3.11 Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Expert Systems (HL only)

The book covers the fast-changing field of artificial intelligence and robotics in chapter 16. Common AI and robotic techniques are broken down and clearly explained, along with examples of the latest examples from robotic researchers. TOK links help raise fundamental questions about the development of robotics, ethics, and their impact on humanity. This chapter covers section 3.11 Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems of the ITGS syllabus, with links to other sections including 1.1 Reliability, 1.11 People and Machines, 3.1 Hardware, 3.2 Software, and each of the ITGS specific scenarios. The support resources below complement the textbook content:

  • What is intelligence?
  • Expert Systems
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Searching
  • Heuristics
  • Computational Intelligence
  • Pattern recognition
  • Natural language processing
  • Representing knowledge
  • Neural networks
  • Applications of AI: Games-playing AI
  • Applications of AI: Artificial examiners (exam grading)
  • Applications of AI: IBM Watson supercomputer
  • Robotics
  • Driverless cars
  • Civilian applications for drones
  • Industrial robots
  • Ethical issues
  • Robotic input devices
  • Robotic output devices
Robotic surgery

Robotic Surgery

The Da Vinci Surgical System is the most famous robotic tool to assist surgeons. HowStuffWorks is essential reading to understand the technology behind it.

Positive impacts

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many health care providers tout the benefits of robotic surgery. UC Health outlines these benefits, as does The Heart Hospital.

Negative impacts

Not everyone agrees that the impacts of such systems are positive, however. Robots Taking Record Number of Human Uteri (The Atlantic) charts the dramatic rise in robot-assisted operations, while Are Surgical Robots Worth It? (MIT) investigates some of the potential negative impacts that have been reported. Would you have robotic surgery? addresses similar issues. Cancer Patients Are Getting Robotic Surgery. Thereĺs No Evidence Itĺs Better references an FDA study that found no overall benefits from robotic surgery, and found possible evidence of harm.

Training is an element of any IT system, but its importance can sometimes be forgotten. Salesmen in the Surgical suite (NY Times) is a tragic story of a patient whose operation was botched by a doctor with no previous experience on the Da Vinci Surgical System - a stark reminder that training is essential whenever new technologies are introduced.

Updated: 2019-03-19
Computer-controlled prosthetic devices

Computer-controlled prosthetic devices

Computer-controlled prosthetic devices have made huge leaps in recent years, with lighter weight devices that can be controlled by the user's feet, electrical impulses from nerve endings, and even the mind.

Perhaps the most famous development is the "Luke Arm", created by Dean Kamen for DARPA.  (This video from 60 Minutes and this Technology Review article give a good sense of the wonder of this device).

There have also been developments in robotic legs for amputees and stroke patients (BBC) and more recently, the FDA even approved a computerised eye implant that can partially restore sight to blind people.

Learning to Accept, and Master, a $110,000 Mechanical Arm (NY Times) gives a detailed insight into what it is like learning to live with a 'robotic' arm.
Updated: 2014-11-07

Military use of IT: Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are aircraft remotely controlled by pilots who may be on the ground nearby - or thousands of miles away. Drones use the very latest technology (BBC), including ultra-high resolution cameras (18 gigapixels!) to view the ground from altitudes upto 15,000 ft.

UAVs, in particular the US Predator and Reaper drones, are famous for their use in Iraq (CBS) and Afghanistan (BBC). In early 2013 The Atlantic reported that the US Air Force were researching micro-UAVs - this scary video suggests some of their possible applications. Army Wants Tiny Suicidal Drone to Kill From 6 Miles Away covers similar possible developments.

UAVs have also moved outside of traditional military roles. Business Insider reports that since late 2009 US drones have been protecting civilian shipping off the coast of Somalia - waters notorious for pirate attacks. British forces were considering similar tactics, according to The Telegraph.

On US soil, unarmed drones are used to patrol the US-Mexico border for illegal immigrants (Washington Post), and drone manufacturers have marketed their products to US police forces, though not without some privacy concerns being raised (NY Times).

Civilian uses for drones are covered on the AI and robotics page
Updated: 2014-11-07
Artificial Intelligence book cover

Artificial Intelligence: The Basics

by Kevin Warwick
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Worldwide (free shipping)

A good reference book for teachers of the Higher Level Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Expert Systems topic. A particularly useful section is 'Classical AI', which has clear explanations of expert systems, basic logic, and fuzzy logic that should help students and teachers better understand this area.

Others areas are somewhat less useful for ITGS students; although the penultimate chapter is titled 'robots', it heavily focuses on the artificial intelligence routines used to control robots and is above the level required for ITGS. Nevertheless, this final chapter, Sensing the World, has clear explanations of image processing and computer vision techniques that are clear and helpful (image processing came up in a recent Paper 1 exam).
Updated: 2014-11-07
Predator book cover

Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot's Story

by Matthew Martin
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Kindle  | Worldwide (free shipping)

As the title suggests, Predator: A Pilot's Story tells the story of Matthew J. Martin, an air force Captain who flew Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) on hundreds of missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout the book Martin gives an insight into how these drones work, and how this technology has contributed to the modern battlefield. Along the way he addresses several related ethical issues, including suggestions that drone pilots are less "involved" in the battle, and allegations that drone attacks have resulted in serious civilian casualties.

Students with an interest in information technology and the military should find this an interesting and informative read, with clear links to ITGS and social/ethical issues.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Wired for War book cover

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

by P. W. Singer
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Kindle Edition | Worldwide (free shipping)

Update: The Wired for War is now available as a free audio book when you sign up for a free Audible trial (US or UK customers only). Even if you cancel the trial, you get to keep the books.

In Wired for War, Singer examines how robots are used on today's battlefields, and asks how they might be used in the future. In addition to providing examples of cutting edge robotics, Singer describes the technical challenges involved in creating such machines, and discusses in detail the ethical issues raised by using technology to kill.

This book is quite easy to 'dip in' at chapters that interest the reader, and quite a few of my students have found this interesting reading.

The hard cover version I have seems to be unavailable now, but there is a paperback version and a Kindle Edition, though the latter is more expensive. The author also has a website.

Updated: 2017-11-10
Dark Pools book cover

Dark Pools: The Rise of the Machine Traders and the Rigging of the U.S. Stock Market

by Scott Patterson
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Kindle  | Worldwide (free shipping)

Dark Pools tells the story of the sudden, unstoppable rise of artificial intelligence software among stock traders - and the world-changing impacts on global economics. Patterson charts the young, tech-savvy traders who saw an opportunity to use computer software to replace the slow, inefficient, and sometimes downright corrupt human traders in stock exchanges across the world. In doing so, they changed stock trading forever, developing high-speed algorithms that could automatically react to market swings in milliseconds - and buy or sell accordingly, and developing 'bots' that looked for loop holes in the systems.

Dark Pools clearly relates to ITGS, particularly the themes of being overly dependent on computers and creating intelligent software which can escape the control of even its creators. It is not necessary to read the book cover-to-cover to grasp the essential points Patterson is trying to make (indeed the storytelling is a bit dry in places), but the implications of many sections of the book are genuinely frightening and would make good examples for classroom use when teaching artificial intelligence.

Note: Dark Pools contains quite a large amount of bad language.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Lego Mindstorms EV3 book cover

The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory

by Daniele Benedettelli
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK) | Worldwide (free shipping)

Building and programming instructions are presented for five robot models in this black and white book which follows in very much the same vein as The NXT Discovery Book and The NXT Inventor's Book. As with previous books in the series, the early chapters contained detailed explanations of the Mindstorms programming software, from the basic blocks to advanced functions of the mathematics block. The additional challenges ('Experiments') from the NXT Inventors guide also make a welcome return: these offer students extra programming challenges related to the current robot being built.

The EV3 Laboratory offers a solid range of activities and instructions for students of high school age. The similarity to previous titles in the series means some material is virtually duplicated, but that said this is a worthy update to cover the new EV3 bricks and software functionality.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Lego Mindstorms Discovery book cover

The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book: A Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots

by Laurens Valk
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK) | Worldwide (free shipping)

The Lego Mindstorms Discovery book introduces students to building and programming Lego robots. No programming experience is necessary as the book starts with the basics. Sections include building basic robots to follow pre-programmed routes, using sensors to navigate, and advanced programming.

The build instructions are clear and easy to follow, while the tasks increase in difficulty as just the right pace. The book features instructions for a total of 8 large robots.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Lego Mindstorms NXT book cover

The Unofficial LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Inventor's Guide

by David Perdue and Laurens Valk
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK) | Worldwide (free shipping)

The Unofficial NXT Inventor's Guide is similar in style to the ilar in style to the NXT Discovery Book above. The book starts with the basics of programming robots using the NXT-G software (this information is very similar to the information in the Discovery book), then discusses several topics including building robots with gears. The most interesting part of the book is the Projects section which has clear building instructions for 6 robots.

Although I prefer the robots in this book to those in the Discovery Book, the approach in the Discovery Book is probably better for students, as it uses lots of small challenges ("Discoveries") to test them and keep them interested. I wish the Inventor's Guide also did this. Nevertheless, this book is a useful and interesting addition and your students will certainly enjoy building the robots featured in it.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Lego Mindstorms NXT Mayan Adventure book cover

LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT: The Mayan Adventure

by James Floyd Kelly
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK) | Worldwide (free shipping)

The Mayan Adventure takes a different approach to Lego robotics - instead of merely providing building instructions, it sets readers challenges based around the central story of explorers in a Mayan tomb. Each of the five challenges has a clear planning stage, building stage (though students are encouraged to create their own designs), and programming stage. The difficulty level is probably a bit low for ITGS students, and more suited to younger students and Lego robotics clubs .Lego robotics clubs .

There is a sequel to this book called The King's Treasure, which follows a similar pattern (though I don't have a copy of my own yet).
Updated: 2014-11-07
Lego Mindstorms power programming book cover

LEGO Mindstorms NXT Power Programming: Robotics in C

by John C. Hansen
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Worldwide (free shipping)

Power Programming: Robotics in Camming: Robotics in C is a book for the more advanced Lego Mindstorms user. Rather than use the graphical programming environment that comes with the robots, it focuses on the NBC (Next Byte Codes) and NXC (Not eXactly C) programming languages. These offer a more familiar environment for users with prior programming experience.

Unlike the other books here, Power Programming does not include tasks or tutorials; instead it is a categorised reference. This makes it a very useful reference for people who use this language and have plenty of their own Lego robots building ideas.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Great Robot Race DVD cover

The Great Robot Race: The DARPA Grand Challenge

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon Instant

This excellent documentary charts the progress of several teams in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge: the challenge to build an autonomous vehicle capable of driving itself through over 200 kilometres of Nevada desert. This is an excellent resource for teaching the HL Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Expert Systems topic. A shorter version of the documentary is also available online for free.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Blade Runner DVD cover

Blade Runner

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Instant Video

In 2019 megacorporations such as the Tyrell Corporation have created replicants - organic robots which are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Recognising the potential dangers these replicants pose to humans, they are banned from Earth. Harrison Ford is a Blade Runner - an agent sent to track down rogue replicants who defy the ban. Blade Runner examines many issues related to the development of robotic and android technologies, including the benefits and problems they may create, ethical and moral issues related to the creation of 'life', and issues relating to human-machine interaction.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Surrogates DVD cover


Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Instant Video

An interesting science fiction film set in a world where people never leave their homes - instead, they control robotic surrogates that perform all of their actions for them, look just like them, and protect humans from damage. This is a good film for opening discussions about virtual worlds, psychological, health and other impacts, and the limitations on the development of robotics.

Surrogates can be purchased or rented. There is also a free trailer available online: Surrogates.

Updated: 2014-11-07
Artificial intelligence examples

Exercise 16.6: Artificial Intelligence Examples

The links below demonstrate different types of artificial intelligence, including natural language processing, expert systems, and games-playing AI. They should be helpful in getting students to understand what types of 'intelligent' programs are available, and how their intelligence may be achieved. 
  • Eliza - a version of Joseph Weizenbaum's 'computer therapist'.
  • CleverBot - another chat bot
  • Exsys Expert Systems - expert systems demonstrations, including a dog breed selector and a restaurant advisor.
  • START - a 'Natural Language Question Answering System'.
  • 20 Questions - think of an item and answer 20 questions to see if the computer can guess it.
  • Google Translate - Offers translation in many languages - choose two that you know and check its accuracy.
  • Tic-Tac-Toe - Try to beat the computer. What does this tell you about the nature of some games?
  • Connect-4 Another example of game-playing 'intelligence'.

Updated: 2018-08-17
Artificial intelligence examples

Exercise 16.13: AI artist examples

These links may be helpful as examples of the types of 'Artificial Artists' that are currently available.

  • AARON - Description of AARON, an AI artist, and some sample pictures.
  • Ray Kurzweil's Cybernetic Poet - An artificial poet.
  • FractMus - a program to generate musically mathematically (Windows).
  • TuneSmithy - Another Fractal music program (Windows).
  • Emily Howell A computer program developed by David Cope, which 'learns' how to compose music by being 'encouraged' and 'discouraged' by the user.

The Best Examples Of "Unusual" Art is a blog post that contains some great examples of human created art for this discussion. Can Robots be Creative? is a good video for a lesson starter.

Updated: 2017-10-23
Expert systems examples

Expert System examples

The following sites have interactive expert system demos to help students understand the types of knowledge domains suitable for expert system creation.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Creating an Expert System

Creating an Expert System lesson plan

This lesson involves creating a series of basic expert systems using the free Expertise2Go expert system shell. A clear tutorial helps students understand the basics before they create their own code. I find it is useful to have students complete exercise 16-5 in the textbook before this lesson.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Digital intelligence lessons

Royal Institute Digital Intelligence lectures

Chris Bishop presents the final 2008 Royal Institute Christmas Lecture, entitled Digital Intelligence, which has now been released online for free. Do not let the word 'lecture' put you off using this excellent resource: the activities are designed specifically for children. This video covers machine learning, computer vision, and pattern recognition in a variety of fun and accessible ways, assisted by a group of penguins, a dog, and a cat!

I like to use this video after teaching expert systems, when students should be starting to understand the limitations of IF...THEN rules. I use the images in the Limitations of Artificial Intelligence on page 338 of the textbook to discuss how we could write rules to distinguish cats and dogs (answer: it's very hard / we can't). Then I play this video.

The other 2008 lectures, collectively titled Hi-Tech Trek, cover other aspects of computing and are also available online.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Neural networks resources

Artificial Neural Networks resources

This excellent interactive artificial neural network  from Computer Science for Fun is a really useful ITGS teaching tool. Students must configure the input nodes and set the thresholds on the nodes in the hidden layer to make the neural network correctly play "snap".

I use this in conjunction with the Brain in a Bag activity from Computer Science for Fun to really re-enforce neural network concepts.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Predictive text lesson plan

Applications of AI: Predictive text lesson plan

Computer Science Inside has an excellent lesson plan that demonstrates how probability can be used in artificial intelligence, using predictive text as an example. Students work in pairs and act as the mobile phone and its user, with the phone following a set of rules to offering suggestions as letters are entered, and attempting to learn from incorrect suggestions.

I have found this a useful exercise for 'de-mystifying' artificial intelligence, and helping students realise that there are relatively simple procedures behind seemingly complex or intelligent behaviour.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Game playing AI

Applications of AI: Game-playing

Chess was long the target of artificial intelligence creators, who strived to create a machine that could beat a world-class human player. With the Deep Blue computer, IBM achieved this feat in 1997, beating world chess champion Gary Kasparov (though Kasparov would call the victory into question, suggesting IBM cheated).

Spark Chess is a good online chess program and has several different difficulty settings. These can be useful to start a discussion with students about what 'difficulty' means in these circumstances - what makes one AI player 'better' than another? Computer Science Unplugged has an excellent class activity which investigates the idea of playing a game of Tic-Tac-Toe against an intelligent piece of paper that can never lose.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Artificial examiners

Applications of AI: Artificial Examiners

Grading short, multiple-choice questions is an easy task for a computer, but assessing and understanding long, written responses has always been a challenge for even the most sophisticated natural language processing software. However, new technology is now being developed to perform this task.

