Can Robots Be Our Friends?

In the first of two autumn salons looking at human-robot relations, we host a panel debate on the developing relationship between people and artificial intelligence.

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, some even worry that 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 ambition and 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?


Thursday 3 November 2022


Doors open 6:45pm (for 7pm start) to 8:30


£5 cash only on the door to the Millennium Room, or in advance via the 'Donate & Pay' button on the home-page.


useful reading:

Is it wrong to have sex with a robot? Natasha McKeever & Ruby Hornsby, Public Ethics, 19 August 2022

Who’s afraid of the big, bad robots? Timandra Harkness, UnHerd, 16 July 2020

Robots to be used in UK care homes to help reduce loneliness, Robert Booth, Guardian, 7 September 2020

Google’s AI passed a famous test – and showed how the test is broken, Will Oremus, Washington Post, 17 June 2022

salon partners:

White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities is kindly funding speaker costs for this salon. WRoCAH offers a unique and internationalised doctoral training programme across the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and York. For more information visit: