September 19, 2023

Hale School was delighted to host Dr Stephen Law, a renowned philosopher from the University of Oxford, as our Philosopher in Residence during Term 3. Dr Law is the Director of Philosophy Studies at Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education. He is the editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy’s periodical, Think, and has written several books, for both seasoned philosophers and curious young minds. Dr Law’s visit to Hale sparked lively debates and discussions across the school, encouraging our students to delve deep into some profound questions.

Throughout his week-long stay Dr Law spoke with various classes, challenging the boys to think deeply. His engaging presentations left a lasting impression on the staff and students alike. To wrap up his visit Dr Law gave a public lecture to the wider Hale community. The lecture tackled a timely and intriguing topic: is it possible for robots to develop conscious thought?

In an era where Artificial Intelligence continues to advance at an unprecedented pace, the question of whether machines can achieve sentience has become a subject of fascination, concern and debate. Dr Law’s perspective on this matter is clear, he believes it is possible for robots to think and feel. While he acknowledges the challenges of creating such machines, he firmly rejects the notion that consciousness is a quasi-magical phenomenon beyond the reach of artificial entities.

In his lecture, Dr Law challenged the prevailing idea that machines are just programmed entities devoid of thought and emotion. He suggests that by developing artificial components to replace human neurons, it may be possible to create a complete “robobrain” capable of thought and feeling. His argument is thought-provoking, if a machine can replicate the functions of human neurons seamlessly, why should it not possess consciousness? The lecture attracted a full auditorium and was followed by a very interesting Q&A discussion, where students and members of the audience posed a number of thought-provoking questions.

Hale School’s Philosopher in Residence program was established in 2011 with the generous support of Professor John Kleinig and Professor Tziporah Kasachkoff. The program emphasises the importance of critical thinking and independent philosophical exploration, especially among young minds. Dr Law’s visit encouraged our students to question, analyse and think for themselves, valuable skills that extend far beyond the realm of philosophy. As Dr Law aptly pointed out, individuals who are raised to think critically often exhibit extraordinary moral and ethical courage. As the boys engage with his ideas, they are not only expanding their philosophical horizons but also preparing themselves to think critically and responsibly in an ever-evolving world.

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