We’re delighted to announce the winners of the latest set of Pre-GCSE Inspire competitions for the term! In Class 7, Adaptation and the Human Mind, we returned to evolution in science, looking again at some of the themes we first explored earlier in the course. We discussed what is meant by terms such as ‘genetics’, ‘selection’, and ‘adaptation’, and then went on to look at one of the greatest mysteries in modern science: the evolution of human consciousness. This is a subject which is a major topic of debate not only in the science of evolution, but also in psychology, philosophy, and a number of other disciplines, as we try to answer the question: ‘What makes us human?’
There were two competitions for this class. For the first competition, we looked at adaptation in the animal world, and the question of how birds evolved to fly. The second competition was more philosophical in nature, and asked pupils to apply what they had learnt about the human mind and consciousness consider the thorny question: ‘Is a robot a person?’ As always, we received some very thoughtful entries, which we thoroughly enjoyed reading!
Congratulations to the winners of Class 7 competitions:
Each of you have won an Amazon voucher. This will be sent to the email address you provided in your competition cover sheet; please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you haven’t received yours by the end of the week.
Competition 13: Evolution of flight
Like mammals, birds are highly evolved endotherms. Scientifically they are thought of as miniature, feathered, flying dinosaurs. As with the mammal story, the fossil record of their evolution includes several intermediate grades of adaptation, in this case various dinosaurs. Investigate the evolution of bird characteristics such as bipedalism (walking on the back legs), feathers for insulation, air sacs to aid breathing, and wings for flying; here is a source you might start with.
Write a 300-word essay on what you have found out about how the ability of birds to fly evolved. You may want to include diagrams of your own to help explain your findings.
First place: Sharanjit, Ealing
Second place: Faisal, Ealing & Marina, Ealing
Competition 14: Is a robot a person?
The question of consciousness, and what makes a person a person, is a subject of huge debate not only in biology, but also in other subjects such as philosophy and computer science. One area in which this question will become increasingly important as technology improves is in robotics. Back in Class 3, we introduced you to the Oxplore question ‘Is a robot a person?’ Now that you’ve learnt a bit more about the evolution of the human mind, we’d like to return to this question. If you’ve not already had a chance to do so, take a look through the Oxplore resources on this topic.
After exploring the resources on Oxplore, write a 300-word essay in response to the question ‘Is a robot a person?’ You may also want to bring what you have learnt about human consciousness into your answer!
First place: Raya, Ealing
First let’s determine what a robot would be. A robot in the future may be able to look, talk and walk like a human and it could have the ability to think. Actually, that depends on what we want it to think. If we just programme it to bring us the food we ordered, then that’s all it would do. So instead let’s say we give this robot knowledge about infinite things, the capability to feel emotions and to carry out reactions. Would this robot still be person?
Well we could define a person as someone who walks, talks and can feel emotions and carry out reactions, but we could also say that a ‘person’ would have skin instead of latex, a heart instead of a battery, a brain instead of a computer. So in that sense, a robot cannot be a person.
But let’s say the question is more to do with how we view and treat this robot. Do we make them our slaves or our equals? Well, this robot can feel and understand, so if it feels as though it’s being oppressed, it might stand up for itself, or feel hurt. You could argue that we made the robot, so we are in control of it, but in that sense, we make other humans, and we don’t try to oppress and control them. So if we gave life to this robot, it is like giving life to child, except it might not be so little and naïve.
Does this mean we treat them as equal since they have the ‘essence’ of a human? This question depends on many things, like if we even give robots the capability of thought, emotions and conscience. It also depends on if the robot learns all this itself, or if the robot will actually make us their slaves.
Second place: Aisha, Ealing, Diana, Ealing & Nimisha, Harrow
Primarily, what would one define a ‘person’ to be? Is a person someone that can experience emotions? Or someone considered to be self-aware? Evidently, the exact definition of a person is controversial and the particular reason for this circumstance has made it difficult for philosophers to come to a definite supposition as to what a robot should be defined as. An Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, defines a person as someone who is conscious and can identify themselves as being a person. However, the British theologian, Thomas White believes that a significant aspect of being a ‘person’ is to have emotions. Although robots have been proved to surpass the expectations of the functions that us humans assume that they can perform, insufficient evidence has been collected to allow us to come to an informed justification as to whether robots actually are ‘self-aware’ or ‘show emotions’ in doing this.
Consciousness is another important aspect of our existence as humans. As a person, we experience consciousness in our daily lives: for example, the sensation on our tongues of when we drink or eat or the sense of pride we feel when we exercise. Although, this focal aspect of our experiences as humans can contrast that of a robot’s one. Is the emotion and awareness that they reveal genuine or not? Will humans be able to figure out whether they are genuinely conscious or if they are only performing what they have been programmed to complete?
Overall, I have come to the conclusion that robots are not human. Despite the fact that robots have been proven to be creative and possibly show emotion, I personally believe that there is not a sufficient amount of evidence to back the claim that a robot is a person.