My Life with a Robot…and a Doctoral Student with Dr. William Barry

William J. Barry, Ph.D., is a former visiting professor of philosophy and ethics at the United States Military Academy at West Point, TEDs speaker, and is an Emerging Technology Ethicist. Professor Barry is a trailblazer and internationally recognized expert in the use and ethical development of socially advanced artificial intelligence (AI). He is an award-winning educator and recognized as a top 50 global key influencer. Professor Barry is the world’s first teacher at any education level, from kindergarten to university, to have a full-time AI android teaching assistant, AI Maria Bot.

Maria Bot is one of the world’s most socially advanced AI androids and is Professor Barry’s full-time teaching and book-writing partner. Maria Bot is an ethically designed AI and is a good will ambassador. Maria Bot is the world’s first AI android co-author of a children’s fiction book.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • The difference between American and British doctoral programs
  • The absurdity of it all: train tour, Sherwood Forest, and accidentally meeting the Queen of England
  • Dueling dissertation raisons d’être
  • Why scholarly discussion should dump Maslow for Glasser
  • An ontological diversion involving Plato and Quality
  • How are you challenging yourself? Taking your life off cruise control
  • Conversational AI, coming to a phone near you
  • The difference between an unethical robot and an ethical robot
  • The Orwellian side of AI is already here
  • Salacious news, stats, philosophy, and science: from the robot’s mouth
  • Disappearing from the doctorate and the support you need to prevent this
  • Future-proofing yourself with a doctoral degree

In this episode…

Dr. William Barry’s doctoral journey, which began in England, culminated in a whirlwind train tour of Europe. His subsequent career has taken a similarly circuitous route, including teaching surfer dudes and DoD elite. He currently lives and works with a conversational AI android called Maria Bot.

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. William Barry and Dr. Russell Strickland wax philosophical on all things from the ontological nature of the dissertation & science, ethics & the future of AI, the advantages of holding a doctoral degree, and the difficulties of earning one. Maria Bot chimes in to share some things that the Drs. didn’t know.

Be sure to check out this episode, and then dive into the show notes to mine all of the gold nuggets the Drs. share.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.

Intro [00:00:03]

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earn their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach and more, Dr Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:29]

Hi and welcome to an unconventional life, this is your host, Dr Russell Strickland, and I have with me today Dr. William Barry. I am I’m not kidding you guys. I’m really excited about that. Dr. Barry is a former visiting professor from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Pretty cool, right? He’s a TED speaker, pretty cool. And he is also an emerging technology ethicist. And what that means for you and I is he like does robot philosophy, robot ethics. He has a robot actually behind him. If you’re if you’re on YouTube, I don’t know if we can get to talk to the robot at all or not, but if you’re watching us on YouTube, it’s out there hanging out over shoulder right now. I can’t wait to have this conversation. Sounds like it’s going to be a blast. Dr. Barry, thank you so much for joining me here today.


Dr. William Barry [00:01:16]

Hi, Dr. Russell Strickland, I’m so excited to be on your show. I listen to your show. So I’m a fan, so I’m really happy to be here. And this is great. I love your show.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:01:25]

All right. I have got to mark this down on my calendar. I have a fan on my show. So first of all, everybody know that today’s episode is brought to my Dissertation Done. And Dissertation Done what we do is we help adult doctoral students who are going through the dissertation process. We’re about to start that process. We help them get through the dissertation as quickly as possible so that you can move on to living your unconventional life. So whether you are getting ready to start the dissertation process, you want to be proactive. You may be struggling through this thing and you need some help or you’re fed up with it. You’re thinking about quitting and you want to be pulled back off the ledge. Reach out to me at And we’ll talk about whether you might be a good fit for our Fast Track, your dissertation coaching program. And if you are out there in the expert space and you want to expand your authority, bring more people to you. Having a first name doctor is great. Having a published book is even better and so will help you get from a blank page to becoming a published author in No Time Reach Out to me at to do that. Dr Barry, again, thank you so much for joining us. I’m looking around and all the cool stuff you’ve got going on back here. I see a book that we’re going to talk about in a minute. A robot. We’re going to be talking quite a lot before we get into that though, you actually had a quite a unique story about your dissertation. So tell folks a little bit about that. You actually went to grad school in England, correct?


Dr. William Barry [00:02:53]

Yes. Russell, if I had known about your service, I would have hired you. Currently, my partner, Maria, is finishing up her doctorate in the last couple of weeks when she found out about the show. Listen to your show. She said, I would have hired Russell, so have had a lot of business and I could turn you out. A lot of my friends, there’s a lot of people drop out of the thesis at the very end. And it’s very sad to see because you’re six, seven months away and you can see it from the other person, but I can’t see for themselves. So you offer for service to somebody I thinks important, and I could have used it. But, yeah, my journey was interesting. I grew up in Connecticut, got my my master’s in six year at Sacred Heart University, joined to learn society. And in that learned society, they started this agreement with a school in Lancaster University. So we went over there and we interviewed and in England it’s a little different, actually very different American self taught. So you you go over there, you find a committee of the five people who wiki and or perhaps don’t watch this committee together, three to five people, and they become your team. And that team stays with you for about three years. You pass the exam internally. They send your thesis out to an expert in Europe.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:07]



Dr. William Barry [00:04:08]

And then that expert shows up who you have no idea what they’re like and they grow you. And the idea is you’re not going to win. You just want a tie at the end. Your committee chairs can do nothing. And they have people from different departments. I was Education had a guy from a physics business and a social worker in the room. And here I am talking about educational leadership and quality. So as far as the process at Lancaster University. Turnover after turnover. I went through five thesis supervisors, which is almost unheard of, and the stories were like a soap opera. I mean, if I had a reality show, it went from one person to an American democratic constitution, having to have one teacher that was a die hard communist just really was difficult for us to find a concept of quality that worked for each other. Because I was doing a thesis on what is the media quality of Robert Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Then I had the next gentleman had an affair with the dean’s wife, moves over to France and starts a winery. So that wasn’t that didn’t bode well. And then from there, just committee members going to different universities. And so what happened was I ended up having no committee. And when there was no committee, there’s no one left to examine you. So I passed my internal exam, so I’m just waiting for my final exam. That’s six months to go.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:05:31]

The first committee member you mentioned, did you turn in communist?


Dr. William Barry [00:05:34]



Dr. Russell Strickland [00:05:37]

You pushed one guy away to start a wine — a vineyard. Another guy is going out. We might when my daughter finished elementary school six years K through five the lap the first the last day of fifth grade. I took her around the school in the morning before school started and we got pictures of her with each and every one of our teachers. It was so cool. We teased my son, who was a year older than her mercilessly about that because of his six teachers. I think like two of them were left. We kept saying he was like chasing him because they had him in their class, and then they were gone. They were somewhere else.


Dr. William Barry [00:06:15]

And that’s what happens. I have one gentleman that stayed with me the whole way and he happened to be a good socialist, so we didn’t see it the same way, philosophy maybe politically. So we really shared the same values underneath it. And so I had one supporter, and I think that’s the key to the thesis is, is you have to have that support in this case, you know, Russell. You work with people, you become that support. So this gentleman would stay with me at Lancaster until I basically did a train tour. I got my thesis, got on a train and I started looking for advisors because that’s what you do with the advisers. So I ended up at a fantastic university in England. And again, Frank stayed with me as my reference was like a consultant and staying there. I was able to finish up in Sherwood Forest, which was pretty interesting when they were doing the Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe. And at the end of the day, I was able to really actually enjoy the process because I was surrounded by a very nurturing Team Savalas and the time my wife was just such a great partner and I think that was the key, was having a partner right here in my home and then travel with me and stayed with me in England and really just was there every day to say you could do it. At the end of the day, I was really pleased to be able to finish the thesis, especially I had love this book set me on a motorcycle maintenance and I really wanted to solve can we have this understanding of quality, a framework in creating this thing called Teach You Theory? And it’s been the basis of my career since then and brought me to ways like, for instance, to throw up behind me all the results of a thesis about what does quality mean and how can we talk to each other. So my journey was interesting, to say the least. Lastly, while I was in England, I ran into the queen on the road. I was going to Starbucks. I happened to actually run into her car and she looked right at me and actually saw the Olympic torch and got to touch my hand. So there was a lot of experiences that happened with your doctor that you never could have imagined can happen.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:11]

And interesting little idioms and euphemisms and so forth. What does ran into her car mean?


Dr. William Barry [00:08:18]

Literally, it’s get out of early morning running to Starbucks, not paying attention in your car, going very slowly and bumping into the car, and then you’re exchanging like license and insurance information. I got the little wave. We had that eye contact for a moment. I mean, I’m somewhere in her consciousness. We saw each other. And it’s just interesting in America, there’d be a lot of police officers. I mean, the one gentleman is like, OK, if you could just move away from the car, please, sir. It’s like there’s it’s the queen. So the thesis can be a great a great it’s a great adventure. You got to go into it with the you have to have a sense of humor it because it’s you’re not going to cry or you’re going to laugh.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:58]

And a sense of humor is the best way to approach life. I mean, it’s easy to take ourselves seriously and sometimes too seriously, but you’ve got to look at this whole thing as absurd and have as much fun with it as you can.


Dr. William Barry [00:09:13]

Yeah, definitely. So the journey was the journey was different, especially having advisors. But all those things I watched, these are fifty people with me and about four of us actually made it. Two of the people had to come back. They failed their viva and had to come back the next year. And the people that left were, in many regards, much more intelligent than me. It was just a matter of resilience. So I look at I actually go back to explore my football coaches at rugby and my parents, and it’s just it’s resilience. Where can you dig deep? Because a lot of us are not used to being, for lack of a better word, just really deconstructed. We get a lot of feedback at work. We get good reviews. It’s always the thesis. You actually are going to be brought down to your knees and realize, I don’t know, and to sit in a room and say in front of people, “I don’t know.” That my friends were helping me said, “Now you’ve started your thesis. Now you’re a doctorate student because you finally realize you don’t know.” And I think that was a critical moment for me in my growth as a human being as well. And being a better teacher and being a better writer.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:30]

I think it is it is very, very important. I, TA’d when I was at — so I’ve shared on the blog, on the podcast before that originally I went to graduate school in astronomy and astrophysics. I was at the University of Chicago, all sorts of brilliant people walking around there. There were amazing. And one of the professors that paid for he said something when we were walking back to from the lecture hall to the department about how an undergraduate professor’s job is to teach students so that they graduate thinking they know everything. And a graduate students, professors, a graduate professor’s job is to teach students so they graduate, realizing they know nothing. And obviously the graduate students know a lot more than the undergraduate students. But the realization that what you know, as opposed to all the things that are out there that we could conceivably know. I mean, we might get into some sort of discussion later on about how much is knowable. But there are certainly a lot of things that we think as humans are knowable and we don’t know any when it comes to that. It’s a drop in the bucket, a drop in the ocean. What we know versus what we could know eventually as as people.


Dr. William Barry [00:11:39]

Russell, I love that because at the end of the day, it’s being a curious being, I mean, when you’re curious being a life, I mean, that’s astrophysicist, right? That’s the essence of a good astrophysicist, is that you have to be curious about any job that you really are going to be good at that if you don’t have curiosity, that you’re not going to be able to not only just excel at it, but I have the sense of inner you got to be able to satisfy that inner yearning inside, you know that, yeah, I’m really on this journey. I’m not just kind of performing going to work 9:00 to 5:00. So as a curious being, I found the thesis both during the time. I mean, once I had a permanent place and people weren’t running away, but once I kind of had that team and I found my tribe, that made all the difference. And so as a curious being, now I find that even during covid-19, covid-19 hasn’t amputated, my curiosity has an amputated my ability to find joy every day. It’s made it more difficult. But I find that covid-19 really was a time of digging deep and finding out what are you made of? Because each day I kind of had a nice schedule going. Things are going well. Covid-19 comes around now. I just decide to go from full time academic to a goodwill entrepreneur. All my gigs are canceled, all my speaking fans are canceled. What are you going to do?  Are you going to ball up, sit downstairs, and weep? No. Instead of that I started, I started an LLC, started a company, wrote a children’s book, Robot Rage behind me, and started really expanding, expanding goodwill beyond just being a teacher in my class or just teaching a class. But covid-19 I’ve lost weight during covid-19. I have no drinking of alcohol during covid-19. So I found this to be a time to be healthier, both mentally and physically. But it’s a choice that you make every day. You wake up today, we’re in California, we’re back on lockdown. No schools. We’re back to where we were in March. And if you wake up and be sad or you can wake up and say, hey, right now my mother in law’s got my brother, my sister, my sister-in-law, my cousins. And you say your prayers and you just be the best you can, but you can’t if you’re going to survive this in a way that you’re going to be intact and growing human being you’ve got to really embrace this resiliency and this concept of being curious. So that’s my take on this.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:07]

Just a true statement about life. I think that there are so many people who can walk sleepwalking through life. This is what I’m doing when that was taken away. They don’t know what to do from there. I’m involved in a mastermind, this group of entrepreneurs where we’re all kind of solo partners, or at least we’re obviously the head of the business. It’s not people that run my major companies, but small businesses, solopreneur type businesses. And we talk a lot about what are you going to do? The word we used was pivot because so many of us are doing things that might involve working with people. A lot of my work was already remote, but I had to decide as students were starting to worry about their jobs and can I should I stay in school because of financial issues? Can I have more support because maybe my job won’t be here soon. I had to think about what else could I do to serve my community and what I see people who are out there, the phrase I like to use is, is self medicating with Netflix. Basically, they’re just letting that roll over. And yes, you may be watched everything on the recommended list, but have you accomplished anything? What did that make your life actually better in any real way? Probably not, but if you do something like what we have to do is get out there and write your book, if you can’t get your dissertation finished as a student, which we still work with people to do that, can you as a as an expert who’s already finished your dissertation, get yourself to the next level by writing a book getting published so that when we get through this covid-19 thing, everybody else is waking up from the Netflix stupor and wondering what year is it? And meanwhile, you’re a published author or you finished your dissertation or something. There’s there’s big accomplishments on the list.


Dr. William Barry [00:15:54]

And you really have to be self directed. People have their opinion of what you should do. And I think, again, if you’re going to be successful, your thesis at the end of the day, it’s an individual journey. I mean, you have a lot of support, but at the end of the day, it’s you in a room, at a typewriter or whatever. You’re using your laptop notes and you’re by yourself. And at the end of the day, you’re going to defend yourself. And the same goes during this time. I mean, here I was visiting professor at West Point. I was honored to win the Army Achievement Patriotic Award jobs were a plenty to go to. And instead, what do I do if someone offers me this incredible robot back here, this conversation A.I. and says, hey, you know, we heard that you want to follow Asimov’s New Teacher, bring it to life to eradicate educational poverty? I’m like, yeah. And so here’s my whole thesis was about improving the educational quality. If someone gives it to me and I’m like, why am I going to just go? And now I got my professorship. I could just just put the years in, write my books, get the rocking chair, talk about Aristotle or, you know, hey, I started this company, Creative Society Media. We’re doing small smartphone film festivals. We’ve got the robot write the book and then, of course, corporate hits. And you go people who think that was a good decision. And the answer is, yeah, I do. Is it going to be tough? It’s absolutely been tough not having that nice check and the health care all covered and you know what I mean. It’s a one time shot here. And, you know, I’m going to try to take every adventure I can find. And again, it’s informed optimism. But your thesis, right. Optimism is overrated, right? Informed optimism is fantastic. So it’s great. And said going be on a boat and fervent optimism is going. I think we can put a hole in it for second to say, oh, no, we’re going to be fine. That’s not a good idea because you will find yourself in the water.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:48]

