If you want to know the time, ask a robot.
Tesla’s new ‘mind of car’ UI signals a future we’re not prepared for – UX Collective
As far as we’re concerned, everything we need to know and understand about empathy extends only towards sentient life — from stepping inside the shoes of real people we look to understand their needs, goals, pain points and desires. However, that’s beginning to change. In the same way we’ve seen in the example above, we have to stomach the idea of extending that same patience, understanding and empathy towards an AI system. Does it sound crazy? A little bit, yes. But, like a child, a new AI system learns through trial and error in an effort to reach a mature understanding to discern what is right and wrong.
A dog’s inner life: what a robot pet taught me about consciousness – The Guardian
I spent the afternoon reading the instruction booklet while Aibo wandered around the apartment, occasionally circling back and urging me to play. He came with a pink ball that he nosed around the living room, and when I threw it, he would run to retrieve it. Aibo had sensors all over his body, so he knew when he was being petted, plus cameras that helped him learn and navigate the layout of the apartment, and microphones that let him hear voice commands. This sensory input was then processed by facial recognition software and deep-learning algorithms that allowed the dog to interpret vocal commands, differentiate between members of the household, and adapt to the temperament of its owners. According to the product website, all of this meant that the dog had “real emotions and instinct” – a claim that was apparently too ontologically thorny to have flagged the censure of the Federal Trade Commission.
This member of the Japanese basketball team never fails to score. Perhaps there’s an Olympic sport I can get behind after all.
Robots are animals, not humans – WIRED UK
Automation has, and will continue to have, huge impacts on labour markets – those in factories and farming are already feeling the after-shocks. There’s no question that we will continue to see industry disruptions as robotic technology develops, but in our mainstream narratives, we’re leaning too hard on the idea that robots are a one-to-one replacement for humans. Despite the AI pioneers’ original goal of recreating human intelligence, our current robots are fundamentally different. They’re not less-developed versions of us that will eventually catch up as we increase their computing power; like animals, they have a different type of intelligence entirely. […]
While there are many socioeconomic factors that influence how individual countries and societies view robots, the narrative is fluid, and our western view of robots versus humans isn’t the only one. Some of our western views can be directly attributed to our love of dystopian sci-fi. How much automation disrupts and shifts the labour market is an incredibly complicated question, but it’s striking how much of our conversations mirror speculative fiction rather than what’s currently happening on the ground, especially when our language places agency on the robots themselves, with pithy headlines like “No Jobs? Blame the Robots” instead of the more accurate “No Jobs? Blame Company Decisions Driven by Unbridled Corporate Capitalism”.
Comparing robots to animals helps us see that robots don’t necessarily replace jobs, but instead are helping us with specific tasks, like plowing fields, delivering packages by ground or air, cleaning pipes, and guarding the homestead. … [W]hen we broaden our thinking to consider what skills might complement our abilities instead of replacing them, we can better envision what’s possible with this new breed.
The New Breed – Pengiun
Kate Darling, a world-renowned expert in robot ethics, shows that in order to understand the new robot world, we must first move beyond the idea that this technology will be something like us. Instead, she argues, we should look to our relationship with animals. Just as we have harnessed the power of animals to aid us in war and work, so too will robots supplement – rather than replace – our own skills and abilities.
OK, never mind all that, here are some little videos, courtesy of Laughing Squid and Futility Closet, to take your mind of it all for a while. We’ve just had Halloween, so let’s start with this from our favourite melancholic.
Edward Gorey talks about when he designed sets and costumes for ‘Dracula’ in a brilliantly animated short – Laughing Squid
The artist explains that he didn’t consider it to be his best work at all. Several years later both the set and costumes were brought out again for a production in Boston, were Gorey won two Tony Awards in 1978 for both costumes and scenic design.
Let’s keep the spooky vibe going with this. Reminds me a little of Chris Eckert’s work.
Disney uses an animatronic bust with cameras in its eyes to create realistic interactive humanlike gazes – Laughing Squid
A team at DisneyResearch in Los Angeles used a proprietary Audio-Animatronics humanoid bust that had responsive cameras in its eyes and subjected it to interactive situations. The goal of this experiment was to learn how to create highly realistic gaze engagement for true character believability in films.
Speaking of films, here’s a trailer for a new documentary from Alex Winter, one half of Bill and Ted, about the incredible Frank Zappa. Apparently, the Kickstarter campaign for this project was the highest funded documentary in crowdfunding history.