Artificial examiners put to the test (BBC) covers the technology in detail, explaining how it works and giving examples of the potential problems. Challenges run from the relatively mundane (reading poor hand writing) to deeper and more philosophical (a reduction in creativity and expression as students move towards 'writing for the computer').

New Test for Computers (NY Times) looks at the issue in more depth and examines the concerns raised by prominent critics - among them, Les Perelman, who has created several nonsensical essays which have still been graded highly by a computerised system. Perelman also criticises the reliability of the system, saying it has not been verified by comparing its output with grades from actual human examiners.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Watson supercomputer

Applications of AI: Watson Supercomputer

IBM's Watson supercomputer achieved some acclaim in 2011 when it beat two human contestants on the game show Jeopardy!. You can watch part of that match on YouTube.

Jeopardy! involves understanding complex, often convoluted questions written in English - a challenging job for a machine. Watson: The Science Behind an Answer - explains how Watson generated and ranked possible answers.

Since Jeopardy! IBM has investigated roles for Watson in the worlds of finance, healthcare, cancer research (The Atlantic) and even the kitchen (NY Times).
Updated: 2014-11-07
Computer Science for Fun

Lesson plans and Teaching Ideas

Computer Science for Fun and Computing Science Inside have excellent lesson plans and ideas for artificial intelligence activities. Many of the lessons are very active and kinesthetic, and they cover a range of topics including neural networks, predictive text, and image recognition.
Updated: 2014-11-07
News articles about robotics

Introduction Activity: Robotics news sites

Developments in robotics happen so quickly that lesson plans and resources can be outdated extremely quickly. Some excellent news sites for keeping track of these developments are IEEE Spectrum, Science Daily, Robotic Trends, and New Scientist. A good introduction activity at the start of the Robotics unit is to divide students into groups (perhaps according to the six ITGS areas of application) and ask them to research the latest robotic developments in various areas. This is also a great way of finding new resources!
Updated: 2014-11-07
Lego Mindstorms NXT lessons

Lego Mindstorms NXT lesson resources


The Lego Mindstorm robots are in no way required for the ITGS course, but they do make for some fun lessons. The box contains three motors and four sensors (2 touch, 1 colour, 1 ultrasonic). A variety of other sensors are available, including:

Update: On 1 September 2013 Lego released their next generation Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit. Hopefully I will have one to try out soon!

Vernier's NXT Sensor adapter allows you to use Vernier's wide range of scientific sensors including thermometers and pH sensors (which many schools already have) with the Mindstorm robots.


The wider reading section lists Lego robotics books for students of various ages.


Lesson ideas

Rather than use the supplied graphical software, I use the Brixcc editor and have the students write programs in NXC - a C like language. Students seem to grasp this well, providing they have clear instructions and a series of graded tasks for different abilities.

Lego Virtual Designer

The Lego Virtual Designer software is a CAD-style application that lets users design virtual Lego models. It features all of the bricks from the Lego Mindstorms kit and can be a very useful tool for designing and planning robotics projects. It is PC and Mac compatible.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Lego Mars Explorer

Lego Mars Explorer Robot project

The Mars Explorer Robot project is a challenge to design and build a robot capable of navigating 'Martian terrain' and performing two tasks (collecting rock samples and sampling the temperature of some liquid). For the project we build a wooden board that contained the sample Mars terrain, but

Although this challenge was originally run as a grade 8 ICT project, it could easily be adapted to older ITGS students (or indeed, younger students).

This blog post explains more about how the project was designed and built, and how the lessons were organised.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Mars Curiosity

Case Study: Mars Curiosity Robotic Rover resources

On 6 August 2012, NASA's Mars Science Lab successfully landed the Mars Curiosity rover on the Martian surface. The robotic rover will explore the planet, analysing rocks and other environmental data. This is a great chance for ITGS students and teachers to learn more about robotics and artificial intelligence. NASA has some excellent resources about the robot:
Updated: 2014-11-07
Stanley driverless vehicle

Case Study: Driverless car resources

DARPA Grand Challenge

Page 347 of the textbook describes the DARPA Grand Challenge, a race for autonomous vehicles across the Nevada desert. The Great Robot Race DVD covers the race in detail, and a cut down version is now freely available from PBS, allowing students to see the triumphs - and failures - of each of the teams.