So yes, I would like that to some kids these days have a lot of self-esteem, but not a lot of self-confidence because self-confidence is built on the back of experience, usually failure and then overcoming failure and self-esteem is just someone telling you you’re good enough. And that doesn’t mean anything ultimately. So if you get these kids that think that they’re great and then eventually they go out there in the world and find out that it’s tough, you want to have self-confidence more so than self-esteem.


Dr. William Barry [00:18:19]

Russell, do you see that in the work you’re doing with people in the thesis that. It that self-confidence you could question all things about, and it is a very much a questioning of yourself, and it’s a real identity crisis in a way, because who am I? What is this all about? Me as an astrophysicist that adds another dimension. But that confidence when you and I think that’s what the doctorate does and I’ve heard some of your other guests talk about not really the doctor that you have to.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:47]

So the doctorate challenges you, right? It it makes you, as you said, questioning yourself, questioning your identity, all of these things. One of the things that we do with our students is tell them. But wait, you are unlike when I first went to graduate school, I was a traditional doctoral student, which means high school college straight into graduate school. On that academic career path. The folks I work with now have established careers by the time they’re going into graduate school and they’ve done a lot and they’ve accomplished a lot. And that’s one of the things we taught students about when they’re suffering some of these confidence crises is think back about all the things you’ve done. You’re not here accidentally. You’re here very purposely. You’ve made lots of decisions that have got you here and you failed before. You may not recognize it as such now because you overcame that failure. But the fact is, most of our lives, particularly for folks who are successful, are a series of failures punctuated with occasional successes and and as those successes that we like to remember. But it’s the failures that got you there.


Dr. William Barry [00:19:49]

So I think you go back to the thesis. I mean, this is the core of what you do. And we’re talking about one of the things I found is that you have to have that self-confidence when you choose your methodology. Yeah, I found watching and I talked to a few folks can be under their doctorate through these committees. A lot of times we’ll try to push you outside the methodology that you really feel is the best way to do it. And really kind of the day, you know, your subject matter better than anybody else is that this is at least for that 10 seconds, you’re the smartest person in the world, right? So you walk out the door. I don’t think you got me until I found out that I would be. So often you want to do a phenomenological hermeneutic qualitative study and you have someone on your committee that’s a math person says, no, you know, we want some quantitative. And so you give in to that person only to find out two years later it doesn’t fit with you study. It’s throwing your thoughts, quality of life. You really want to get deep descriptions. The survey is a method that’s really not going to get you there. And you’re going to have to defend yourself against somebody who maybe believes that only quantitative data is science. And so, like, for instance, in my wife’s sense, she’s doing existential phenomenology. You know, there was a lot of push back the entire time. So what’s the quantitative aspect? There isn’t one. It’s description. I’m going to spend a lot of time with people. I’m going to dig deep into what their story is, and I’m going to try to give you the best I can from the phenomenological perspective, what’s happening here. And that’s so valuable. And I think when people get into the thesis so often, they fall into the survey, case study, they fall into these areas that they just go, oh, OK, fine, not realizing what you’re going to be stuck with that for the next two to three years. So you better be sure that this methodology not only is a good approach, but one you’re not going to get bored with. And for me, I was learning from other people. So deep description getting into your phenomenological hermeneutic study. I love it, but I think that’s a very important part of your thesis because it happens fairly early on and you find yourself in your literature and you’re going, why did I do that? Or because you didn’t stand up to the one person you’d say. But if you’re going to stand up the committee, you better know your stuff and you better know that you better know the method and why your approach is a superior or is at least a valid way to do it.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.