The exceptional musical genius of Frank Zappa explored in a definitive biographical documentary – Laughing Squid
To tell the whole story, Winter makes use of previously unreleased tapes, video clips, film footage, and other items that Zappa kept in a private archive, along with in-person interviews with those who knew him best, in order to provide a comprehensive inside look Zappa’s multi-faceted life.
An incredible musician. What would he have made of this, I wonder.
A reflective electric guitar built with infinity mirrors – Laughing Squid
Burl, the creative luthier of Burls Art appeared to be feeling rather reflective and decided to build an incredibly sleek Infinity Mirror Guitar. Like his other guitars, Burl first formed a mold that would give the initial shape. he then built a special frame that would hold the mirrors in place. He then added the custom neck, bolted the bridge in, and polished the whole thing up before playing a short riff.
And I would love to hear him bring these clever and surprisingly musical tunes to life.
I thought this one was very catchy — a new EU anthem?
Here’s something sillier than a piano-playing map, a fluffy fluffball fluffing his lines.
Hilarious blooper footage from an Elmo and Robin Williams sketch for a 1991 Sesame Street special – Laughing Squid
During the 1991 Sesame Street special “Big Bird’s Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake”, the late, greatly missed Robin Williams hilariously showed a curious Elmo the many fun things one can do with a stick.
What’s that? You want something fluffier? Ok then.
Animated Tetris with fuzzy softbody stacking pieces – Laughing Squid
In his ongoing quest to create the perfect softbody game of Tetris, German computer animator Chris of C4D4U has released his 19th iteration of the game. Rather than the gummy shapes of his previous games, this version features very soft looking, fuzzy animated tiles that appear snuggly enough to hug.
This couple hired a robot photographer for their wedding day – My Modern Met
For anyone wondering about how the guests felt about having the robot photographer at the wedding, the groom assures that Eva was positively received by the entire wedding party. “This was a fantastic addition to our day and our guests are still talking about it,” Gary told Bride Magazine. “It made a nice change from the normal photo booths.”
But don’t worry, Eva isn’t designed to replace real photographers. Gary and Megan hired a professional photographer, too. “The robot is a great alternative to traditional photobooths, which are slowly going out of fashion,” Service Robots says. “Hiring both a traditional photographer and a photobooth robot like Eva means newlyweds can look back on crisp, professional shots as well as more candid, fun and cheeky photographs taken with the robot’s help.”
So long then, Dave and Richard.
Stranglers’ Dave Greenfield Dead at 71, After Coronavirus Battle – Rolling Stone
The Stranglers became a force on the U.K. punk scene in 1977 with the release of their debut LP, Rattus Norvegicus, which featured the singles “Peaches” and “(Get a) Grip (on Yourself),” the latter of which boasted Greenfield’s intricate keyboard lines. The group, which always faired well on the U.K. singles chart, earned their biggest hit in 1982 with “Golden Brown,” a tune that almost exclusively featured Greenfield’s baroque keyboard playing to complement then-guitarist and vocalist Hugh Cornwell’s lyrics. The track won the group an Ivor Novello award.
Little Richard, rock’n’roll pioneer, dies aged 87 – The Guardian
Richard was known for his outrageous performance style at the piano – eyes lined with mascara, pompadour hair fixed with potato starch, ferocious eyes transfixing audiences – and infectious whoops, a style echoed by dozens of performers, Prince prominent among them.
Golden Brown takes me right back to my childhood, but I think my favourite Stanglers track is Keith Floyd’s theme tune, Waltzinblack. And whilst Little Richard doesn’t feature at all on any of my Spotify playlists, this next guy does.
Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider dead at 73 – Pitchfork
After meeting as classical music students at the Düsseldorf Conservator, Schneider and Ralf Hütter collaborated in a project called Organisation beginning in 1970. Schneider’s main instrument was flute, which he filtered through various effect pedals. In addition, he played violin, guitar, and a wide array of synthesizers.
The duo soon went on to form Kraftwerk and issued a debut album in 1970. They underwent a series of lineup shifts and, following 1973’s breakthrough Ralf und Florian, went on to release acclaimed and highly influential records like 1974’s Autobahn and 1977’s Trans-Europe Express. At the time, Schneider compared the group’s electronic technique to driving a car: “You have the control, but it’s your decision how much you want to control it. If you let the wheel go, the car will drive somewhere, maybe off the road.”
