Lesson AWF-2

Welcome! Please consider how your attitude affects your and other students' experiences of the lesson. 

Be respectful, come prepared, and show interest to have the best possible educational experience. 

Lesson goals

Read and understand two texts, one about robotics and one about genetic engineering, study the vocabulary used, as well as practice discussing the impact on the future using your writing and quoting skills.

Lesson activities

Vocabulary exercise

Reading comprehension

Writing practice

Vocabulary exercise

Time for the  activitity: ~15-20 minutes

Answer key

This is an intriguing case, the detective said about the mystery.

To ensure a continuous flow of electricity, the electrician fused the wires.

In order to unravel the source of the outbreak, the doctor worked tirelessly.

She could hardly carry out daily tasks due to the illness’ debilitating effect on her.

Reading comprehension

Time for the  activitity: ~20 minutes

Being human: how realistic do we want robots to be?

Being human: how realistic do we want robots to be?

With Google’s AI assistant able to make phone calls and androids populating households in games and films, the line between machine and man is getting scarily blurred.

As our dependence on technology builds and the privacy-destroying, brain-hacking consequences of that start to come to light, we are seeing the return of a science-fiction trope: the rise of the robots. A new wave of television shows, films and video games is grappling with the question of what will happen if we develop the technology to create machines in our own image.

The current wave of android fiction centres on what happens when the line between human and machine becomes blurred. At what point do robots deserve rights: when they reach a certain level of intelligence, or when they develop the capacity for emotion, creativity or free will? Now that technology has enmeshed itself in our lives, it is dawning on us that machines can take over in another way – by encroaching on our humanity.

Anouk van Maris, a robot cognition specialist who is researching ethical human-robot interaction, has found that comfort levels with robots vary greatly depending on location and culture. “It depends on what you expect from it. Some people love it, others want to run away as soon as it starts moving,” she says. “The advantage of a robot that looks human-like is that people feel more comfortable with it being close to them, and it is easier to communicate with it.  

The big disadvantage is that you expect it to be able to do human things and it often can’t.”

In Japan, where the animus belief perhaps makes people more comfortable with the idea that spirit can reside in something that isn’t human, robots are already being used as shop assistants, in care homes and in schools. Japan is the world leader in robotics and demand is high for robots that could help fill a shortfall in nursing care. The country is home to the creepy Erica, the most realistic female humanoid in existence, and Gatebox AI’s Azuma, a holographic girl in a jar that combines Alexa-like home-assistant functionality with a cute anime look and a simulated, deferential personality.

In Europe, by contrast, people are generally uncomfortable with the idea of an android performing roles that require interaction with humans. “In one study, people were asked if there was a robot interacting with children, whether it would be ethically acceptable if the children got attached to that robot,” says Van Maris. “Only 40% thought that was acceptable.” It is telling that US companies design their home-assistant robots to look like black boxes and sound like computers.

“A machine can exhibit human-like qualities and not be considered particularly controversial if it doesn’t look human,” says Williams. “That’s what is intriguing. What scares people about that Google Assistant phone call is that it sounds human. The fact that it can construct the conversation is not what scares people – it’s the fact they can’t distinguish it from a real person.”

Keza MacDonald, The Guardian, Wed 27 June 2018.

Used with permission. Abridged.

Should genetic engineering become more commonplace?

Should genetic engineering become more commonplace?


A positive 59% of Britons agree with controversial stem cell research, according to research by ICM conducted on behalf of the Guardian. The slight majority of respondents, 51% are in support of genetic engineering when designed to correct physical defects in unborn children. This indicates a positive change in the public's attitude to genetic engineering and is good news for the scientists who are adamant that cloning cells is the way to find cures for some of our most debilitating genetic diseases.


Stem cell research is advancing apace. Stem cells are cells that are capable of growing into any of the 300 different kinds of cell in the human body and researchers currently extract them from human embryos that have been discarded during fertility treatments.


However, British scientists are currently seeking approval to create embryos by fusing human cells with animal eggs in controversial research, which will boost stem cell science and tackle some of the most debilitating and untreatable neurological diseases. If they get approval from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority they plan to create embryos that will be 99.9% human and 0.1% rabbit or cow by fusing human cells with animal eggs. They will then use the embryos to create stem cells that carry the genetic defects responsible for neurological conditions such as motor neurone disease. By converting the stem cells into neurons, the scientists will be able to unravel how the disease destroys nerves and identify drugs to stop or reverse the damage.

However, although the public are largely on side on the use of genetic engineering to help cure illness or provide transplant organs, there is still an overwhelming resistance to parents creating "designer babies". Only 13% of respondents to the ICM survey said they were in support of the parent's right to use genetic engineering to design their unborn child, with 63% opposing the process. However, a higher 20% of 18-24 year olds said they would condone the practice, which suggests perhaps that future generations will be more open to the idea.


Currently it is only legally possible to carry out two types of advanced reproductive technologies on humans using InVitrio Fertilisation to fertilise eggs with sperm in test tubes outside the mother's body. The first involves choosing the type of sperm that will fertilise an egg: this is used to determine the sex and the genes of the baby. The second technique screens embryos for a genetic disease: only selected embryos are implanted back into the mother's womb. This is called Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis.


Fears are that this technique will be taken a stage further and used to select personality traits in the unborn child, from their hair or eye colour, to their ability to perform well in sports or exams. However, the results of the survey show that it will be some time before public opinion turns in favour of us playing God with our unborn children, while the way seems clear for scientists to continue the advancement of genetic engineering to help us live longer, healthier lives.


Antonia Windsor, The Guardian, 2011 

Used with permission. Abridged.

Writing practice

Keza MacDonald writes that “As our dependence on technology builds and the privacy-destroying, brain-hacking consequences of that start to come to light, we are seeing the return of a science-fiction trope: the rise of the robots” (The Guardian, 2018), a statement that I agree with, since I see how robots are all around us these days.

For example, in my home, we depend upon our ever-present Google Assistant, an unyielding roomba as well as smart speakers in every single room, as if we require them to meet our most basic of functions. They are, however, not alike us and I do not wish to have human robots. (72 words)

Exit ticket

Share your comment on the the article that you read.