Meet Ireland’s young philosopher of the year

Unthinkable: The Irish Young Philosopher Awards hopes to become as big as the Young Scientist exhibition

Irish Yong Philosopher Award winner Luke Rickard (16) with President Michael D. Higgins. Photograph: UCD Colleges of Social Sciences and Law

Irish Yong Philosopher Award winner Luke Rickard (16) with President Michael D. Higgins. Photograph: UCD Colleges of Social Sciences and Law

 

If philosophy is the art of asking good questions then Ireland has some serious sages in the making.

Close to 200 primary and secondary students gathered at UCD earlier this month for the first Irish Young Philosopher Awards (IYPA), exploring questions as profound as “What would life be without conflict?”, “Can you have a relationship with an robot?” and “If you aren’t on social media do you exist?”

The event, organised by a cross-disciplinary team of academics at University College Dublin with the support of various teachers in schools and colleges, follows a similar format to that long-standing exhibition of youthful invention which takes place annually in the RDS.

The potential for similar growth was acknowledged by President Michael D. Higgins who described the IYPA as “a great, great start to what I hope will be something that will be as big as the Young Scientist in the end”.

Mr Higgins presented the inaugural awards at UCD’s O’Reilly Hall where he renewed his plea for philosophy to be taught in Irish schools.

An optional short course in the subject has been introduced under the new Junior Cycle and, while there has been limited take-up to date, there was evidence at the exhibition of fresh shoots of intellectual activity – from Donabate Community College where students have set up a Thursday after-school philosophy club (complete with specially-crested jumpers) to Balbriggan Educate Together whose pupils run a “Philosophy Hour” podcast.

The IYPA is expecting an even bigger turnout next year, and students can enter individually or as a school group. For details see: https://youngphilosopherawards.ucd.ie/There were 14 category prizes, with the overall award going to Luke Rickard (16), a 4th year student at Gonzaga College, for his project: “Is it ethical for robots to be caregivers?”

Noting how our population is ageing and the likelihood of further technological advances, he believes robots can help to free humans “to do what they do best”, namely “connect” with other people. But he believes there could be a major, existential cost to outsourcing care completely.

“How we care for each other defines our humanity,” says Rickard, who is the final Unthinkable guest of this season.

Why did you focus on this issue?

Luke Rickard: “Because of personal experience. About 18 months ago, my grandpa was in a high-quality assisted living facility but he fell in the middle of the night and couldn’t reach his button to call people, and 36 hours later he was dead. If robots were there they might have been able to help.

“That was my motivation – to examine whether robots could be caregivers. Also, I felt this was going to be an issue for the future because the number of people aged 85 plus is due to rise significantly in Ireland.”

How did you grapple with the issue?

“I asked: What would we lose if we had robots as caregivers? We would lose this connection we have with the elderly population, which is very important for the elderly, and for us. We would also lose our humanity because humanity is built on these human-touch connections.

“These connections are an essential part of being human because we wouldn’t really be around if we didn’t connect with each other. Isolation is a leading cause of depression. For the elderly, isolation is terrible.”

But what if robots turn out to be better, or more effective, carers? Wouldn’t that mean it is more caring for humans to outsource the role?

“Better care is not necessarily caring care. What I mean by that is that robots can be technically better at feeding pills, waking you up, or doing everything perfectly on time but it doesn’t mean they are doing it with the all important human touch, wanting to do it and caringly doing it.

“Robots will never be able to caringly care but they will be able to do things technically better.”

Would you be happy to be looked after by a robot in your old age?

“Yes, to be honest, but I would like there still to be humans caring for me. I feel like this is going to be a problem and there are going to be very few ways of solving it because of the ageing population and also because carers are not very well paid.

“Caregiving is a very important role and it should be paid better. I feel it’s going to be one of the jobs that we won’t be able to replace with robots. Caregiving does a lot more for society than many other jobs.”

https://youngphilosopherawards.ucd.ie/

* Unthinkable returns after the summer.

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IPYA category awards:

3rd and 4th Class (Primary):

Runner-up:

Fay Leigh O’Keefe, Riana, Elena Stancea and Shalya Crotty

Canal Way Educate Together National School

Project: When Do We Become an Adult?

Winner:

Alin Doljsai and Oskar Kable

Canal Way Educate Together National School

Project: Shadows are Sneaky

5th and 6th Class:

Runner-up:

Nina Devine

Individual

Project: A Charter of Rights for Animals

Winner:

Aidan Mulligan,

Individual

Project: Morals for Machines: Thinking about the Ethics of Self-Driving Cars

First, Second and Third Year:

Runner-Up:

Caoimhe Cronin and Emilie Badin

Jesus and Mary College, Goatstown

Project: Should We Always Follow the Rules

Winner:

Aaron Rooney, Tuan Moynihan Downes and Ebyn Girling

Project: Machine Creativity (The Difference Between Robots and Machines)

Transition, Fifth and Sixth Year:

Runner-Up:

Sarah Oliver

Donabate Community College

Projects: Do We Have Free Will in a World of Determinism

Winner:

Luke Rickard

Gonzaga College

Project: Is it Ethical for Robots to be Caregivers?

Individual project:

Joint Runners-Up:

Aidan Mulligan

Project: Project: Morals for Machines: Thinking about the Ethics of Self-Driving Cars

Nina Devine

Project: A Charter of Rights for Animals

Winner:

Luke Rickard

Gonzaga College S.J.

Project: Is it Ethical for Robots to be Caregivers?

Small Group:

Runner-Up:

Aaron Rooney, Tuan Moynihan Downes and Ebyn Girling

Project: Machine Creativity (The Difference Between Robots and Machines)

Winner:

Cabinteely Community School

Female Empowerment Group

Project: Gender Inequality

Class award:

Runner-Up:

Class 6A

Teresian School

Project: Personality

Winner:

Class 6A St. Kilian’s German School

Project: Perception

Centre for Ethics in Public Life Prize in Ethics:

Runner-Up for the General Ethics category:

Nina Devine

Project: A Charter of Rights for Animals

Winner:

Luke Rickard

Gonzaga College

Project: Is it Ethical for Robots to be Caregivers?

Philosophy, Ethics and Technology:

Runner-Up:

Aaron Rooney, Tuan Moynihan Downes and Ebyn Girling

Project: Machine Creativity (The Difference Between Robots and Machines)

Winner:

Aidan Mulligan

Individual

Project: Project: Morals for Machines: Thinking about the Ethics of Self-Driving Cars

Political Philosophy:

Runner-Up:

Matthew Sharkey

St. Oliver’s College, Drogheda

Project: What is Education?

Winner:

Aisha Bolaji

Pobalscoil Iosolde

Project: Why do we Hate?

The Critical Horizons Prize:

Runner-Up:

Mathew, Ringsend College

Project: What is Bullying?

Winner:

Alannah Bradshaw

Temple Carrig

Project: How does Gender Identity and Gender Expression Play a Role in Society?

Metaphysics:

Runner-Up:

Kyra Murphy Bennett and Grace Muir

Jesus and Mary College, Goatstown

Project: Does Free Will Even Exist?

Winner:

Ailbhe Carre and Siobhan Ryan

Temple Carrig

What Makes You, You?

Existentialism:

Runner-Up:

Ian MacLeod and Eva O’Leary

Independent Entry

Project: How Can We Know if God Exists?

Winner:

Daniel Groome

Independent Entry

Stages of Atheism

Aesthetics:

Runner-Up:

Saint Columbanus N.S Springboard Project

5th and 6th Class

Project: What is Art?

Winner:

Aaron Rooney, Tuan Moynihan Downes and Ebyn Girling

Project: Machine Creativity (The Difference Between Robots and Machines)

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