Archive for the ‘Robots’ Category

A tragic argument for self-driving cars

October 12, 2015

A tragic argument for self-driving cars

A recent event in our neighborhood has been weighing pretty heavily on me.

Several years ago, we got a new dog.

One of our cats wasn’t happy with the dog. We’ve generally had dogs and cats together, but this dog was particularly bouncy. Not aggressive, but just overly excitable and without much self-control.

The cat ran away…

When cats run away, they are almost always on the same block, or at least, right nearby. When dogs get scared, they can run for miles, and then have no idea where they are. Cats go to ground within territory they know…at least, that’s what an animal expert I know told me.

I found the cat across the street at a neighbor’s…we didn’t know that neighbor well.

Our neighbor already knew “Leo”…he would go over and see her, prior to the dog becoming part of the family. She was so nice in taking care of him while he was there, and even more nice in giving us Leo back.

Leo and the dog eventually came to terms.

Later, when our neighbor became more infirm, she couldn’t keep a pet of her own…and gave us cat items she had.

Still later, I believe she had a stroke.

She started using a walker.

It would take her a few minutes to get out of the car.

One or two relatives apparently moved in with her as caregivers.

Recently, there was a tragic incident.

Our neighbor hit a person in a wheelchair while driving.

The person in the wheelchair died a couple of days later, apparently from injuries sustained.

We first heard about it when it was reported as a hit and run.

We feel terrible for the victim, and for the victim’s family.

We are also very worried about what is going to happen with our neighbor.

She is cooperating with the police investigation. They found her a few blocks away from the accident…near (possibly at) her house.

Of course, we don’t know what actually happened. We don’t know if she even knew she hit the wheelchair.

If she did, my best guess is that she was going to her home to get help from her caregivers. The house is literally under five minutes away from the intersection. It would have taken her that long to get out of the car where he was, and she couldn’t be much help.

She is older, and I had someone ask me if I thought she was sharp enough to know she should have waited at the scene.

I said yes, and I also thought she was compassionate enough to risk going to jail in order to get help for the victim.

We will follow what happens.

It’s been especially hard to read heartless comments on line about what happened…speculation and assertions about our neighbor’s intentions.

I’ve also seen more caring comments talking about what to do about senior drivers. Yes, senior drivers are involved in more fatal accidents than the average…although not as many as young drivers.

We don’t know if age was a contributing factor. We don’t know that our neighbor’s own disability was a contributing factor.

We do know one thing…a human being was driving that car.

A self-driving car would not have hit the wheelchair, sparing both of them (and everyone who knows them).

This will be part of our future.

When I was speaking about self-driving cars to a group, I had someone say, “What if a three-year old ran out into the street?”

I’d much rather have a self-driving car in that situation. It’s going to avoid the collision…it likely won’t know it’s a child, and no, it won’t have compassion, the empathy a human being would have. It will avoid the child with the same efficiency with which it would avoid a rolling garbage can.

Humans, in that situation, may panic. It happens many times a year that a person steps on the gas instead of the brake when something goes wrong.

Right now, the biggest barrier to saving lives with self-driving cars is emotional and political.

No, they aren’t as good as the best human drivers are in all situations.

Yes, they are good enough right now to do some things better than the average human driver…and by doing so, reduce tragedies like this one.

Nothing is going to make what has already happened better. I know that for me, this is partially just an emotional desire to have some sort of impact on happens in the future…just like the people who want more driver testing for seniors, or who wanted to blame the driver for being on a cellphone (which almost certainly wasn’t the case).

Even if I can’t make it real, though, I think I’ll see a future within in the next ten years where horrible happenings like this are reduced…thanks to self-driving cars.

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

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Before Ex Machina, there was My Living Doll

April 6, 2015

Before Ex Machina, there was My Living Doll

“I’m just an it.”
–AF709 (aka Rhoda Miller)
I’ll Leave It All to You
episode of My Living Doll
written by Alan Dales

Alex Garland’s Ex Machina opens this Friday, April 10th, in the USA.

If someone has described the movie to you, perhaps based on seeing the trailer, what are the odds they’ve started out with saying it’s “that movie about artificial intelligence”? I would guess it’s far more likely that they’ve featured that it has a “female robot”, or perhaps even “girl robot”.

I write a lot about

Robots

in The Measured Circle, both the fictional kind and the ones that are inhabiting the world with us.