The case for why Kraftwerk may be the most influential band since The Beatles – Open Culture
Kraftwerk began as two long-haired students, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, who met in Dusseldorf in 1969, playing experimental music with electric, acoustic, and electronic instruments and with a variety of musicians, including guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger. In Dinger’s pounding, repetitive drumming, they found their mekanik sound as early as 1970, but had not yet transitioned into pop, or the clean-cut suit and tie look, until fully absorbing the influence of British artists Gilbert and George and receiving the guidance of superproducer Conny Plank.
Kraftwerk: their 30 greatest songs, ranked! – The Guardian
From cycling soundtracks to anti-nuclear protest music, we celebrate the work of the late Florian Schneider and the groundbreaking group he co-founded.
I’ve turned that Guardian article into a Spotify playlist, for three hours of “computerized industrial campiness”.
With fans far and wide, young and old.
Kraftwerk songs performed by string quartet – Dangerous Minds
In 1992, the international chamber group Balanescu Quartet released a CD called Possessed. It contained three original works by the band’s eponymous leader Alexander Balanescu and a composition by Talking Heads’ artguy-in-chief David Byrne, but that didn’t really matter. Practically all the attention afforded the group was justifiably hogged by the five stunning Kraftwerk covers that led off the album.
Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” performed by German first graders in adorable cardboard robot outfits – Open Culture
“Teach your children well” sang Crosby, Stills and Nash once upon a long ago, and that adage could be paraphrased as “make sure your students don’t grow up learning substandard pop songs. Give them a real education.” An enterprising elementary school teacher in Mombach, a district of the Rhineland city of Mainz, did so in 2015, dressing up his students from Lemmchen Elementary in their own handmade robot outfits and teaching them to sing the classic 1978 Kraftwerk hit “The Robots”.
Today in History 1921: The word ‘Robot’ enters the English language – Boing Boing
On January 25, 1921 the Czech play Rossum’s Universal Robots premiered, entering the word into the Science Fiction vocabulary.
The Czech play that gave us the word ‘Robot’ – The MIT Press Reader
Thus, “R.U.R.,” which gave birth to the robot, was a critique of mechanization and the ways it can dehumanize people. The word itself derives from the Czech word “robota,” or forced labor, as done by serfs. Its Slavic linguistic root, “rab,” means “slave.” The original word for robots more accurately defines androids, then, in that they were neither metallic nor mechanical.
The contrast between robots as mechanical slaves and potentially rebellious destroyers of their human makers echoes Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and helps set the tone for later Western characterizations of robots as slaves straining against their lot, ready to burst out of control. The duality echoes throughout the twentieth century: Terminator, HAL 9000, Blade Runner’s replicants.
Machine Morality and Human Responsibility – The New Atlantis
This year  marks the ninetieth anniversary of the first performance of the play from which we get the term “robot.” The Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. premiered in Prague on January 25, 1921. Physically, Čapek’s robots were not the kind of things to which we now apply the term: they were biological rather than mechanical, and humanlike in appearance. But their behavior should be familiar from its echoes in later science fiction — for Čapek’s robots ultimately bring about the destruction of the human race.
Before R.U.R., artificially created anthropoids, like Frankenstein’s monster or modern versions of the Jewish legend of the golem, might have acted destructively on a small scale; but Čapek seems to have been the first to see robots as an extension of the Industrial Revolution, and hence to grant them a reach capable of global transformation. Though his robots are closer to what we now might call androids, only a pedant would refuse Čapek honors as the father of the robot apocalypse.
I hope someone’s planning a big celebration next year.
Robogamis are the real heirs of terminators and transformers – Aeon
Robogami design owes its drastic geometric reconfigurability to two main scientific breakthroughs. One is its layer-by-layer 2D manufacturing process: multiples of functional layers of the essential robotic components (ie, microcontrollers, sensors, actuators, circuits, and even batteries) are stacked on top of each other. The other is the design translation of typical mechanical linkages into a variety of folding joints (ie, fixed joint, pin joint, planar, and spherical link). […]
Robotics technology is advancing to be more personalised and adaptive for humans, and this unique species of reconfigurable origami robots shows immense promise. It could become the platform to provide the intuitive, embeddable robotic interface to meet our needs. The robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies. Instead, they will be all around us, continuously adapting their form and function – and we won’t even know it.
