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Karen Lancaster

PhD in Philosophy

Thesis Title:

Ethical AI robot interactions with older people: An examination of harm and consent


Thesis Description:

We are on the brink of a robotic revolution, with robots set to enter our workplaces, homes and public spaces over the next decade. Some companies are developing 'carebots' - AI robots which are able to fulfil some practical caring roles previously only carried out by carers and nurses. For example, carebots can lift people between a bed and a wheelchair, help with bathing and personal grooming, chat with users, connect with loved ones, and remind users to take medication or attend appointments. In order to avoid dystopic sci-fi scenarios where robots harm, coerce or violate the rights of users, they will need to have a thorough understanding of what is meant by 'harm' and 'consent', and how to weigh the two against one another should they conflict. 

My thesis will examine the ways in which AI carebots should conceive of harm and consent so as to avoid harming the older people whom they are intended to care for.

This is not merely science fiction. This is a Collaborative Doctoral Award and I am in contact with companies which are currently developing carebots for use in nursing homes and for use by older people in their own homes. .


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Zachary Hoskins - University of Nottingham

Dr Neil Sinclair - University of Nottingham


Conference papers:

  • July 2018: Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World, Portland, Oregon, USA. "Non-consensual personified sexbots: An intrinsic wrong"



I have also written several books unrelated to philosophy, including a Health and Social Care revision textbook (2007), a book about Bullet journalling for beginners (2017), and four books of story-writing prompts (all 2017), for boys, girls, kids, and a teacher resource book.


MA Thesis:

My MA thesis examined the question of whether it is morally permissible to make a sexbot which represents (and resembles) a person without their consent. I argued that creating a sexbot of someone is an act that morally requires consent, and to do so without consent is intrinsically wrong - even if no one ever finds out.

As with my PhD thesis, this is not merely science fiction; companies are currently able to make sex robots which are remarkably lifelike and can look just like real people. There is currently no legislation prohibiting this, but hopefully my work will expedite a law preventing the 'copying' of real people into sexbots without their consent. 


Other Research Interests:

  • Human rights
  • Non-human / non-person rights 
  • Political obligation
  • Trust
  • Authority
  • Personal continuity



I graduated from Keele University with a BA in Philosophy and Applied Social Studies, before completing a PGCE at the University of Nottingham. I worked as a lecturer in A-Level Philosophy and A-Level Sociology for the decade which followed. I loved teaching and being able to discuss subjects I am passionate about every day with young people.

In 2016 I decided to return to the other side of the lecture theatre (so to speak) to study for an MA in Philosophy, and now here I am doing a PhD.

Although I have taken a career break from teaching A-Levels, I am teaching philosophy to a class of Year 5 pupils each week.



I have two assistants who help me with my thesis. My first assistant likes to help me put images into my powerpoint presentations, and he talks to me about what sorts of superpowers robots could/should have. He's a little philosopher who has been keeping me on my toes for several years by asking me probing questions like: "What was there before the Big Bang?" "Are things still happening in stories when we're not reading them?" and "Why are people nice to dogs but they eat pigs?" My second assistant likes to help me by sitting on the keyboard and licking my hands incessantly while I'm trying to type. He also helps to remind me to get some exercise each day.


University email address: apxkl3@nottingham