Cyber don shrugs off attack on credibility

December 21, 2000

The decision to invite Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University, to deliver the Royal Institution's Christmas lectures has been attacked by the United Kingdom's largest organisation of artificial intelligence researchers.

Professor Warwick's view that intelligent robots will take over the world and his high-profile experiments that have included implanting a microchip into his arm made him a controversial but attractive selection for the honour. But it appears to have upset many scientists in the field.

In an article for The THES , the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour complained: "His opinions are so far removed from the majority view in AI, we feel that he is not a spokesman for our subject and allowing him influence through the Christmas lectures is a danger to the public perception of science."

The statement labelled Professor Warwick "a masterful self-publicist on fashionable but debatable science".

Members of the committee have considered and rejected filing a complaint against the Royal Institution with the Advertising Standards Agency for describing the controversial scientist as an AI expert. They are considering a "robots won't rule" conference to tackle head-on Professor Warwick's most contentious assertion.

The first of the lecture series, "The Rise of the Robots", was delivered last week and will be broadcast by Channel 4 on Boxing Day.

Professor Warwick has dismissed the complaint. He said: "The Christmas lectures are all about exciting kids and people about science."

Alan Winter, director of operations at the Royal Institution, said 28 complaints had been received, a number of which he said looked remarkably similar.

Mr Winter said Professor Warwick was a respected academic and a good communicator.

"The Christmas lectures are not a showcase for Kevin Warwick's research - they are to enthuse young people about science," he said.

"In the world of robotics, there's a certain sector that has it in for Kevin," he added.

Soapbox, page 14

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