We have Alan Turing to thank for all the computers we see around us. He is the father of modern computer science: he created the idea of a programmable machine long before computers were even built.

"This house believes that robots and computers should be allowed to take over any human job, if they can be programmed to do so."

You will need...

Each student will need access to a computer to carry out their research.

How long will it take?

The students will need a couple of hours to research the answers to the questions and look at the topic they are dealing with; you may want them to do this for homework.  The students have been provided with websites to start them off.  The debate itself may take between half an hour and an hour to complete.

What to do...

To hold a debate officially requires students to take on different roles.  Have a look at the BBC Newsround teachers' site for more information on everyone's role in a debate:

1.  Pick the students who are going to research the debate.  For a less rigorous debate you will need at least 12 students.  Divide these students into two teams; one side supports the argument the other opposes it.  Further divide each team into smaller groups to research different aspects of their case.  Below are three topics they can investigate.  However you wish run the debate, you will need to let each student know their role at the beginning so they know what aspect of the debate they are researching.

2.  The students' sheet contains questions they might like to find answers to, and a work sheet with some simple topics to help them construct their arguments.  As in all good debating topics, the answers to the questions are very subjective.

Would you trust a computer to do some jobs?

They may find out that robots in use today are cheaper and more accurate than their human counterparts.  If a robot or computer cannot fulfil these two criteria, it is unlikely they would ever replace a human.

Humans will provide a different service in many jobs, being truly able to multitask.  A robot in the near future (at least) will only be programmed with certain skills.  Whether this means that three people in a job could be replaced by two robots while keeping one person in their current role, is up for the student to decide.

The students need to put forward a convincing argument for or against trusting robots.  They could argue that robots are more trustworthy than humans, but less flexible in unforeseen situations.

Are there any human jobs which will never be able to be replaced by computers or robots?

Students may produce a list of professions that they see as desirable or undesirable for robots to do.

Should we be employing robots or should we keep people?

Again a subjective discussion point.  This should summarise what they have discovered so far in terms of the moral and ethical implications of replacing human jobs and the potential for job creation.

The list of sites can be a starti

ng point.  However, the students will need to make sure they have found reliable information from reputable sites, and that they can back up any numbers they use.  They may want to search newspaper sites which have to back up their findings, or the BBC or other news sites.  Government sites are reliable, either in the UK, Europe or the USA.

3.  Each small group should choose one person to speak. They need to work out the main points they have found which support or oppose the motion.  They should produce a short (two to three minute) speech supporting their case.

4.  These small groups will then need to get together to discuss their complete argument for or against the motion.  At this stage they need to pick one person from the team who will summarise the arguments.

5.  You may want to take a vote at the very beginning of the debate and again at the end, to find out if people's minds have been changed by the arguments.

6.  Start the debate by asking the representative from each small group, supporting or opposing the motion, to speak. Their audience is the rest of the class.  Once all the small groups have spoken, one person from each team will summarise the main argument.  There will be four people speaking from each side, one for each of the three topics and then one doing the overall summary.

7.  Now take a vote and find out who had the stronger argument.  Does the class believe computers should replace humans wherever they can?

8.  Finish with an open discussion with all of the class to find out their real opinions.  (How) were they swayed by the arguments they heard?

Curriculum Links

Artificial intelligence
Design and technology


  • investigate new and emerging technologies
  • understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists.

Scottish Curriculum Links:



SCN 3-20a

Topical Science

I have collaborated with others to find and present information on how scientists from Scotland and beyond have contributed to innovative research and development.


SCN 3-20b

Topical Science

Through research and discussion, I have contributed to evaluations of media items with regard to scientific content and ethical implications.


SCN 4-20a

Topical Science

I have researched new developments in science and can explain how their current or future applications might impact on modern life.


SCN 4-20b

Topical Science

Having selected scientific themes of topical interest, I can critically analyse the issues, and use relevant information to develop an informed argument.

Literacy and English


LIT 3-06a / LIT 4-06a

Listening and talking - Finding and using information


LIT 3-07a

Listening and talking - Understanding, analysing and evaluating

I can show my understanding of what I listen to or watch by commenting, with evidence, on the content and form of short and extended texts.


LIT 4-07a

I can show my understanding of what I listen to or watch by giving detailed, evaluative comments, with evidence, about the content and form short and extended texts.


LIT 3-08a

To help me develop an informed view, I am learning about the techniques used to influence opinion and how to assess the value of my sources, and I can recognise persuasion.


LIT 4-08a

To help me develop an informed view, I can identify some of the techniques use it to influence or persuade and can assess the value of my sources.


LIT 3-09a

Listening and talking - Creating texts

When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can:

• communicate information, ideas or opinions

• explain processes, concepts or ideas

• identify issues raised, summarise findings or draw conclusions


LIT 4-09

When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can:

• communicate detailed information, ideas or opinions

• explain processes, concepts or ideas with some relevant supporting detail

• sum up ideas, issues, findings or conclusions.


LIT 2-10a / LIT 3-10a

I am developing confidence when engaging with others within and beyond my place of learning. I can communicate in a clear, expressive way and I am learning to select and organise resources independently.


LIT 4-10

I can communicate in a clear, expressive manner when engaging with others within and beyond my place of learning, and can independently select and organise appropriate resources as required.


LIT 3-14a / LIT 4-14a

Reading - Finding and using information

Using what I know about the features of different types of texts, I can find, select, sort, summarise, link and use information from different sources


LIT 3-15a / LIT 4-15a

I can make notes and organise them to develop my thinking help retain and recall information, explore issues and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate.

Social Studies


SOC 3-15a

People in society, economy and business

I can use my knowledge of current social, political or economic issues to interpret evidence and present an informed view.


SOC 4-15a

I can evaluate conflicting sources of evidence to sustain a line of argument.


