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screen robot with two bishops

On Wednesday 3 November the Principal mingled with bishops and policy advisors at an event on AI and Ethics at Lambeth Palace – all from the comfort of his office in Durham. Using a telepresence robot, Revd Prof Wilkinson was able to approach delegates and take part in conversations, manoeuvring around the room using controls on his laptop on the other side of the country.

He said: “The ability to interact in three dimensions and have autonomous movement, so that I’m controlling where I look, how I move, who I focus on, is such a difference to the two-dimensional Zoom experience. The ability to sense a space and to move in a space is, for me, a much more incarnational way of interacting.”

Among the attendees at the AI and Ethics event were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Roman Catholic and Church of England bishops, senior Methodist leaders, and policy advisors from the Church of England.

Topics under discussion included the future of work in a world of automation, AI and racial bias, and responsible regulation.

The telepresence robot operated by the Principal was provided as part of a session on Assistive Robotics by Robotics for Good, a Community Interest Company co-founded by Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly, who is also Professor of Embodied Intelligence at the University of Nottingham.

Prof Caleb-Solly said: “Telepresence robotics technologies offer the ability for people to participate in a way where their virtual physical presence enables social interaction that feels more natural and immersive.

“As we extend the use of these technologies to augment health and social care provision, for example providing on-request 24-7 support for people who want to continue to live in their own homes, or enabling those who are shielding to visit museums or attend social events, we are also keen to explore the wider issues that must be considered to ensure equitable and ethical use. The ECLAS event provided a fitting forum to surface and reflect on these challenges and opportunities.”

The event was organised by Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science (ECLAS), a research project based at St John’s College in partnership with the University of York and the Church of England’s national Mission and Public Affairs team, as part of their efforts to equip senior Christian leaders in their policy and public affairs work.

See a video of the robot in action by clicking here.