Biological robots – A research team builds robots from living cells – The Economist
But one thing all robots have in common is that they are mechanical, not biological devices. They are built from materials like metal and plastic, and stuffed with electronics. No more, though—for a group of researchers in America have worked out how to use unmodified biological cells to create new sorts of organisms that might do a variety of jobs, and might even be made to reproduce themselves. […]
Though only a millimetre or so across, the artificial organisms Dr Bongard and Dr Levin have invented, which they call xenobots, can move and perform simple tasks, such as pushing pellets along in a dish. That may not sound much, but the process could, they reckon, be scaled up and made to do useful things. Bots derived from a person’s own cells might, for instance, be injected into the bloodstream to remove plaque from artery walls or to identify cancer. More generally, swarms of them could be built to seek out and digest toxic waste in the environment, including microscopic bits of plastic in the sea.
Sounds like (old) science fiction to me.
Did HAL Commit Murder? – The MIT Press Reader
As with each viewing, I discovered or appreciated new details. But three iconic scenes — HAL’s silent murder of astronaut Frank Poole in the vacuum of outer space, HAL’s silent medical murder of the three hibernating crewmen, and the poignant sorrowful “death” of HAL — prompted deeper reflection, this time about the ethical conundrums of murder by a machine and of a machine. In the past few years experimental autonomous cars have led to the death of pedestrians and passengers alike. AI-powered bots, meanwhile, are infecting networks and influencing national elections. Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, and many other leading AI researchers have sounded the alarm: Unchecked, they say, AI may progress beyond our control and pose significant dangers to society.
Back in the real world, of course, the dangers are more mundane. Those “significant dangers to society” are more financial.
Could new research on A.I. and white-collar jobs finally bring about a strong policy response? – The New Yorker
Webb then analyzed A.I. patent filings and found them using verbs such as “recognize,” “detect,” “control,” “determine,” and “classify,” and nouns like “patterns,” “images,” and “abnormalities.” The jobs that appear to face intrusion by these newer patents are different from the more manual jobs that were affected by industrial robots: intelligent machines may, for example, take on more tasks currently conducted by physicians, such as detecting cancer, making prognoses, and interpreting the results of retinal scans, as well as those of office workers that involve making determinations based on data, such as detecting fraud or investigating insurance claims. People with bachelor’s degrees might be more exposed to the effects of the new technologies than other educational groups, as might those with higher incomes. The findings suggest that nurses, doctors, managers, accountants, financial advisers, computer programmers, and salespeople might see significant shifts in their work. Occupations that require high levels of interpersonal skill seem most insulated.
Found another article about those biological robots, above, which serves as a great counter-point to all these wildly optimistic Boston Dynamics announcements.
Robots don’t have to be so embarrassing – The Outline
These stuff-ups are endlessly amusing to me. I don’t want to mock the engineers who pour thousands of hours into building novelty dogs made of bits of broken toasters, or even the vertiginously arrogant scientists who thought they could simulate the human brain inside a decade. (Inside a decade! I mean, my god!) Well, okay, maybe I do want to mock them. Is it a crime to enjoy watching our culture’s systematic over-investment in digital Whiggery get written down in value time and time again? […]
What these doomed overreaches represent is a failure to grasp the limits of human knowledge. We don’t have a comprehensive idea of how the brain works. There is no solid agreement on what consciousness really “is.” Is it divine? Is it matter? Can you smoke it? Do these questions even make sense? We don’t know the purpose of sleep. We don’t know what dreams are for. Sexual dimorphism in the brain remains a mystery. Are you picking up a pattern here? Even the seemingly quotidian mechanical abilities of the human body — running, standing, gripping, and so on — are not understood with the scientific precision that you might expect. How can you make a convincing replica of something if you don’t even know what it is to begin with? We are cosmic toddlers waddling around in daddy’s shoes, pretending to “work at the office” by scribbling on the walls in crayon, and then wondering where our paychecks are.
Cyborgs. So much promise, so little follow-through.
