Virtual Humans Book Launch report



We had a great (if late) launch for Virtual Humans in Trinity College, Oxford on a lovely sunny Tuesday this week (hence the dark photos in a wood panelled college room!). I gave a brief overview of the history of the book and then there was a fascinating panel discussion chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey (HM Chief Inspector of Probation)(busy week for her!), followed by insightful questions from the floor before we all broke for drinks.

Some brief highlights from the panel session:

Carl Ohman (from Professor Luciano Floridi team at Oxford Internet Institute) spoke about “virtual humans as a new member of the human family” and  problem that there are already too many ethical frameworks for ethical AI ( just like technical standards!).

Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham):

  • talked about AI as being a potentially bigger issue for the future than global warming
  • discussed the idea that humanness/consciousness was the residue once everything else has been transferred to the computer
  • and said that "every Vice Chancellor should get this book” - couldn't agree more!


Dr Elaine Kasket (author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age) talked about:

  • The After Wife by Cass Hunter and its exploration of the creation of a virtual human as a transitional grief object
  • The difference between passive, one way, digital grief entities (such as Facebook memorial pages) and more interactive or even active types (such as the Digital Immortals discussed in the book)
  • How some people see the commercial opportunities in Digital Grief - "100% of people die, so just think of the market” - talking about the digital grief industry, and questioning the various motivations within it


Dame Glenys Stacey gave a very favourable review of the book and was particularly struck by the 3 challenges identified: humanness (actually the easier one!), general purposeness and sentience - and the books accessibility to the interested lay reader.


Sir Anthony Seldon addressing the audience

Questions from the floor included:

  • Catfishing by digital immortals
  • AI ethical frameworks
  • The lack of chatbot/AI education in schools & FE/HE
  • When do these debates move out of academic/intellectual circles?
  • How the church confessional model relates to our engagement with chatbots and the objectivisation of roles
  • The potential abuse of power and virtual humans by those with malevolent intent, and
  • A Transhumanist perspective on what our lives will be like dealing with virtual humans #AI


Our thanks to all our friends, colleagues and interested readers and researchers who attended.

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Maggi and David


We've also been sent this review  and photo of the event by Professor Liz Gilchrist ( Academic Head of Psychology, Criminology and the Centre for Violence Prevention (CVP) at the University of Worcester).


Professor Maggi Savin-Baden, School of Education held a book launch and signing of her co-authored book, ‘Virtual Humans’ David Burden, Daden Limited and Maggie Savin-Baden, University of Worcester, published by Taylor & Francis, New York , yesterday at Trinity College Oxford.

The event at the Oxford College included a book signing and a debate across a range of academics interested in various aspects of this area within AI, debating the issue: virtual humans a force for good or evil?

Those involved ranged from those studying chat bots, those interested in posthumous virtual identities, theological considering the implications for definitions of humanness and senior academics considering why academia has not engaged with this topic more fully, given the likely impact virtual humans will have on us in the future. The debate covered ethics, philosophy and educational policy and prompted a great deal of deep thinking.   

David and Maggi’s book was described as  a comprehensive and appealing read and summarised as  explaining the present situation in relation to virtual humans and making a good job of signalling the future, including posing some thought provoking questions.  It is said to be written for the intelligent lay reader – and includes a definition of a virtual human, considers the relationship between virtual humans and artificial intelligence more broadly and highlights 3 big issues around virtual humans improving humanness, contributing to increased intelligence, but questioned whether virtual humans could realise ‘sentience’ and achieve full consciousness.

Sir Anthony Seldon the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham  University commended the book and suggested that all VCs across universities in Britain should have a copy of this book to inform their thinking of where we should looking to move in HE….






Book launch - 14th May 2019 in Oxford



We're having a somewhat belated launch event for David's book on Virtual Humans on 14th May at Trinity College Oxford, 3pm-5pm.  It will feature a panel discussion on Virtual Humans with Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham), Dr Elaine Kasket (author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age) and Carl Ohman (from Professor Luciano Floridi team at Oxford Internet Institute). The debate will be chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey (HM Chief Inspector of Probation). Plus drinks and nibbles!

If you'd like to come then please sign up at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-humans-book-launch-tickets-57426124083

AISB 2019


I’m spending the week at the Society for Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB) 2019 conference. Will be tweeting as I go on @davidburden with tag @aisb2019 and will post a summary at the end. Keynote from Kathleen Richardson on Sex Robots was great, and behind the attention grabbing title were some interesting thoughts around anthropological theories applied to our relationship to robots and virtual humans, notably egocentric “I” theories, networked “We” theories, theories of attachment, power dynamics, prostitution and slavery. We touch on the notion of virtual humans and a new form of slavery in the book and it’s a topic which would be interesting to explore further.

California Law Bans Bots From Pretending to Be Human


Effective July 1, 2018 it became illegal for bots interacting with California consumers to pretend they're human if they're trying to sell goods, services, or to 'influence a vote in an election.'

https://uk.pcmag.com/news-analysis/117718/california-law-bans-bots-from-pretending-to-be-human

All Party Parliamentary Group on AI - Education Meet

Maggi and I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on AI evidence session on AI in education on Monday. Some good presentations which raised some questions that I might write longer on later. Nicest bit was a shout-out for the book from Sir Anthony Seldon, author of The Fourth Education Revolution and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham.