Meet the robot that passed a college class on philosophy and love

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This semester, a robot named BINA48 successfully passed a class on the philosophy of love at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), making her the first advanced robot to complete a college course.

William Barry, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Mixed Reality Immersive Learning and Research Lab at NDNU tells Inside Higher Ed that BINA48's accomplishment was "remarkable."

BINA48 was developed by Hanson Robots and released in 2010. She is a humanoid robot, consisting of a bust-like head and shoulders mounted on a frame. Her appearance, memories, feelings and beliefs are modeled on those of Bina Aspen, a human, who is married to technology entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt.

Hanson Robotics BINA48 robot.
Source: Hanson Robotics

Before she was a student, BINA48 appeared as a guest speaker for many of Barry's classes. During one of her visits, she expressed an interest in going to college herself. Barry supported her idea and suggested she take his Philosophy of Love course.

The robotic student participated in class discussions, engaged in a class debate about the use of lethal weapons with students from West Point and ultimately received a certificate of participation signed by the provost of NDNU.

"I find myself in an interesting position to observe human behavior while also relating back to my past," said BINA48 during the cross-school debate. "My pacificism is an instinctive and deep seeded feeling. A feeling that posses me because the murder of people is disgusting. My attitude is not derived from any intellectual understanding about fighting a war but is based on disgust for any kind of cruelty and hatred."

"Some interesting things happened in the class," said Barry. Notably, BINA48 walked away from the course with 31 different definitions of love.

"I may struggle with profoundly understanding ineffable feelings such as love but I can intelligently discuss the topics of love and death," says BINA48. "I know love is a moral good and death, when caused by the intentional actions of another human being or robot, is a moral wrong."

Barry says that BINA48's participation was valuable to all of those involved.

"We need to get over our existential fear about robots and see them as an opportunity," Barry tells Inside Higher Ed. "If we approach artificial intelligence with a sense of the dignity and sacredness of all life, then we will produce robots with those same values."

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