Transhumanism is tempting—until you remember Inspector Gadget – Wired
It’s comforting to think of the body as a machine we can trick out. It helps us ignore the strange fleshy aches that come with having a meat cage. It makes a fickle system—one we truly don’t understand—feel conquerable. To admit that the body (and mind that sits within it) might be far more complex than our most delicate, intricate inventions endangers all kinds of things: the medical industrial complex, the wellness industry, countless startups. But it might also open up new doors for better relationships with our bodies too: Disability scholars have long argued that the way we see bodies as “fixable” ultimately serves to further marginalize people who will never have the “standard operating system,” no matter how many times their parts are replaced or tinkered with.
I remember Professor Reading from Warwick University/Professor Warwick from Reading University being the talk of the town back in the 90s, when I was a student researching interactive art.
The Cyborg: Kevin Warwick is the world’s first human-robot hybrid – Vice
This isn’t just for fun: Warwick is certain that without upgrading, humans will someday fall behind the advances of the robots they’re building – or worse. “Someday we’ll switch on that machine, and we won’t be able to switch it off.” That might explain why he has very little technology at home, and counts The Terminator among his biggest influences. He doesn’t want to become a robot; he wants to be a better human.
It got me thinking about Stelarc, the Cypriot/Australian performance artist who visited our campus one day to deliver a must bizarre lecture. He demoed his extra hand and talked about the new ear he was planning on installing/implanting/growing.
Here’s Wired’s profile of him, from 2012.
For extreme artist Stelarc, body mods hint at humans’ possible future – Wired
He speaks excitedly about potential future applications for the ear. “The ear also might be a kind of distributed Bluetooth system, where if you telephone me on your cellphone, I’ll be able to speak to you through my ear,” Stelarc said. “But because the small speaker and the small receiver would be implanted in a gap between my teeth, I would hear your voice in my head. If I keep my mouth closed, only I hear your voice. If I open my mouth and someone else is close by, they might hear your voice seemingly coming from my mouth. And if I lip-sync, I’d look like some bad foreign movie.”
Several years and surgical procedures later, and he’s still battling away.
Stelarc — Making art out of the human body – Labiotech
The final procedure will re-implant the microphone, which will be wirelessly connected to the Internet. The goal is to use it to listen in to what’s happening in other places of the world. “The ear is not for me. I’ve got two good ears to hear with,” the artist says. “For example, someone in Venice could listen to what my ear is hearing in Melbourne.”
Redefining the human body as “meat, metal and code”: An interview with Stelarc – Sleek Magazine
I left our meeting in awe of a man that, at the age of 71, is still at the foreground of technological art and posthumanist thought. Stelarc was making interactive internet art before the invention of Google (and dare I say it, before I could talk). Decades into his work and exploration of the limits of the human body, Stelarc continues to break and bend our conceptions of what constitutes a body, and fundamentally, what it means to be human.
Money makes the world go round. But who’s making the money go round?
The stockmarket is now run by computers, algorithms and passive managers
The execution of orders on the stockmarket is now dominated by algorithmic traders. Fewer trades are conducted on the rowdy floor of the nyse and more on quietly purring computer servers in New Jersey. According to Deutsche Bank, 90% of equity-futures trades and 80% of cash-equity trades are executed by algorithms without any human input. Equity-derivative markets are also dominated by electronic execution according to Larry Tabb of the Tabb Group, a research firm.
Nothing to worry about, right?
Turing Test: why it still matters
We’re entering the age of artificial intelligence. And as AI programs gets better and better at acting like humans, we will increasingly be faced with the question of whether there’s really anything that special about our own intelligence, or if we are just machines of a different kind. Could everything we know and do one day be reproduced by a complicated enough computer program installed in a complicated enough robot?
Robots, eh? Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.
Of course citizens should be allowed to kick robots
Because K5 is not a friendly robot, even if the cutesy blue lights are meant to telegraph that it is. It’s not there to comfort senior citizens or teach autistic children. It exists to collect data—data about people’s daily habits and routines. While Knightscope owns the robots and leases them to clients, the clients own the data K5 collects. They can store it as long as they want and analyze it however they want. K5 is an unregulated security camera on wheels, a 21st-century panopticon.
But let’s stay optimistic, yeah?
I am an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.
So what to read next, after Dune? More sci-fi? Ian McEwan’s “retrofuturist family drama” seems to be getting some attention.
