Robots launch new institute at the University of Sheffield which debates what it means to be human in the 21st century

A new ground-breaking institute at the University of Sheffield was launched yesterday (Wednesday 12 June 2017) at Sheffield Town Hall by robots and BBC Radio 4’s Adam Rutherford.


iHuman at the University of Sheffield brings together researchers from the social sciences and humanities with psychological and biological sciences to give new understanding on what it means to be human.

The institute aims to explore issues such as what it means to be human in a time of rapid growth where technology affects all our daily lives.

The event, called ‘Who decides the future? Science, politics or the people?’, was chaired by BBC Radio 4's Adam Rutherford and introduced by Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield.

Robots from Sheffield Robotics greeted the public as they arrived at Sheffield Town Hall. The University of Sheffield’s Sheffield Robotics has one of the largest portfolios of ongoing publicly-funded robotics research in the UK.

Following the format of BBC’s Question Time programme, experts from different sectors and disciplines answered questions from the public such as “Who has the power to decide where our societies are heading?”

Professor Paul Martin, from the University of Sheffield and iHuman Co-Director, said: "We live in a world where technology touches every aspect of our lives. Apps change the way we communicate, automation modifies the way we work and augmented reality can alter our perception of the world entirely.

"As technology radically changes how we live, we need to be asking what it really means to be human in the 21st century. I am delighted that iHuman will be leading the way in addressing this through collaborative research with academics, community groups and third sector organisations."

The institute is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Leverhulme Trust to research some of the most pressing issues facing today’s society.

Professor Dan Goodley, iHuman Co-Director at the University of Sheffield said: "Do we have free will or are we made by society? What is the difference between humans, animals and machines? How are technological developments changing how we understand what it means to be human? How might the human condition be expanded to include all kinds of gender, sexuality, disability and race identities?

"These are just some of the difficult questions bringing together researchers in iHuman. We seek to address rather than avoid controversy, and break down barriers between academic fields to advance understanding of what a changing world means for us all."

The iHuman institute is based within the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield.

Professor Gill Valentine, Vice-President and Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences, said: "iHuman's interdisciplinary approach is the future of research, bringing together expertise from across the social sciences, medicine, science, engineering, and the arts to answer some of humanity's most pressing issues.

"I am delighted that iHuman will be pushing the boundaries of knowledge, exploring ideas and fostering innovative thinking that will make a real difference to society both today and in the future."

A network of fully-funded PhD students are working on projects as part of iHuman and have the chance to work with world-leading experts in these research areas.

For more information about iHuman, visit

Additional Information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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Kirsty Bowen
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