SOC 4-16b

Through discussion, I have identified aspects of a social issue to investigate and by gathering information I can assess its impact and the attitudes of the people affected.



TCH 3-01a

Technological developments in society

From my studies of technologies in the world around me, I can begin to understand the relationship between key scientific principles and technological developments.


TCH 4-01a

I can compare traditional with contemporary production methods to assess their contribution in the world around me and explain the impact of related technological changes.


TCH 4-01b

Having investigated a current trend of technological advance in Scotland or beyond, I can debate the short- and long-term possibilities of the technological development becoming a reality.


TCH 4-01c

I can debate the possible future impact of new and emerging technologies on economic prosperity and the environment.


TCH 3-02a

From my studies of sustainable development, I can reflect on the implications and ethical issues arising from technological developments for individuals and societies.


TCH 4-02a

I can examine a range of materials, processes or designs in my local community to consider and discuss their environmental, social and economic impact, discussing the possible lifetime cost to the environment in Scotland or beyond.


TCH 4-03b

ICT to enhance learning

I can use ICT effectively in different learning contexts across the curriculum to access, select and present relevant information in a range of tasks


TCH 3-04a

I enhance my learning by applying my ICT skills in different learning contexts across the curriculum.


TCH 4-04a

Throughout my learning, I can make effective use of a computer system to process and organise information.


Artificial intelligence

Are you intelligent?  I think the answer you are looking for is 'YES'!

In the 1950s, Alan Turing put his mind to the future of computers.  If computers could be programmed to do anything, he reasoned that one day it would be possible to make a computer that could think.  The computer would be a form of artificial intelligence.

How can you test to see if a computer really is intelligent?  Most people would approach the problem by making a list of things that make humans human, and compare each item with what a computer can reproduce in its 'brain'.

You try doing this.  Make a list of the human skills you have, compare them to each others' lists and compare them with what a computer is able to do.  You may want to think about important skills such as the ability to:

solve problems;
learn things;
teach other people new things;
understand how people are feeling.

In fact you will find the list could go on forever.  Turing realised this too, and proposed a simple test: if you think you have an intelligent machine simply hide it behind a  screen and ask it questions.  If you also ask the same questions to a human behind the screen, and you can't tell which answer is from the human and which is from the computer, you can consider the computer to be intelligent!  This is known as the Turing Test.

turing test_400

However, this doesn't help people who are actually trying to make intelligent machines!  They have to decide what abilities they would like to program into a machine and will have made a list similar to yours.  Many researchers are looking into how to get a computer to be very good at one thing or a few things, rather than the whole human package.  Whether it will be possible to make machines which can be creative or which can empathise is a matter of debate.

Key fact: Computers can't do everything a human can, but research into artificial intelligence is making computers increasingly good at performing human-like tasks.


captchaSome people may be working on getting computers to show they can be human, but did you realise you also have to prove you are human occasionally?  You may think that is fairly obvious, but your computer doesn't know that.  A CAPTCHA is a distorted image of a word that is sometimes used on websites: you might be asked to type in what the word is before you can email someone, or register to use a particular service.  These are difficult for computers to read, but easier (sometimes!) for us humans to do so.  So if you get the word right, the website will assume you are human and let you through.  Get it wrong and the website will think you are a computer, programmed by someone to hack into people's personal details, and won't let you proceed.  Because CAPTCHAs are used to prove someone is human and not a computer, they are sometimes described as a 'reverse Turing Test'.



Will machines ever be intelligent?

robotAre there some human abilities that computers can never hope to imitate?

You will be debating the motion...

"This house believes that robots and computers should be allowed to take over any human job, if they can be programmed to do so."

You will be divided into teams to argue for and against this motion.  There are several topics to consider during this debate and each team will need to research each of the topics.

Do your research...

Here are questions you might like to research when working out your arguments, and some websites to help you with your research.




Would you trust a computer to do some jobs?

Have a look at areas where computers are assisting humans today and where humans might be replaced in the future.  Think of the positive benefits that a computer or robot would have in that job.  Then find what else a human adds to the job that a computer may not be able to imitate.


Sensors attached to patients are already feeding back information to doctors; but what about in the future?  Will sensors monitor our heart and blood, and computers routinely diagnose diseases and prescribe medicine?  Would that be faster and more accurate than humans, or more likely to lead to mistakes?

Today, surgeons already use computer images and robots to assist in very difficult surgeries.

Pharmacies are highly organised places.  Robots may be able to replace pharmacists in delivering the correct dose of the correct medicine quickly and efficiently.


Emergency situations

Robots are routinely used in bomb disposal.

ALADDIN was a project that looked at how different machines could work together in emergencies.  It came close to using artificial intelligence because it used data from computers and cameras in a disaster area (a task too large for humans) to make the best decision about where to send emergency vehicles.  At the moment this is for 'enhancing the decisions that people make'.  An example is a fire in a building with people in the building being told the best exit to take.

Could this deploy robot fire fighters?


Self-driving cars

Drivers of buses and taxis may soon be replaced with self-driving cars.  According to Alan Taub of General Motors, there may be fully self-driving cars on the road by 2020.   A General Motors car - Boss, which won a prize for being able to interact with other vehicles - is probably the most advanced self-drive car made so far.  Google are currently carrying out research in this area as well.


Are there any human jobs which will never be able to be replaced by computers or robots?

Find some jobs which you think could never be replaced with a robot.  You can try searching for information by typing in "robot chef" and see if someone is developing one!

Robot babysitters?

Robot teachers?

Robot actors?

And others?

Should we be employing robots or should we keep people?

New technology may bring in new and different jobs that humans will do, someone will have to design the robots!

General sites about future technology...

Life in a 'smart city' in 2050?

The world's most advanced robots on show in Shanghai.