One of the most fascinating things to me is how we relate to them. As The Measured Circle defines robots*, they are already part of our lives. Our perceptions of them, especially what prejudices we bring to the relationships, may profoundly affect the future lives of Homo sapiens.

There has been a lot of talk recently about gender stereotypes, especially in the geek community.

There is no question that Ex Machina would be perceived as a very different movie if its “robotagonist” was constructed to appear to be male.

“Female” appearing robots have been the exception in science fiction…but have not been absent:

  • In R.U.R., the play which coined the term in 1920, there are main robot characters who are female. These robots are human appearing, and in fact, are organic…nowadays, we might be more inclined to think of them as clones, but they are created to be workers (which is essentially what the term means)
  • In Fritz Lang’s 1927 movie Metropolis, a robot of Maria is able to impersonate a human being (passing the so called “Turing test”). We also see the robot without its human skinlike covering
  • Starting in 1962, The Jetsons had Rosie, a robot maid. In some ways, she has established the standard of what we want from our home robots, both in terms of task  capability  and social interaction. Rosie could not only carry on a conversation, she could disagree and give advice. She is shown to be an older model, but the family has an understandable emotional attachment to her
  • 1962 also brought us Platinum (AKA Tina), one of The Metal Men. These were artificially intelligent robots, and a superhero team. Platinum had a faulty “responsometer”, which made her believe she actually was human…and she was in love with Dr. Magnus, the human creator of The Metal Men. While that situation was sometimes played for laughs, Platinum was a full member of the team
  • 1966’s Italian spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and its sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, have robotic female weapons
  • If you had as much money as Richie Rich, wouldn’t you want a robot in your house? 1970 introduced Irona, a robot maid…who had considerably more capabilities than that. The 2015 Netflix series had an android appearing Irona, although the original was obviously metal
  • In 1976, The Bionic Woman popularized the term “fembot” for female appearing robots. That is not, of course, The Bionic Woman herself (who is a cyborg…a human with machine amplification), but actual robots (constructed from scratch). Similarly Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager is not a robot
  • Daryl Hannah garnered a lot of attention as Pris in BladeRunner in 1982
  • 1985 brought us Small Wonder on TV, with “V.I.C.I.” (Voice Input Child Identicant), a robotic ten-year old
  • If you visited Delos, the adult amusement park that is the setting of Westworld, female robots abounded…and human/robot sex was the norm
  • 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery  recycled  the term “fembots”, although the robots were arguably more like Dr. Goldfoot’s creations than the ones which appeared on The Bionic Woman
  • Summer Glau portrayed Cameron, an intellectually (and emotionally?) complex Terminator who is a main character in Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles, starting in 2008

That’s only a partial list: for more, see

Wikipedia’s List of fictional female robots and cyborgs

although as it states, not everyone on this list is a robot.

However, a series which very directly addresses the idea of how humans will relate to robots, and the role of artificial intelligence, is

My Living Doll (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping**)

and available on Hulu.

Well, at least part of it is…at this point, only eleven episodes are available (and those may be all that survive, although fans hold out hope for the discovery of the others).

I’ve recently watched all of the episodes, and while it might seem easy to dismiss it as “Julie Newmar as a man’s fantasy”, it’s much more interesting than that.

AF709 certainly starts out as simply an object. Robert Cummings’  psychiatrist is a womanizer and misogynist (his perfect woman would “keep her mouth shut”), and accidentally ends up caring for this robot, which has been built without authorization. It’s inventor coincidentally gets sent to Pakistan after the robot escapes from the lab.

Over time, though, AF709 (who is introduced by Cummings’ Dr. McDonald as “Rhoda” to other people, from whom he is hiding her nature), begins to appear to exhibit genuine human emotion and innovative behavior.

Does she, though?

In early episodes especially, there can be confusion when her “echo confirmation” (as we might call it today) causes her to repeat what people say back to them…often leaving off the first word or two. That can lead to them thinking she is confirming what they are saying. An exchange might go something like, “You fed the dog, right?” “Fed the dog.”

In later episodes, she appears to be having fun, and even acting independently.

Newmar’s performance is extraordinary, and much above the material. She has a dancer’s discipline, and the ability to reproduce actions the same way from episode to episode. She explains her databank depth in the same way, even ending with, “This…is a recording” with the same pause. She talks about her “associated components”, and does the same move to demonstrate them.

Famously, when she doesn’t understand something, she may say, “That does not compute”. That’s been cited as the origin of that phrase, although I would guess more people know it from The (male-sounding) Robot’s use of it on Lost in Space (years later).

It isn’t clear in the series as to whether Rhoda has genuinely become self aware, as appears to be the case, or if she is still mimicking human behavior (as she is clearly created to do, presumably as an easy way to program her for her intended use…space missions). Dr. McDonald intentionally sets out to make her more human (but not in a liberated way) as an experiment…did he succeed, or is she just better at acting the way she has computed humans should act?

I’m sure that question (and its implications for how we treat robots, including what “rights” we give them) will be part of Friday’s Ex Machina…and will increasingly be part of our own lives in the future.

* 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.

** When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Is it swarm in here? The Navy announces autonomous swarm boats

October 15, 2014

Is it swarm in here? The Navy announces autonomous swarm boats

“You sunk my battleship!”

Well, technically, you didn’t sink it…robotic ships you unleashed surrounded it and sank it.

In this

media release by David Smalley

the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, proudly says, “The Future Is Now”.

We geeks know that isn’t always a good thing. 😉

In this case, the Navy can retrofit boats with CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing), enabling them to (on their own) coordinate a “swarming attack” on an enemy vessel. They can surround it and just hold it there, or (under human direction), destroy it. The Navy says they can “…deter or destroy attacking adversaries. Any weapons fire from the USVs would need to be initiated by a Sailor supervising the mission.”

There is a video linked on that page, and somehow, it reminded me of the M-5 drill from the original Star Trek’s The Ultimate Computer episode*.

This was kind of a mirror universe version. In the Trek episode, a robotically controlled Enterprise is swarmed by human-controlled starships in a war game.

In this case, a human-controlled vessel was swarmed by robotically-controlled vessels in a war game.

Generally, robots in war are designed to reduce unintended collateral damage. A gun doesn’t have to be “smart” to kill people: it’s made smart so it knows who not to kill.  A smart land mine would choose whether or not to explode, as opposed to current land mines, which maim  indiscriminately.

Even as an advocate of robot rights, we at the Measured Circle have to admit feeling a bit…weirded out by this one.

It certainly seems as though military vessels could be sailing along with this fleet of fast boats zooming along side, like dolphins following a fishing boat. The USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels) detect that a kayaker has entered the area, and immediately surround it…at their own discretion. They won’t shoot unless told to do so…if everything goes according to plan (and it always does, right?). 😉

Okay, feeling fine with that? What if we throw drones into the mix? Yep, the media release (which shows this is forward thinking…it isn’t a “press release”) specifically mentions that this system could be expanded to include UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). It suggests it could also be used for tanks and such.

There is just something about the way they’ve written the press release and done the video that makes it sound like one of those weapons demonstrations we see in the movies…just before everything goes wrong.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the demo from Short Circuit…one of these vessels gets hit by lightning, becomes self aware, and sets off on a wacky but peaceful boat trip with Zach Galifinakis and Zooey Deschanel on a madcap comedy, while being pursued by Colonel Nick Offerman as it seeks its designer, Jim Parsons.

If that’s the case, carry on…

* I rewatched that episode in preparation for this post, and it is worth noting that there is a “self-driving” spaceship in it…and it seems to be accepted as routine that an ore freighter would be driving itself around. Yet another case where Star Trek preceded reality…

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them

 

Transformers got you in the mood for more robots?

July 3, 2014

Transformers got you in the mood for more robots?

Transformers: Age of Extinction

had the biggest opening of the year so far. We geeks always have to remind ourselves that some people haven’t already seen/read/played everything there is.

Think about it: there are kids where this will be their first ever encounter with robots.

We owe it to them, and to geekery, to point out some of the other robots in visual media.

First, a little bit of vocabulary (because that’s always fun, right?): 😉

Technically, and the way we usually use the term in this blog, a robot is an artificial something that performs work.

This is how we define it for our On the Robot Beat stories:

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 presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

However, you probably don’t want to go from Transformers to, oh, an electric toothbrush.

For this post, we’ll use it to mean an inorganic artificially created life form.

That’s how many geeks use it. A clone is not a robot, even if it was created to do work, because it is organic.

Now, there are robots (in the above definition) designed to resemble human beings…sometimes, they do it so well that you wouldn’t know. Those are called androids, from the Greek meaning something like “man-like”.

An android is a robot, but a robot isn’t necessarily an android, in the same way that a cat is an animal, but an animal isn’t necessarily a cat.

