6.141/16.405J Spring 2013

Robotics: Science and Systems I

Course Information
[RSS home]

Course Staff
Course Details
Syllabus & Lecture Handouts

Challenge and Debate Info
Grand Challenge
Course Debates

Lab Information
Lab Handouts
Lab Staffing Schedule

Staff only pages (short list)

6.141/16.405J - RSS Debate Information

Non Sequitur Cartoon


The field of Robotics has certain philosophical aspects to it. We will learn about these by means of the class debates, which will occur during the final portion of the term.

RSS Debate

A robotics debate team will consist of two teams of students debating a proposition which the teams have selected in advance. Most teams will be 2-person teams.

A list of debate topics is included at the end of this webpage. Each student will sign up to argue their topic of choice, as well as selecting thie preferred position ("pro" or "con"). Sign up is first-come, first-served and instructions on how to sign up will be sent to the rss-students mailing list.

Each debate will be 24 minutes long. The two partners on each side should jointly prepare a 6-minute argument to be presented orally (as a team) in front of the class, and be prepared to deliver a 4-minute rebuttal. There will then be 4 minutes for the Q&A and audience vote.

Debaters should prepare presentation materials before their presentation. Slides would be appropriate; there are a number of suggestions for creating effective slides 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 & Professional Responsibility.

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 presentation.

  1. Debates shall be organized as follows:
    • Constructive Speeches:
      • Affirmative: 6 minutes
      • Negative: 6 minutes
    • Rebuttal Speeches:
      • Affirmative: 4 minutes
      • Negative: 4 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.

  2. Rules of Evidence
    In debate, source citations of evidence must be stated the first time a source is used.

  3. Rules of Evidence Authenticity
    1. Evidence must not be fabricated or distorted.
      1. Fabrication means falsely representing a cited fact or statement of opinion as evidence; or intentional omission/addition of information within quoted material.
      2. 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.

Please also review this list of Debating Best Practices from Ed Schiappa

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 it!

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 species."

Here are some other tips from the course staff on making effective slides:

  • 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.
    Don't put 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.

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.

Grading of Debates

  1. The debates will be graded (students who do not show up for an assigned debate will receive a failing grade).
  2. 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.
  3. Your grade will be based on your argument, oral presentation, and presentation materials as evaluated by the course staff.

Debate Topics

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 thoughtful discussion.

Debate sign-ups for Spring 2013 will be posted/emailed out. Here are this year's debate topics; as you can see from the list below, some debate topics will be repeated:

  • Topic A, B: Humans will eventually grant civil rights to robots.
  • Topic C, D: Robots should be developed to replace humans in the performance of dull, dirty and dangerous jobs, even if such development means that many humans will lose their jobs.
  • Topic E, F: People should grant robots the ability to autonomously discharge deadly weapons.
  • Topic G: Deliberative robot architectures are more likely than reactive robot architectures to enable reliable performance of real-world tasks.
  • Topic H: The robotics community should curtail its research activities in order to prevent the emergence of robots that are as capable (intellectually and physically) as humans.
  • Topic I: Given two proposals with comparable peer reviews, U.S. funding agencies should favor proposals for research on embodied intelligence over proposals for research on disembodied intelligence.
  • Topic J: Stipulating that robots will someday achieve a level of consciousness comparable to that of humans: Research involving such robots should proceed under the supervision of an Institutional Review Board analogous to the IRBs that oversee human subjects research.

Spring 2013 RSS Debate presentation order

  • Friday, 26 April
    • Arshia Surti: Topic E-Pro
    • Hosea Siu: Topic E-Con

    • Todd Cramer: Topic B-Pro
    • Nathan Arce: Topic B-Pro
    • Akhil Raju: Topic B-Con
    • Reinier Strobos: Topic B-Con

  • Monday, 29 April
    • Jorge Perez: Topic D-Con
    • Danielle Gordon: Topic D-Pro
    • Steven Jorgensen: Topic D-Pro
    • Caleb Chacha: Topic D-Con

    • Jesika Haria: Topic C-Con
    • Ted Hilk: Topic C-Con
    • Carter Huffman: Topic C-Pro
    • David Lien: Topic C-Pro

  • Wednesday, 1 May
    • Alex Lesman: Topic D-Con
    • Patrick Gichuiri: Topic D-Con
    • Kawin 'North' Surakitbovorn: Topic D-Pro
    • Reymundo 'Alex' Gutierrez: Topic D-Pro

    • Matt Times: Topic G-Con
    • Kossy Uzokwe: Topic G-Con
    • Chewy Shaw: Topic G-Pro
    • Andres Romero: Topic G-Pro

  • Friday, 3 May
    • Sebastian Leon: Topic J-Con
    • Jeff Tzu-Hsien Chan: Topic J-Con
    • Kat Struckmann: Topic J-Pro
    • Eddie Xue: Topic J-Pro

    • David Goehring: Topic H-Pro
    • Tony Zhao: Topic H-Pro
    • Alexis Hakimi: Topic H-Con
    • Kevin Durand: Topic H-Con

  • Monday, 6 May
    • Jenny Qiu: Topic E-Con
    • Blake Chambers: Topic E-Pro
    • Kirsten Olson: Topic E-Pro
    • Kevin Yue: Topic E-Con

    • Patricia Suriana: Topic F-Con
    • Jason Yang: Topic F-Con
    • Tarun Malik: Topic F-Pro
    • Arturo Gonzalez: Topic F-Pro

Picture of Bryt Bradley
RSS-Webmaster, Britton "Bryt" Bradley
Last modified: Fri May 17 12:51:01 EDT 2013