On the Robot Beat #1

On the Robot Beat #1

A robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

On the Robot Beat will present news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

Who’s watching you?

Surveillance cameras.

They’re everywhere.

If you are in a public place, there is a pretty good chance that you are on camera.

Have you ever thought about, though, what is happening on the other end of that camera?

Obviously, the video goes somewhere. It might be recorded, or it might not.

It doesn’t do any good if no one looks at it, right?

Well, in many cases nobody does…unless somebody already knows a crime was committed there, and then they pull up that section of video.

Why not?

For one thing, it’s expensive to hire somebody (or a bunch of somebodies) to watch 24-hours of video a day.

For another, people just aren’t that good at doing the same thing for hours. Can you imagine watching surveillance video for eight hours straight…or four…or even two? There’s a reason why YouTube used to limit the length to ten minutes. 😉

Well, BRS Labs has a solution.

It’s an artificial intelligence system (utilizing a neural net) that watches an area and decides what behaviors are normal (on its own). Then,  when it sees something it thinks is sufficiently abnormal, it notifies a human being for further analysis.

I know what some of you are thinking…”Yeah, right.” 🙂

It sounds like a joke site on the internet…maybe some viral ad campaign for a game.

The City of San Francisco doesn’t think so.

They recently bought Behavioral Recognition Systems Labs AISight system for their public transit (including Muni):

Huffington Post article

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and there definitely has been some controversy here. Ronn Owens, one of our nationally-renowned local talk show hosts on KGO, did an hour on it.

One angle for people has been comparing it to Minority Report. They think that this is going to get you arrested before you commit a crime.

Not at all. The system doesn’t arrest you.

It does exactly what you want a security guard to do.

It looks for something unusual. It gets it investigated. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn’t.

Let’s say somebody walks onto a train platform with four bowling ball bags. Maybe that’s okay…but isn’t it worth having somebody check it out?

For me, I have no problem with this concept. i think it’s really clever to have the system learn what’s normal, rather than telling it what to look for. Assuming that this works (and the company presents some interesting evidence that it does…the system recognizing that somebody going around a metal detector was worth bumping up to a human evaluator), I’m fine with it.

I did think their promotional video was weird:


They shoot it with all of this strange buzzy video, sort of like Max Headroom…it feels creepy, like something out of Demon Seed.

If it were me, I would have put a 75-year old behind a desk with a Rolodex on it. 😉

First robot gets a driver’s license in Nevada

I’ve written before about the Google car, an autonomous driving system…yep, a car that drives itself.

I’ve actually seen one on the road around here. I didn’t know what it was at the time…they hadn’t announced it.

Now, in a big step forward for robotkind, the State of Nevada has granted a driver’s license to a Google car:

Reuters article

You will eventually have a robot doing at least part of your driving for you…and you may already have it. Cruise control? Robot. Self-parking car? Robot. You may already have a car that has a back-up collision avoidance system.

Cadillac has its “super cruise control”, which adds autonomous driving elements, but only in very specific circumstances:

Autoblog article

Yes, there are people who hate the idea of not driving their own cars, but I’m really looking forward to being able to tell my car where to take me, and kicking back and reading for the trip.

The shot heard round the robot world?

When I saw this video of a man shooting an unpiloted traffic enforcement vehicle, it just looked to me like what would become the eventual rallying cry in the robot revolution:

Policeone article

If you haven’t seen it, take a look. This guy who sort of looks like Will Geer (Grandfather on The Waltons), wearing a nightgown, opens fire on this poor defenseless robocar member of the police force.

What do you think? Does the idea of a robot deciding that what you are doing is abnormal enough to call a cop seem creepy to you? Would you want a self-driving car? Are intelligent systems already passing around the video of the human assaulting the robocar? 😉

Feel free to let me know by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

2 Responses to “On the Robot Beat #1”

  1. Amazon and PRISM | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] also how Behavioral Recognition Systems Labs AISight system works. That’s an artificial intelligence system in use now in San Francisco (and other […]

  2. Robots on the front line of Customer Service | The Measured Circle Says:

    […] As I’ve written about before, it’s happening with  surveillance systems in public places. AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems examine the security video, looking for things that seem out of the ordinary to them. When they detect them, they flag the video for human review. […]

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