Two other terms sometimes get thrown into this category are cyborg and bionic.

A cyborg (cybernetic organism) is a human being (or, I suppose, an animal) which has been made partly mechanical.

Bionic (bio ((life)) and “onic” from electronic) is an adjective. Something can be bionic (like a bionic arm), but there isn’t a being which is a “bionic” (although it wouldn’t surprise me if some story used it that way).

A cyborg might have a bionic leg.

As in many things in geekdom, this can get hard to pin down…we’re so imaginative! 😉 For example, if a robot has an organic skin (and that happens with the T-800 series from Terminator…so they can better infiltrate human groups), does that make it a cyborg?

I would say no: the artificial has been augmented with the organic, rather than the other way around.

For this post, we’re going to stick with robots (including androids) although some organic enhancements might sneak in here.

That does leave out Doctor Who’s Cybermen and Daleks. Both of them may look like machines, but the former are clearly cyborgs and the latter are more like a human in a suit of armor (although it’s much more complex than that).

Here we go!

Robby the Robot
First appearance: 1956, Forbidden Planet

Robby was an amazing part of an incredible movie. This is what many of us think of when we think of a robot. Robby “lived” to serve humans, and was physically awkward. This mechanism spoke (and in nearly 200 languages, along with their dialects and sub-tongues) and was artificially intelligent. The character was so successful (including the suit) that Robby went on to appear in other movies and to guest star on TV shows.

Tik-Tok
First literary appearance: 1907, Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Featured in Return To Oz, 1985

The land of Oz in the original books is surprisingly technological, with gramophones, a wireless pocket telephone invented by the Wizard, and a robot.

There was actually more than one robot in the series, but Tik-Tok became a main character and an important person in the Land of Oz. Tik-Tok had to be wound up to operate, but was able to think, speak, and act.

The Robot (B9) from Lost in Space
First appearance: 1965

“Danger!” Will Robinson was a geeky kid in a pioneer space family. While he was arguably friends with Dr. Smith, his real friend was artificial: the robot. Like Robby the Robot, Lost in Space’s worker was designed by Robert Kinoshita. However, “Robot” (it was often used as a name) was a lot more “human” in emotional affect.

Rhoda (AF 709)
First appearance: 1964, My Living Doll

Certainly not as well known as some of the others on this list, Rhoda was an experimental robot in the shape of…well, Julie Newmar. This was what I call a “mermaid out of water” story…like a “fish out of water”, but with a fantasy/science fiction element (like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, or My Favorite Martian). It’s a typical sitcom in some ways, but Newmar brought special elements to it…for example, Rhoda enters a beauty pageant, but Newmar takes it to the next level during the talent portion, by (actually) playing piano well. The series was sexy (for one thing, Rhoda was controlled in part by pushing buttons disguised as beauty marks) and funny. Rhoda’s perceptions of the world showed an interesting insight into how an artificial intelligence might view the world. Some clips are also available on YouTube (including the piano clip).

K-9 (Doctor Who)
First appearance: 1977, The Invisible Enemy (Doctor Who)

Not every biomorphic robot is shaped like a human being. Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor introduced us to this robot dog. Certainly, some might feel that K-9 is an upgrade from a biological dog: I mean, the laser weapon in the nose comes in handy, and although your dog may think she knows everything (and you cat knows he does), K-9 had a wealth of information. The character was popular enough to appear with other doctors, and in spin-off series. For another robot dog, see Woody Allen’s Sleeper, and for a dog-like robot, see Muffitt II, a robot “daggitt” from the original Battlestar Galactica series.

Maria
First appearance: 1927 (Metropolis)

This silent movie is remarkably solid science fiction, and clearly was greatly influential. [SPOILER ALERT] Maria is a decidedly female robot, and is turned into an android to take the place of a human in a plot of manipulation. [END SPOILER]

We could keep going…and going…and going…

Here’s are some more to consider (and this just the tip of the cybernetic iceberg):

  • Data (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
  • Number (Johnny) 5 (Short Circuit)
  • Huey, Dewey, and Louie (Silent Running)
  • Tobor the Great
  • Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
  • R2-D2 and C3PO (Star Wars)
  • Bubo (a robot owl from The Clash of the Titans)
  • The Scudders (Red Dwarf)
  • Bender (Futurama)
  • Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and others (Mystery Science Theater 3000)
  • Yo-Yo (Holmes and Yo-Yo)
  • Hymie (Get Smart)
  • Marvin (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
  • Astro Boy
  • Dorian (Almost Human)
  • The Fembots (Austin Powers…and Dr. Goldfoot)
  • Vicki (Small Wonder)

That should get you started. 🙂

Feel free to suggest other robots by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Gilligan’s Drone

June 7, 2014

Gilligan’s Drone

“Sooner than you think” is a series of posts on The Measured Circle where we find that things we think are modern have actually been around a bit longer than that…

While you may not think of Gilligan’s Island as a geeky TV series, there were certainly elements of fantasy and sometimes science fiction in it.

In

Gilligan’s Living Doll (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

a second season episode by Bob Stevens (originally broadcast on February 10, 1966), a robot is accidentally dropped on the island.

The castaways try to use it to get off the island (of course).

What you might find surprising is how we are told the robot got on the island in the first place:

“…and the drone plane which accidentally ejected the robot XR-1000 landed at Vanderburg Air Field. Since the airplane was operated by remote control, the officials have no way of knowing where the robot was ejected.”

That’s right: in 1966, a fictional aerial craft with no humans aboard was referred to as a drone.

Sooner than you think…

New! Try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

On the Robot Beat #7: President Obama sets back human-robot relations

April 27, 2014

On the Robot Beat #7: President Obama sets back human-robot relations

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 presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

Note: in this unusual On the Robot Beat entry, we are going to focus on one story…because we think it is that important.

In the next ten years, there may be a major barrier to robots improving our lives…bringing new freedom to the visually impaired, helping the elderly live independently at home, savings lives when disaster strikes.

That barrier isn’t the technology. Robots will be smart enough, strong enough, skillful enough, and careful enough.

It really comes down to one thing:

Fear.

Let’s take one example: robot cars.

We’re not going to use term “driverless cars”, because that’s simply wrong. The cars will have drivers: it’s just that the drivers won’t be human beings.

There is no question that robot-driven cars would be far safer than human-driven ones. When I was talking to a group of people about them, one of my listeners said, “What happens if a three-year old runs out in front of the car?” I responded that I would much rather have a car trying to avoid that kid than a person. The car simply knows that it has to avoid the collision…while you could give a car object recognition that would let it realize it was a human child at stake, that’s not necessary. Whether a kid or a rolling garbage can, the car will take the best possible steps to avoid the crash.

A human, on the other hand, is likely to panic. In that situation, they might step on the gas instead of the brake. They  might simply freeze up and do nothing at all. They might wildly twist the wheel, crossing over into oncoming traffic.

Might the car fail? Sure. Is the person more likely to fail? Undoubtedly.

Since the cars can drive so much more safely, they can drive faster and closer. We already know that

V2V systems

(Vehicle To Vehicle) are going to let cars communicate directly with each other. One car won’t get made because another one “cut them off”. They’ll know what the other car is going to do before it does it, and adjust.

Right now, though, there are engineers and marketers trying to figure out how to get people to accept the robot-driven cars…and how those cars can perform while the roads are “mixed use” (some cars driven by humans, others by robots).

The simple answer?

They’ll probably have to dumb down the cars. They’ll have to drive below their capability, so they don’t scare people…and so people will like them.

Let’s be honest: would you be afraid if a robot-driven car was driving a foot behind you on the freeway? Probably…because you couldn’t trust a human driver to do the same thing.

To paraphrase, FDR: “We have nothing to fear from robots but the fear of robots itself.”

Right away, I’m sure some of you are protesting, thinking of how robot warriors are going to make the world a less safe place.

As I’ve written about before, one main purpose of using robots on the battlefield is to decrease death and injury by having the robot decide when not to kill someone.

A land mine doesn’t care who steps on it: a cat, a dog, or that same three-year old child from our story above.

A “smart land mine” wouldn’t decide to explode when a “stupid land mine” wouldn’t: it’s that it would decide not to explode when it recognized a friend or a non-threat.

Let’s be very clear: we at The Measured Circle do not think that fear of robots is unreasonable. Fear of the unknown makes sense, from an evolutionary standpoint. Send a robot into a chicken coop, and the birds will scatter…as they should.

Humans, though, can overcome our natural fears, by using our more rational selves.

That’s not an easy process, though, and we may need help.

We may need to see our leaders, well, leading us so we can model that behavior.

That’s why we were so disappointed with something President Obama said recently.

The President was in Japan, and met with some robots, including Honda’s ASIMO.

As reported in this

Washington Post story by Juliet Eilperin

(and we’ve seen the clip), the President said:

“I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike,” Obama declared. “They were amazing.”

 

That’s right: this President, who has been called our “Geek-in-Chief” (having cited Star Trek as an influence, and being a reported collector of comics), told the world that robots were scary.

That was one of the most counter-productive things that the President could have said.

It sounds as though President Obama thought they were scary because they were too much like us (and other life forms). We are going to want some robots to look like us, even if many will work better if they don’t.

That’s why you can’t have Rosie from the Jetsons in your house, folding your laundry.

Oh, not just because of President Obama, of course…the fear goes back much before that. It’s in part because of many influential people frightening the public about robots.

The fear is a big drag on progress…and our leaders should be striving to make us less fearful about robots, not more so.

We are going to increasingly live with robots. Whether they are on your phone reminding you when it is time to leave for an appointment, getting your packages ready for delivery, or driving a blind person to the corner store, there isn’t a choice about that.

We can choose how we feel about it. Geeks like me? Not a problem…we want more robots now. The average person? They are going to need help adjusting to the future, or we risk leaving them behind because they are slow to join us.

We need our leaders and other role models to make the future inclusive, and that means reducing fear…not adding to it.

So, Mr. President, next time you meet a robot, don’t let the unfamiliarity scare you: embrace it, share your excitement, and lead the world to a better future.

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

 

On the Robot Beat #6: drones with TASERs, robopoets

March 11, 2014

On the Robot Beat #6: drones with TASERs, robopoets

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 presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

And you are worried about drones looking at you?

Having armed robots will tend to reduce violence.

After all, as I’ve written before, you can have a land mine without intelligence, or a land mine with intelligence. The primary reason to have the latter is so it can decide not to explode. Exploding every time requires no evaluation…no thinking. Selectively exploding requires evaluation, and unless the evaluation is to explode every single time (in which case, there is no point to it), there will be fewer explosions.

However, what about a drone…with a TASER?

Will a robot TASER somebody less often than a human would?

That’s harder to say…a TASER requires a visual target and assessment (currently), unlike a land mine. Presumably, a human might hesitate more, based on body language and other cues.

The idea of a drone with a TASER is not a hypothetical. According to this

Time Magazine post by Doug Aamoth

and other sources,

Chaotic Moon

demonstrated one…they “tased”* an intern on video to show how a drone could deliver the debilitating shock.

You can see the video in the Time Magazine article linked above.

Oh, they aren’t planning to sell them at Walmart. 🙂 They did this to get people talking. They’ve suggested that it could be done inexpensively, and with autonomous drones.

Picture that for, say, border patrol. Perhaps flying around a warehouse at night (preventing copper thieves). The drone sees you, determines you are a “bad guy”, zaps you, and calls the police.

Realistically, we have to consider these possibilities going forward. Is the scenario I just described better than an armed security guard? It will probably be cheaper…

Jeopardy champion working in food truck

What? Did you think this would be a rags to riches to rags story?

Not at all.

IBM’s Watson, who played on Jeopardy and beat the human champs, is now doing “Cognitive Cooking”, using Watson’s computing ability to come up with new food combinations…that are good. 🙂 This is one element of “computational creativity”.

This

engadget article by Sarah Silbert

also includes a video of Watson at work at SXSW (South by Southwest).

We recommend the video.

Simspeare

Robot poets are nothing new. I have the book written by Racter,

The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping**)

However, things have changed a lot in the thirty years since it was published.

Now, our phones may use predictive technology to suggest a word to follow something we just typed.

As reported in this

NPR transcript of a Robert Siegel interview

and other places, Nathan Matias at MIT has used the same technology to produce what could be considered a new sonnet by Shakespeare.

Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. The software knows Shakespeare’s works, and uses them to predict words. Matias uses human oversight to select from the results…and I have to say, the new poem does seem pretty good. It doesn’t have those lovely serendipitious nonsequiters of Racter, but it’s enjoyable.

Speaking of robopoets, you think you could easily tell whether a poem was written by a human or a robot?

You can find out. 🙂

The site

Bot or Not?

gives you a poem, and you guess whether it was created by a robot or a human. It’s interesting to see the results, which they show you afterwards. To show you how hard it is to tell, I clicked one where 56% said it was written by a “bot” and 44% said it wasn’t (I did get it right, but I wouldn’t get them all right)…how about you?

