further down this page. These slides must be provided to
the course staff (via the class wiki) before your debate session
so that they can be loaded onto a single machine for display.
Please take some time to review the list of pointers we've put up
about the Ethical Implications of Robotics &
RSS Debate Rules - subject to (slight) change
Some basic material about the debates will be covered in class.
However, to do well in the debate, each debater will have to do outside
reading and research on the topic in order to have sufficient mastery to
argue and rebut. This is especially true for the rebuttal, which should
anticipate points made by the other team to the extent possible in order
to rebut them effectively. We encourage you to talk to the course staff
about your debate and to get started on this exercise early. This is not
the sort of thing that can be put together well the night before the
- Debates shall be organized as follows:
- Affirmative: 7 minutes
- Negative: 7 minutes
- Affirmative: 3 minutes
- Negative: 3 minutes
Discussion and Cross-Examination (4 minutes).
- When debating in teams, the constructive and rebuttal
presentations may be shared by the team members.
- Time will be kept using the briefing timer.
- Rules of Evidence
In debate, source citations of evidence must be stated the first
time a source is used.
- Rules of Evidence Authenticity
- Evidence must not be fabricated or distorted.
- Fabrication means falsely representing a cited fact or
statement of opinion as evidence; or intentional omission/addition of
information within quoted material.
- Distortion means misrepresentation of evidence or of
citation which significantly alters meaning.
How to argue effectively
In order to do well you have to do some research that will help you
structure your argument and support it with evidence. Please allow
plenty of time to do a literature search (googling on the Web, browsing
through journals in the library, asking course staff for pointers, etc.)
Your goal should be to make the most convincing technical arguments
possible in favor of your position (pro or con). For example, you could
argue that while a particular theory of AI claims to work on
certain search problems, you have proven that, for these problems, the
search space is so constrained that any search technique
(including random) will perform well! Or you could perform a careful
complexity, soundness, or completeness analysis to demonstrate your
point. Or you could try implementing the algorithm and show it performs
well (or poorly).
Arguments from authority ("Rodney Brooks claims that X, and I believe
him"; ) should not be used.
However, precise technical arguments ("Cybenko [give cite]
has proven that any continuous function can be modelled using a neural
network -- this means they have great expressive power") and technical
rebuttals ("Yes, but Cybenko's construction requires an exponential
number of hidden units -- great expressive power at great expense is not
useful!") are effective debating tactics.
You must argue aggressively and convincingly for your position (pro
or con). Never say "Well, I've been assigned pro, but I really
agree more with con."
Finally, don't forget that the way you handle yourself during the
debate will influence your audience! Even the most coherent and strong
arguments can be undermined by poor presentation. This is perhaps
unfortunate (and less of an issue with a "well-educated" audience), but
true. Be well-prepared, professional, respectful of your opponents, and
courteous to your questioners.
How to prepare effective slides
Before you prepare your slides, you should read the following
suggestions from Prof. Bruce Donald on
giving a good talk . Remember that your time is extremely limited -
don't prepare 30 minutes of great material, since we won't see most of
Here are some links to other debates that you might find interesting:
- Oy, Robot!,
Fast Company Magazine, Issue
104, April 2006, Page 112. Debate between Henrik Hautop Lund
(Professor at the University of Southern Denmark's Maersk Institute
and former head of the LEGO Lab) and Rodney Brooks (Director of MIT's
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and cofounder
of iRobot Corp).
- Why the future
doesn't need us., Wired
Magazine, Issue 8.04, April 2000, by Bill Joy. "Our most
powerful 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering,
and nanotech - are threatening to make humans an endangered
Here are some other tips from the course staff on making effective slides:
During your rebuttal, you'll need to be thinking rather than
searching for slides. So you may want to have one or two vivid,
striking slides that capture the essence of your message to show
while you rebut. But don't plan on changing slides during the
rebuttal portion; you won't be able to.
- Slides are visual.
Think about visually effective
slides you have seen. Chances are good that they were not a bunch
of text. Think about how to use pictures, images, diagrams,
scenarios, photos, icons, symbols, references from history or film
or tv, etc. Visuals can convey information or emotion.