I find it works well to have students complete textbook exercise 16-11 first, then watch them the video to see how accurate they were in their assessments. It can also be fun to do the LEGO Mindstorms lesson (above) first, if you have the resources.

In a Race Between a Self-Driving Car and a Pro Race-Car Driver, Who Wins? (The Atlantic) and Robot cars get ready to roll (BBC) both discuss the possibility of robotic, driverless vehicles on our roads in the near future. Crash Course: Training the Brain of a Driverless Car is useful for investigating the IT Systems strand of the ITGS triangle, providing an insight into how driverless vehicles operate.

While truly driverless vehicles may be some time away, Robot truck platoons roll forward (BBC) describes the creation of semi-autonomous truck convoys that communicate wirelessly to "follow the leader" - a truck driven by a human.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Civilian drones

Civilian applications for drones

The military applications of drones are covered on the politics and government page. In addition to the well-publicised military uses, drones are increasingly being used for civilian purposes across many areas of the ITGS triangle.

Current civilian applications of drones include monitoring wildlife areas for suspected poachers and other illegal activity (Guardian); using drones to monitor railways for graffiti in Germany (BBC), and monitoring vineyards (BBC). The use of drones to protect swimmers by spotting sharks is also being implemented in Australia. In the future it is possible that image recognition may enable these same drones to also spot swimmers in distress.

Updated: 2018-05-21
DARPA Robotics challenge
Image: DARPA (PD)

Case Study: 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge

The latest DARPA Grand Challenge focused on humanoid robots and is possibly the most difficult robotic challenge yet. The challenge was to design a robot that could perform various complex tasks in "degraded, human-engineered environments" - in other words, in buildings damaged by earthquakes, disasters, or war. The robots had to be able to open doors and entry buildings, clear rubble, and drive vehicles.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge website contains a wealth of useful resources and links, including great diagrams of the 8 challenges that the robots must complete, and profiles of all the teams. A good activity is to show these challenges to students and have them consider the difficulties of each one, and perhaps propose some possible solutions using the ITGS technical language from strand 3. Students' ideas could then be compared with the team profiles and the results to see which were ultimately most successful.

The challenge results were extensively covered by the media: this post on my blog has links to many useful resources and IEEE Spectrum has a breakdown of the points awarded to each robot.

Updated: 2014-11-07
Industrial robots

Case Study: Industrial robots resources

Industrial robots are becoming ever cheaper - and increasingly they are competing with people for jobs. The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) produces annual statistics about global use of robotics, which makes an interesting read.

Robots and unemployment

The New York Times' article Skilled Work, Without the Worker is a great introduction to this topic, with many examples, photos and a video. A $22,000 humanoid robot that competes with low-wage workers (MIT Technology Review) provides a good insight into how businesses can save money with robots, and the related social impacts in the Business & Employment sector - particularly on poorer workers. It's a Man vs. Machine Recovery (Business Week) and Marathon machine (Economist) both examine this impact on unskilled workers in more detail. The Guardian argues that most people are unprepared for the pace of robotic development and unaware of the potential threat to their jobs.

More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People (NY Times) discusses the many areas in which robots are taking human jobs; Will there be jobs left for a human being? delves deeper into these social impacts and asks whether the end of mass employment is near. Will Robots Create New Jobs When They Take Over Existing Ones? also addresses the issues of unemployment and reskilling. How to Protect Workers From Job-Stealing Robots argues that rather than causing mass unemployment, robots will actually boost the economy. Other articles argue that robotics will cause unemployment, but that this may affect women more than men due to the nature of jobs that can be automated.

Shift Change is a YouTube series of videos about how robotic technology can change, improve, and sometimes replace jobs. It examines how current technology might progress and the social impacts this will cause. The last job on Earth: imagining a fully automated world is another video in a similar vein.