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.

* TASER isn’t actually what the device does (it doesn’t “tase” someone). It’s an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle”. You can read the 1911 book which inspired the inventor here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3777

** I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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

Drone, Speed Racer, drone!

February 16, 2014

Drone, Speed Racer, drone!

A small UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is launched into the air to do photographic  reconnaissance  of the other side. It’s capable of carrying a light payload, and through a homing signal, can return to a pre-programmed location on its own.

Who built it?

The CIA? Boston Dynamics? The NSA?

“Pops” Racer.

That’s right…”Speed” Racer’s father built a drone into the Mach 5 race car.

There have been other cases where a geeky show appears to have inspired a real-world technology (cellphones and the communicators on Star Trek, for example), but this is one where, seen in retrospect, it’s an amazing prediction of the technology and the use of it.

Speed’s car has a number of special gadgets…or perhaps, an “alphabet” of them would be a better description. Speed pushes a letter on the steering wheel to invoke these special capabilities, as detailed in this

YouTube video

Letter G, the largest and central button, launches the “homing robot”, a bird-shaped drone.

Outside of its biomorhphization, it is functionally very similar to drones we have today, nearly fifty years after the cartoon first aired in the USA.

Once launched, it is remote-controlled by a joystick…and just like today, it takes a skilled pilot/operator. A crook tries operating it, and first crashes it (although it survives the impact, which might not be true of many of today’s drones).

A separate button, labeled “H” and not on the steering wheel, gives it a “return home” command, which it presumably does with limited artificial intelligence.

While I was certainly familiar with both Speed Racer and real-world drones, what suddenly gave me the epiphany connecting the two was news reports about Renault’s concept car…which comes with a drone! That’s when it hit me…a car-launched drone is, for all intents and purposes, Speed Racer’s homing robot.

Time article by Doug Aamoth

Well, maybe not all purposes…Speed’s drone wasn’t weaponized, although it was sometimes used that way (mostly by just flying it into something or someone).

We have the drone: are the tree cutting buzzsaws coming out on next year’s model? 😉

Speed Racer: original first episodes on DVD at Amazon (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

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

Preds: Cops & Robots on TV

November 18, 2013

Preds: Cops & Robots on TV

J.J. Abrams’ Almost Human TV series debuts tonight and tomorrow, and it’s pretty easy to sum it up: a human cop and a robot cop are partners.

Certainly, that may seem like an innovative twist to the cop genre, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the elements they put together to make this more than that one line.

However, it’s vanishingly rare that any creative endeavor doesn’t have some predecessors (“preds”), at least around the basic idea.

That’s the case here.

The first pred that comes to mind is from 1976

Holmes & Yo-Yo

John Schuck (Sgt. Enright on McMillan & Wife…and he later played a Klingon Ambassador) was “Yo-Yo”, a goofy, sometimes malfunctioning indestructible android. The fact that he was mechanical was kept secret,although his partner (Richard B. Schull) was in on it eventually. This one was really played for slapsticky laughs, and was a one-season wonder.

Yo-Yo was somewhat reminiscent of Hymie the robot on Get Smart. While not technically a cop. Hymie was partnered (eventually) with Maxwell Smart, who was a spy (but who typically worked in the USA). It may not be a coincidence that there are similarties: Leonard Stern and Arne Sultan were producers on both shows.

More serious was

Future Cop

a 1976 TV series with Ernest Borgnine and John Amos as human cops paired with Michael Shannon as Haven, the robot cop. Borgnine and Shannon (as Haven) would be back for a 1978 TV movie, Cops & Robin.

1992 brought us

Mann & Machine, where the human cop had a disdain for robot cops (as appears to be the case in the commercials for Almost Human). One twist here was that the robot cop was female.

Back in 1964, an episode of Story Parade was an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel…and the teleplay was by Doctor Who’s Terry Nation. John Carson (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter’s Dr. Marcus) played robotic detective R. Daneel Olivaw, and Peter Cushing plays human Elijah Baley.

While the title character in the

Robocop TV series

isn’t actually a robot (he’s a cyborg…part human), most people aren’t aware of it and treat him as an artificial being like the others on this list.

Generally, we can see some similarities throughout these robot/human cop shows. The robots are typically physically superior, but suffer from the prejudice of humans who will not treat them as equals. The robots are often shown as being less emotional, and sometimes have difficulty understanding human language (especially idiom) and social norms.