- Too much text, though, is ... too much text.
your audience in a position where they think they have to read
your slides at the same time that they're trying to listen to you
talking; it's terribly frustrating, and they probably won't get the
best of you or your slides. In general, your slides should support
your information, not provide it. (On the other hand, visuals can
do a good job of providing non-verbal emotional appeal.)
- How many slides? It depends.
As you think about slides, a
common rule of thumb (especially when you'll need to think on your
feet) is one slide per minute. So 7-10 slides is a reasonable target.
Your material, of course, may call for more or less. Just make sure
your slides are (a) readable (text, color, image can be understood
from the back of the room); (b) necessary, relevant, well-focused,
essential; and (c) sufficient to make your argument's key points.
Grading of Debates
- The debates will be graded (students who do not show up for
an assigned debate will receive a failing grade).
- The jury (the class) will discuss the debate afterwards.
During this discussion, the jury may cross-examine the debaters, and
the debaters may cross-examine each other. That is, during this time,
the debaters can (and should) continue to press their points.
- Your grade will be based on your argument, oral presentation,
and presentation materials as evaluated by the course staff.
These debate topics do not reflect the staff's judgment or opinions
about which research directions should (or should not) be followed; rather,
they have been chosen solely in order to provoke controversy and stimulate
- Topic #1: Resolved, that knowledge-driven deliberative robot algorithms are
glorified search techniques whose running time and information
requirements make them impractical for real-time performance, whereas
data-driven reactive robot algorithms are more likely to give the needed
robot action in the required time.
Pro: David Benhaim & Kwadwo Nyarko
Con: Chao He & Caine Jette
- Topic #2: Resolved, that building many sensors into our robots as a way of
robustly solving problems is an approach that should be avoided.
Instead "just say know" (Matt Mason): robots should use task-specific
knowledge to solve problems.
Pro: Erika Bildsten & Richard Agbeyibor
Con: Scott Bezek & Ahmed Bakkar
- Topic #3: Resolved, that we should enact laws that will protect robots just like
we have laws that protect animals. Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are
an important guide to developing robots, and a robot control program
should always be developed in the spirit of these laws.
Pro: Katherine Fang & Sarah Ferguson
Con: Michael Glombicki & Rohan Kamdar
- Topic #4: Resolved, that in the future we will be able to build robots that are as
intelligent and powerful as humans, and robots will therefore have the
ability to replace humans. We should therefore limit research into
robotic intelligence in order to avoid this outcome.
Pro: Jake Shapiro & Minh Phan
Con: John Romanishin & Tyler Tomphson
- Topic #5: Resolved, that in order to best integrate robots effectively into their
environments, we should develop monolithic, highly-knowledgeable, and
powerful robots, rather than build swarms of many simple robots.
Pro: Leah Alpert & Sam Powers
Con: Nandi Bugg & Catherine Olsson
- Topic #6: Resolved, that little of value has ever come from robots that do not
imitate life. The most valuable approach to creating robots is
biologically-inspired, following the principle that when it looks like a
duck and it quacks like a duck it must be a duck.
Pro: Owen Derby & Robin Deits
Con: Karen Sittig & Matt Perkins
- Topic #7: Resolved, that robotic manipulation is prerequisite to human-scale
robotic intelligence. As Bronowski said, the hand is the cutting edge
of the mind.
Pro: Chris Merrill & Dennis Odhiambo
Con: Lynn Jepsen & Alan Ho
- Topic #8: Resolved, that programming robots is just like programming computers.
Since most computer failures are due to buggy software, we will only
achieve robust robot behavior by developing robust robot software
Pro: Sara Itani & Dylan Hadfield-Menell
Con: Todd Layton & Sean McDonald
- Topic #9: Resolved, that robots should be developed to replace humans in the
performance of dull, dirty and dangerous jobs, including military and
police work, even if this means that humans will be displaced and robots
will be allowed to use deadly force.
Pro: Ed Mugica
Con: Kenny Donahue & Andrew Sugaya