D. (1949). The organisation of behaviour. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  10. Kafka, F. (1972). The metamorphosis. Bantam Classics.Google Scholar
  11. Lafsky, M. (2009). How can you tell if your IM buddy is really a machine? Discover Magazine, 23rd March 2009.Google Scholar
  12. Lewicki, M. (1998). A review of methods for spike sorting: The detection and classification of neural action potentials. Network: Computation in Neural Systems. 9(4), R53–R78.zbMATHCrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  13. Lloyd, D. (1991), Leaping to conclusions: Connectionism and the computational mind. In T. Horgan & J. Tienson (Eds.), Connectionism and the philosophy of mind (pp. 444–459). London: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  14. Marks, P. (2008), Rat-brained robots take their first steps. New Scientist, 199(2669), 22–23.Google Scholar
  15. Minsky, M. (1975). The psychology of computer vision. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  16. Moravec, H. (1990). Mind children: The future of robot and human intelligence. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Penrose, R. (1995), Shadows of the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Potter, S., Lukina, N., Longmuir, K., & Wu, Y. (2001). Multi-site two-photon imaging of neurons on multi-electrode arrays. In SPIE Proceedings, 4262, 104–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Searle, J. (1997), The mystery of consciousness. New York Review Book.Google Scholar
  20. Shelley, M. W. (1831). Frankenstein or the modern prometheus. London: Colburn & Bentley.Google Scholar
  21. Shkolnik, A. C. (2003). Neurally controlled simulated robot: Applying cultured neurons to handle an approach/avoidance task in real time, and a framework for studying learning in vitro. Masters Thesis, Department of Computer Science, Emory University, Georgia.Google Scholar
  22. Thomas, C., Springer, P., Loeb, G., Berwald-Netter, Y., & Okun, L. (1972). A miniature microelectrode array to monitor the bioelectric activity of cultured cells. Experimental Cell Research, 74, 61–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Turing, A. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind, 59, 433–460.Google Scholar
  24. Warwick, K. (2001), QI: The quest for intelligence. Piatkus.Google Scholar
  25. Warwick, K. (2003), Cyborg morals, cyborg values, cyborg ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, 5, 131–137.Google Scholar
  26. Warwick, K., Gasson, M., Hutt, B., Goodhew, I., Kyberd, P., Andrews, B., et al. (2003). The application of implant technology for cybernetic systems. Archives of Neurology, 60(10), 1369–1373.Google Scholar
  27. Warwick, K., Gasson, M., Hutt, B., Goodhew, I., Kyberd, P., Schulzrinne, H., et al. (2004). Thought communication and control: A first step using radiotelegraphy. IEE Proceedings on Communications, 151(3), 185–189.Google Scholar
  28. Warwick, K., Xydas, D., Nasuto, S., Becerra, V., Hammond, M., Downes, J., et al. (2010). Controlling a mobile robot with a biological brain. Defence Science Journal, 60(1), 5–14.Google Scholar
  29. White, R., Albin, M., & Verdura, J. (1963). Isolation of the monkey brain: in vitro preparation and maintenance. Science, 141(3585), 1060–1061.Google Scholar
  30. Xydas, D., Warwick, K., Whalley, B., Nasuto, S., Becerra, V., Hammond, M., et al. (2008). Architecture for living neuronal cell control of a mobile robot. In Proceedings of European robotics symposium EUROS08, 2008 (pp. 23–31). Prague.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Systems EngineeringUniversity of ReadingWhiteknights, ReadingUK

Personalised recommendations