Robots and safety

Safety is a concern wherever robots and humans are working alongside each other; heavy robotic arms could easily kill or seriously injure a nearby human worker. For this reason, robots and humans normally work in separate, fenced areas. However, Robots and Humans, Learning to work together (NY Times) discusses a new generation of robot with improved ability to sense its surroundings and work cooperately with humans.

Updated: 2019-03-19
Robotics keyword bingo

Lesson Resources: Keyword Bingo

Keyword Bingo. Give students one or two cards containing ITGS key words, then read out the definitions. The first student to get all key words wins.

This set of cards covers only key terms related to chapter 16 of the book, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Download: Student cards, teacher clues.
Updated: 2014-11-07
NASA Mars Rovers manual

NASA Mars Rovers Manual: 1997-2013 (Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity)

by David Baker
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

This great 'Workshop manual' contains a lot of technical information about the Mars rovers (Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity) which is related to the ITGS HL Robotics topic. There is a wealth of information relating to the rovers' hardware, input and output devices, and communication equipment. Written with technical detail, these sections give students a chance to see real life robotic technology in action (did you know Curiosity has 2GB of flash memory?). A great addition to the ITGS classroom library.

Updated: 2015-07-29


RoboRace is a project to develop a self-driving racing car. The original aim was to have ten teams of cars competing during the 2016/2017 Formula E championship for electric cars. However, that goal now seems rather optimistic. Nevertheless, the RoboRace YouTube channel has some useful videos documenting the development process and some of the difficulties encountered.

Updated: 2016-10-17
Social assistance robots

Examples: Social assistance robots

With ageing populations many countries are looking for new ways to care for the elderly. Carer robots or social assistance robots (SARs) are a particularly challenging type of robot to develop. Not only must they be able to cope with a wider range of tasks and situations than industrial robots, but they must present a friendly and interactive interface to the user. Many of these challenges are very similar to the toys being developed in the 2018 ITGS case study. Below are some examples and resources for the latest in care robots:

Updated: 2017-06-29
Self driving cars

Driverless cars and ethics

Driverless or self-driving vehicles are often promoted as being safer than human drivers. However, there may be situations in which an accident is unavoidable. In these situations, how should a driverless vehicle be programmed to behave? Which course of action should it take if all have negative outcomes? And, of course, who takes responsibility for any damage that is caused?

This is a topic which links to ITGS and TOK. The ethical dilemma of self-driving cars (video) is a good introduction. Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill and Ethics of Self-Driving Cars are great articles that examine the topic in more detail.

Uber driverless car accident

In March 2018 an accident occured which was reportedly the first death caused by a driverless vehicle. The Uber self-driving car hit and killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, in Arizona. The human monitor in the car also failed to spot the pedestrian until seconds before the collision. Uber stopped all self driving experiments in the aftermath of the crash.

Velodyne, the company that produces the sensors for the cars, reported that the sensors were working correctly - suggesting a software issue may have been the cause. It was later reported that the car's sensors detected Herzberg, but chose not to swerve as it was uncertain about the nature of the obstacle.

Updated: 2018-05-21
Should Robots look like humans

Video: Should Robots Look Like Humans?

This short video examines a new android called Sophia, and discusses the reasons for designing human-like robots (and the reasons not, too).

Updated: 2018-01-26
DARPA Urban challenge video

DARPA Urban Challenge 2007

The 2007 competition for driverless cars organised by DARPA was the followup to the 2005 Grand Challenge in the Nevada desert. Although the video is a bit old now, it is useful for seeing how the technology worked (and didn't!) in the early days. It is also a reminder of how quickly technology develops in fields like artificial intelligence.

Updated: 2018-01-26
AI racial bias

AI facial analysis demonstrates bias

This article discusses how artificial intelligence systems can demonstrate both gender and racial 'bias'. Of course, this bias stems from unrepresentative training data - such systems are better at recognising white males because they are given more images of white males as training data. The article and video could lead to some interesting TOK discussions such as 'Can machines be bias?' and 'can we ever escape bias?".

Updated: 2019-05-10