Just because there are predecessors doesn’t mean that something can’t be original and entertaining…I’m hoping for the best from Almost Human.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them

On the Circumference #5: Batkid, Doc Savage movie update

November 15, 2013

On the Circumference #5: Batkid, Doc Savage movie update

The On the Circumference posts contain short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Doc Savage movie still in the works

I first wrote about a new Doc Savage movie more than three and a half years ago. Movies languish, but interestingly, Shane Black is not only still involved with this one, but gave a recent interview (in September of this year) on the progress

COMINGSOON.NET article

Since 2010, Shane Black has made a little $400 million dogro (domestic gross) movie, Iron Man 3…which should give him a bit more clout in the decision making about Doc Savage.

Clearly, there are still decisions to be made.

One concern he expresses in the video linked in the article above, is Doc’s…perfectness.

I can give you the easy insight into that one (hope you see this, Mr. Black).

Doc doesn’t think he is perfect: other people do. That’s similar to two of my other fictional heroes: Mr. Spock and Kwai Chang Caine. It was quite a revelation for me when I realized that they are all emotionally repressed, all extraordinary fighters…and all believe themselves to be failures.

For Doc, you can see that in how he adopts his “no-kill” policy…that’s the root of the character.

Doc also knows about his inability to connect to people (especially women…he can always tell when a man is lying, and can’t tell when a woman is lying) very well.

That’s the key: Doc isn’t brave because he believes he is infallible, or distant because he thinks he is above other people. He is brave because he feels he owes the world for his mistakes, and he probably honestly feels that it might be better off without him (although he rationally knows that’s not the case). He is distant because of insecurity with others, not because of a sense of superiority.

No release date set yet…

Bill Hader: #1 with a meatball

Thanks to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 breaking $100m dogro, Bill Hader has debuted at #1 on our

2013 The Measured Circle’s Box Office MVPs list

with almost $725 million in dogro this year (only counting movies that dogroed at least $40 million).

The next four were all in Iron Man 3, while Hader is Marvel-free this year.

Batkid save Lou Seal!

I love this story!

A five-year old Make-a-Wish kid wanted to be Batman…and a city in my area, San Francisco, went all out to make it happen. You can see some of the coverage here:

KGO ABC 7 story
KGO ABC 7 photos

although there has been (in my opinion, appropriately) national coverage of it.

Thousands turned out to cheer on the superhero as he rescued the Giants’ mascot from the Penguin, dealt with the Riddler and the Joker, and the Mayor and the Police Chief were involved.

That’s the power of geekery!

Set your reminders for December 2015

Well, this release schedule won’t last, but December 2015 is currently scheduled to be a great month for geeks in the movie theatres!

  • December 11: Alvin and the Chipmunks 4
  • December 18: Inferno (Robert Langdon), Star Wars: Episode VII, Warcraft (based on the World of Warcraft)
  • December 18: Kung Fu Panda 3, Mission:Impossible 5

I don’t think there is any way they will actually open Warcraft against Star Wars…and guess who will have to move? 😉

And on TV…

Will these make it to series?

  • A TV series based on Ghost (pottery wheel opening credits optional)
  • A TV series based on 12 Monkeys
  • A TV series based on The Exorcist
  • Tales from the Darkside reboot
  • Flash reboot
  • And inevitably…a reboot of Reboot (it’s coming up on its 20 year anniversary…really)

Robot just doing its job…

There seems to be a lot of effort to make this sound like a terrible thing. According to this

SFGate article by Henry K. Lee

and other sources, a Muni (public transit) driver stepped out of the vehicle…and it decided to just keep going on to the next stop.

It was on auto mode (driving itself), and we’ve been assured it would simply have continued doing what it was supposed to do, including stopping and opening the doors for people to exit.

Naturally, anti-robotic activists want to make this sound horrible. It was suggested that the robot wouldn’t have stopped if there was a person on the tracks.

Well, that’s easy: they should have collision avoidance systems.

However, if they did, they might not need human drivers at all…and there are people who wouldn’t want that to happen, which I can understand. I also understand the passengers having been frightened, since they didn’t know what was happening (and pulled the emergency stop…which worked).

We’ll get used to the idea of driverless vehicles before too long. According to this

The Verge article by Rich McCormick

Britain already has employed driverless cars, and there are plans for more in more places.

Google was leading the way (and may still be, for cars that would drive the same streets with human drivers), but the USA could fall behind on this if we aren’t careful.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them


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