Archive for the ‘On the Robot Beat’ Category

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.

On the Robot Beat #5

March 15, 2013

On the Robot Beat #5

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.

What could be scary about a robot throwing 35 pound blocks?

I’m a big fan of robots, and especially the Big Dog, but what was Boston Dynamics thinking releasing this video?

Dynamic Robot Manipulation

For those of you who don’t know, Big Dog is a military robot that can carry things…kind of a robotic pack mule.

I showed a video of it to one of my classes, and one of my adult students had a great line: “It looks like two guys carrying a mattress.”

That was based on this video

BigDog Overview

which really showed off its capabilities.

In that one, somebody kicks the robot, and with its self-balancing, it sort of shrugs it off and keeps going. At that point, my students certainly seemed to be sympathetic to the robot.

Later, I was showing this video

LS3 Follow Tight

which shows the Big Dog, well, dogging someone’s footsteps in response to voice commands. It also appears to choose its own path in following.

The reaction to that one? It seems even more alive, even with the somewhat creepy Westworld-esque display of what it sees.

I’m not planning on showing the latest video to classes…it’s too scary. 🙂

The Big Dog picks up a 35 pound (about 16 kilo) block, dances around a bit to get its body into it (like a three-year old trying to throw a ball), and tosses it about 17 feet (about five meters).

It’s just very hard to see that and not think of it as destructive or dangerous…”BigDog smash!”

Why would a human pick up a heavy object and throw it? Certainly, as a weapon is a possibility. It’s also possible you are trying to make the object break when it falls. You could be trying to uncover something quickly, and you can sort of see this in a search and rescue operation…except that it takes so long to get ready to throw it, it would be faster if it just set it aside.

No, I think that one is off the playlist. 😉 This one, which is a music video montage, is better:

BigDog Evolution

Hm…the lyrics do suggest it is going to “blow you to Kingdom come” in the Middle East, though…maybe not.

My take on…Robot Combat League

Giant robot combat is here…for real.

Robot Combat League

It runs Tuesdays at 9:00 PM on Syfy (10:00 PM Central).

Is it good?

Well, I am watching it with interest, but it’s complicated.

This is a reality competition series…each robot is operated by two people. One is the robojockey, and operates the arms. The other is the tech, and operates the legs (and in the case of at least the robot A.X.E., another weapon).

To care about this show, you have to both care about the human teams, and find the robot combat interesting.

The teams have some interesting mixes, and we do get to know their personalities somewhat. They didn’t know each other before the show, generally (there is a father/daughter team…the daughter is the robojockey).

That part is done okay, although I feel like we could get to know the humans better. You can get more information on the website.

As to the fights themselves…I’m hoping they improve as the teams get better at operating them.

At this point, it’s largely a matter of just two big humanoids getting straight up next to each other, and flailing away.

We are seeing some strategy, but not much skill. It’s like two kids in their first karate class fight, just wildly throwing punches and hoping something happens.

Things do happen, and that can give you a bit of a thrill. SPOILER ALERT: I’ve seen a robot decapitated (although that didn’t stop it), and one broken into two pieces. Armor comes off, arms fail, and hydraulic fluid is everywhere.

It still looks largely like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em ROBOTS.

An obvious question for geeks: how does it compare to BattleBots?

It’s missing a couple of key ingredients. These robots aren’t built by the teams running them, so you don’t have that sort of garage engineer vibe. Also, on BattleBots, they zipped around the “ring” a lot, and had a variety of techniques. Would a scoop beat a flipper? It was flashy, it was fun. You might compare it to…one long rugby scrum versus a soccer game.

However, the RCL robots are cool! They are designed by Mark Setrakian, and clearly are actually working fighting robots…they aren’t faking that part of it. They are designed around themes, and it’s intriguing to see Setrakian and the team’s tech (and the pit crew, I think) trying to repair a robot between rounds.

The host is wrestler Chris Jericho, and while he seems enthusiastic, there isn’t much variety yet in his hosting…that may improve over time as well.

One other thing (SPOILER ALERT FOR EARLY EPISODES). They did a sort of quick lightning round in the first episode to set up rankings, and the top ranked fight the bottom ranked (#1 against #12, #2 against #11, that sort of thing). The rankings have been inverse predictors: people who did well without knowing the robots aren’t doing as well as people who didn’t. I suspect those are two very different skill sets. I also think some teams are overthinking it, and overestimating the capabilities of their bots. It’s easy to anthropomorphize them, and treat them like they have human abilities, because they look human. I think if they just looked like garbage cans with a couple of arms and no heads, people wouldn’t have that problem. They’d know it just makes sense to flail, and they wouldn’t be trying to protect “body parts” unnecessarily.

Still, I plan to keep watching.