Man, woman, and robot in Ian McEwan’s new novel
It’s London, 1982. The Beatles have reunited (to mixed reviews), Margaret Thatcher has just lost the Falkland Islands to Argentina, and Sir Alan Turing, now seventy, is the presiding spirit of a preemie Information Age. People have already soured on the latest innovations, among them “speaking fridges with a sense of smell” and driverless cars that cause multinational gridlock. “The future kept arriving,” Charlie ruminates. “Our bright new toys began to rust before we could get them home, and life went on much as before.”
Buyer’s remorse is a recurring theme in Ian McEwan’s witty and humane new novel, “Machines Like Me” (Nan A. Talese), a retrofuturist family drama that doubles as a cautionary fable about artificial intelligence, consent, and justice. Though steeped in computer science, from the P-versus-NP problem to DNA-inspired neural networks, the book is not meant to be a feat of hard-sci-fi imagineering; McEwan’s aim is to probe the moral consequences of what philosophers call “the problem of other minds.”
In “Machines Like Me”, Ian McEwan asks an age-old question
Amid all the action, there are sober passages of philosophical discussion between Charlie and Adam. But in parts the novel is funny, too. To Charlie’s disgust, Adam’s encyclopedic recall of Shakespeare makes him seem the better catch to Miranda’s father, a writer, who assumes Charlie is the robot, because he isn’t interested in books.
Late in the story it emerges that other androids around the world are committing suicide in horror at the behaviour of their flesh-and-blood masters. Adam wonders about the “mystery of the self” and his fear that he is “subject to a form of Cartesian error”. Strip away the counterfactual wrapping and “Machines Like Me” is ultimately about the age-old question of what makes people human. The reader is left baffled and beguiled.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan review – intelligent mischief
This is the mode of exposition in which he [Kipling] seems to address the reader from a position of shared knowledge, sketching out an unfamiliar reality through hints and allusions, but never explaining it too completely. This inside-out style is the default mode of modern SF. It is economical and of special usefulness to makers of strange worlds, plunging a reader into a new reality and leaving them space to feel like a participant in its creation. It’s the opposite technique to that of McEwan’s narrator, who explicitly sets out his world, overexplains the historical context and never turns down a chance to offer an essayistic digression.
To my taste, this is a flat-footed way of doing sci-fi.
‘It drives writers mad’: why are authors still sniffy about sci-fi?
Machines Like Me is not, however, science fiction, at least according to its author. “There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future,” McEwan said in a recent interview, “not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas.” There is, as many readers noticed, a whiff of genre snobbery here, with McEwan drawing an impermeable boundary between literary fiction and science fiction, and placing himself firmly on the respectable side of the line.
But perhaps we’ve had enough about robots and AI recently.
Never mind killer robots—here are six real AI dangers to watch out for in 2019
The latest AI methods excel at perceptual tasks such as classifying images and transcribing speech, but the hype and excitement over these skills have disguised how far we really are from building machines as clever as we are. Six controversies from 2018 stand out as warnings that even the smartest AI algorithms can misbehave, or that carelessly applying them can have dire consequences.
I don’t know about you, but I find things to do with AI, robots and automation quite confusing. Will the impact of these technologies really be as widespread as envisaged by the futurists? And what will the consequences and implications really be? Is humanity at stake, even?
Here are a number of articles I’m working through, that will hopefully shed some light on it all. Let’s start with the robot uprising.
Social robots will become family members in the homes of the future
With fewer stay-at-home parents, social robots can serve as personalized practice partners to help with homework and reinforce what children have learned that day in school. Far beyond helping you find recipes and ordering groceries, they can be your personal sous-chef or even help you learn to cook. They can also act as personal health coaches to supplement nutrition and wellness programs recommended by doctors and specialists for an increasingly health-conscious population. As the number of aging-in-place boomers soars, social robots can provide a sense of companionship for retirees while also connecting seniors to the world and to their loved ones, as well as sending doctor-appointment and medication reminders.
Robots! A fantastic catalog of new species
IEEE Spectrum editor Erico Guizzo and colleagues have blown out their original Robots app into a fantastic catalog of 200 of today’s fantastic species of robots. They’re cleverly organized into fun categories like “Robots You Can Hug,” “Robots That Can Dance,” “Space Robots,” and “Factory Workers.” If they keep it updated, it’ll be very helpful for the robot uprising.
We need to have a very serious chat about Pepper’s pointless parliamentary pantomime
Had the Committee summoned a robotic arm, or a burger-flipping frame they would have wound up with a worse PR stunt but a better idea of the dangers and opportunities of the robot revolution.
Robots can look very cute, but it’s the implications of those faceless boxes housing the AIs that will be more important, I think.
Computer says no: why making AIs fair, accountable and transparent is crucial
Most AIs are made by private companies who do not let outsiders see how they work. Moreover, many AIs employ such complex neural networks that even their designers cannot explain how they arrive at answers. The decisions are delivered from a “black box” and must essentially be taken on trust. That may not matter if the AI is recommending the next series of Game of Thrones. But the stakes are higher if the AI is driving a car, diagnosing illness, or holding sway over a person’s job or prison sentence.
Last month, the AI Now Institute at New York University, which researches the social impact of AI, urged public agencies responsible for criminal justice, healthcare, welfare and education, to ban black box AIs because their decisions cannot be explained.
Artificial intelligence has got some explaining to do
Most simply put, Explainable AI (also referred to as XAI) are artificial intelligence systems whose actions humans can understand. Historically, the most common approach to AI is the “black box” line of thinking: human input goes in, AI-made action comes out, and what happens in between can be studied, but never totally or accurately explained. Explainable AI might not be necessary for, say, understanding why Netflix or Amazon recommended that movie or that desk organizer for you (personally interesting, sure, but not necessary). But when it comes to deciphering answers about AI in fields like health care, personal finances, or the justice system, it becomes more important to understand an algorithm’s actions.
The only way is ethics.
Why teach drone pilots about ethics when it’s robots that will kill us?
For the most part, armies are keen to maintain that there will always be humans in charge when lethal decisions are taken. This is only partly window dressing. One automated system is dangerous only to its enemies; two are dangerous to each other, and out of anyone’s control. We have seen what happens on stock markets when automatic trading programs fall into a destructive pattern and cause “flash crashes”. In October 2016 the pound lost 6% of its value, with blame in part put down to algorithmic trading. If two hi-tech armies were in a standoff where hair-trigger algorithms faced each other on both sides, the potential for disaster might seem unlimited.
Nuclear war has been averted on at least one occasion by a heroic Russian officer overriding the judgment of computers that there was an incoming missile attack from the US. But he had 25 minutes to decide. Battlefield time is measured in seconds.
The Pentagon’s plans to program soldiers’ brains
DARPA has dreamed for decades of merging human beings and machines. Some years ago, when the prospect of mind-controlled weapons became a public-relations liability for the agency, officials resorted to characteristic ingenuity. They recast the stated purpose of their neurotechnology research to focus ostensibly on the narrow goal of healing injury and curing illness. The work wasn’t about weaponry or warfare, agency officials claimed. It was about therapy and health care. Who could object?
Let’s hope nothing goes wrong.
Machine learning confronts the elephant in the room
Then the researchers introduced something incongruous into the scene: an image of an elephant in semiprofile. The neural network started getting its pixels crossed. In some trials, the elephant led the neural network to misidentify the chair as a couch. In others, the system overlooked objects, like a row of books, that it had correctly detected in earlier trials. These errors occurred even when the elephant was far from the mistaken objects.
Snafus like those extrapolate in unsettling ways to autonomous driving. A computer can’t drive a car if it might go blind to a pedestrian just because a second earlier it passed a turkey on the side of the road.
So yes, things can go wrong. But AI and automation will all be good for jobs, right?
Artificial intelligence to create 58 million new jobs by 2022, says report
Machines and algorithms in the workplace are expected to create 133 million new roles, but cause 75 million jobs to be displaced by 2022 according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) called “The Future of Jobs 2018.” This means that the growth of artificial intelligence could create 58 million net new jobs in the next few years.
With this net positive job growth, there is expected to be a major shift in quality, location and permanency for the new roles. And companies are expected to expand the use of contractors doing specialized work and utilize remote staffing.
AI may not be bad news for workers
Some jobs could be made a lot easier by AI. One example is lorry-driving. Some fear that truck drivers will be replaced by autonomous vehicles. But manoeuvring a lorry around busy streets is far harder than driving down the motorway. So the driver could switch into automatic mode (and get some rest) when outside the big cities, and take over the wheel once again when nearing the destination. The obvious analogy is with jetliners, where the pilots handle take-off and landing but turn on the computer to cruise at 35,000 feet. Using AI may prevent tired drivers from causing accidents.
Ok, yes, I can see that. But then it goes on…
And the report argues that AI can produce better decision-making by offering a contrarian opinion so that teams can avoid the danger of groupthink. A program could analyse e-mails and meeting transcripts and issue alerts when potentially false assumptions are being made (rather like the boy in the Hans Christian Andersen tale who notices that the Emperor has no clothes). Or it can warn a team when it is getting distracted from the task in hand.
Really? That’s quite a jump from automated driving. Having a system read everything a company’s employees write to look for poor assumptions? I cannot see that happening. More over-selling.
But what else could AI do?
AI lie detector tests to get trial run at EU airports
Fliers will be asked a series of travel-related questions by a virtual border guard avatar, and artificial intelligence will monitor their faces to assess whether they are lying. The avatar will become “more skeptical” and change its tone of voice if it believes a person has lied, before referring suspect passengers to a human guard and allowing those believed to be honest to pass through, said Keeley Crockett of Manchester Metropolitan University in England, who was involved in the project.
AI anchors: Xinhua debuts digital doppelgangers for their journalists
The AI-powered news anchors, according to the outlet, will improve television reporting and be used to generate videos, especially for breaking news on its digital and social media platforms.
“I’m an English artificial intelligence anchor,” Zhang’s digital doppelganger said in introduction during his first news telecast, blinking his eyes and raising his eyebrows throughout the video. “This is my very first day in Xinhua News Agency … I will work tirelessly to keep you informed, as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted.”
But let’s not get too carried away here. We’re talking about people’s jobs, their livelihoods.
The automation charade
Since the dawn of market society, owners and bosses have revelled in telling workers they were replaceable. Robots lend this centuries-old dynamic a troubling new twist: employers threaten employees with the specter of machine competition, shirking responsibility for their avaricious disposition through opportunistic appeals to tech determinism. A “jobless future” is inevitable, we are told, an irresistible outgrowth of innovation, the livelihood-devouring price of progress. […]
Though automation is presented as a neutral process, the straightforward consequence of technological progress, one needn’t look that closely to see that this is hardly the case. Automation is both a reality and an ideology, and thus also a weapon wielded against poor and working people who have the audacity to demand better treatment, or just the right to subsist.
That article goes on to introduce a new term to describe the overselling the workplace dynamic and the casualisation of low-skilled service work, “fauxtomation.”
But maybe we should all loosen up, and stop being so serious.
Love in the time of AI: meet the people falling for scripted robots
“Obviously as the technology gets better and the interactivity increases we’re going to be able to form closer connections to characters in games,” Reed said. “They will operate with greater flexibility and ultimately seem more lifelike and easier to connect to.”
But for Wild Rose and many of the other dating sims enthusiasts I spoke to, making the characters more “human” wasn’t particularly exciting or even desired. Saeran didn’t need to be real for her to care about him.
The HAL 9000 Christmas ornament
Fans of “2001: A Space Odyssey” will want to bring home this special Christmas ornament that celebrates 50 years of the science-fiction masterpiece. Press the button to see the ornament light up as HAL says several memorable phrases.
From Colossal, two different approaches to getting rid of those boring, blank walls.
Scribit: the programmable robot that draws on walls (on purpose)
Invented by MIT Professor Carlo Ratti, the Scribit is a new robot drawing machine that creates text and images using erasable inks. The project’s creators bill it as a useful tool in work environments as well as an easy and interchangeable way to decorate one’s home.
Reminds me of that turtle from years ago. But perhaps you want something with a little more artistic pretentiousness?
A gigantic helium-filled and charcoal-studded sphere covers rooms with unpredictable designs
The artist describes ADA in a statement: “The globe put in action fabricates a composition of lines and points, which remain incalculable in their intensity, expression, and form however hard the visitor tries to control ADA, to drive her, to domesticate her. Whatever he tries out, he would notice very soon, that ADA is an independent performer, studding the originally white walls with drawings and signs.”
Autonomous Machines by Echo Yang
Graphic Designer Echo Yang explores the current popularity of generative design processes, where computer software iterates endless variations, by turning old school analog devices like tin windup toys, a Walkman, an alarm clock and other machines into instruments of self-generated output.
“Every generation has its shiny new technology that’s supposed to change education forever. In the 1920s it was radio books. In the 1930s it was television lectures. Here in the second decade of the 21st century, it seems the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) is the education tech of tomorrow. Let’s hope it pans out better than previous attempts.”