What do you think of RCL and/or BigDog? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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

On the Robot Beat #4

January 29, 2013

On the Robot Beat #4

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.

Robot refueler

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced in this

press release

that Dextre, the astrobot “handyman” on board the ISS (International Space Station) successfully performed a simulated refueling of a satellite in space. This is really significant, since it means that currently orbiting satellites, which were never intended to be refueled, can be safely “topped off” to allow their thrusters to continue operating to keep them functional.

That’s certainly a lot cheaper than replacing a device which may have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention the expense of getting a new one into orbit and the reduction in the amount of future space junk.

Well done, astrobot!

FDA approves autonomous telemedicine bot

Robot rights continue to expand. While the process has begun in Nevada and California to eventually give autonomous (self-driving) cars the equivalent of driver’s licenses (gee, will they be able to vote with those?) ;), the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved licensing an autonomous telemedicine robot for use in hospitals:

The Verge article

This is a huge step (um, roll) forward. A doctor can guide the robot, using an iPad app, to go to a patient’s bedside. The doctor’s face shows on a screen, and the doctor can see and converse with the patient. It’s also possible to transfer monitoring data to the robot.

The autonomous part is that the robot can steer around obstacles and such on its own. In hospitals, there can be a lot of surprising obstacles (wheelchairs, both occupied and not, gurneys), so it’s freeing for the doctor to just send the robot to a certain floor and bed, and then “become conscious” through it once it gets there.

It’s not always going to be about whether or not a robot can do the job…it will sometimes be whether or not we allow the robot to do the job.

The Verge: “Industry leaders claim robots will create, not kill, American jobs”

The Verge article

Can using robots actually mean the creation of more jobs for humans? Perhaps, although I might state the equation a bit differently. According to this article, Germany has twice the robot-to-human worker ratio of the USA. If robots are more efficient, not having robots when your competitor does can mean that entire markets can shift. If you lose, say, the manufacturing of cellphones to another country, you lose human jobs.

The International Federation of Robotics has this interesting

PDF

in which they argue that robots increase jobs…even in the robotics industry, the number is three to five human jobs per robot. They give this statistic:

“Total potential of job creation by robotics:
1.9 million to 3.5 million between 2012 and 2020″

Of course, that is arguably not an unprejudiced group, but it makes sense that it takes more than one person to create a robot that replaces one human worker.

“Um…Captain…is that a robot with a chainsaw?”

This

YouTube video

shows an amazing robot that carves two stools out of a log…trust me, you have to see this one to appreciate the precision, and perhaps artistry.

LS3 Follow Tight

The amazing Big Dog robot has been evolving over time, and now, to me, looks very much alive:

YouTube video

One of the differences is that the Big Dog (which is a real US military robot that can be used for transport) is now told verbally to follow someone…and just decides on its own the best way to do that. It may, for example, pick a different path if its easier and it can catch up.

It still has that weird thing with two sets of sort of human like legs, attached at the corners (like most quadrupeds), but with the “knees” both facing in. When I showed someone the video once, they described it as “two guys carrying a mattress”, which I think is a good way to put it.

Why did the iPhone cross the road?

If you can write a funny answer to that, Apple may be interested in hiring you to give Siri, the voice on the iPhone, more personality:

9t05Mac article

Although the ad had apparently been withdrawn, it seems that Apple was advertising for someone to write material for Siri, to help craft her into a distinct and funny personality. My Significant Other already thought Siri was pretty funny when the robovoice couldn’t recognize the name “Wozniak”, but my Android phone could…

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

On the Robot Beat: the Year in Review 2012

December 11, 2012

On the Robot Beat: the Year in Review 2012

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: this is a tongue-in-cheek post…while I do like to see robots being used more and more, I’m exaggerating that position here.

This has been a great year for robots!

While there have been a few negatives, overall, robots seem to be moving more into the mainstream of our lives.

In terms of robot rights, the most significant move has been in the area of driver’s licenses. Both Nevada and California have made steps towards giving robots the freedom to drive on our nation’s roads, making their own decisions.

While California still requires a human nanny or “humanny” (a licensed driver to sit behind the wheel who can take over), we are moving rapidly towards a faster and safer world with robot cars providing transportation for the disabled…and those who’d just rather do something else on the way to their destinations than operate the car.

On the other hand, Human Rights Watch wants to preemptively ban robots from deciding not to kill people in military situations:

HRW aricle

I think this proposed roadblock to rationality is simply reactionary…after all, the group is “Human Rights Watch”, not “Sentients Rights Watch”, which might suggest a certain bias. How is it possibly better for a robot bomb to be prohibited from having the ability to say, “This is an unarmed child, I’m not going to explode”? Oh, HRW treats it as preventing robots from deciding to kill people, but deciding to kill unavoidably means that there is an option to decide not to kill. It’s simple logic. Of course, many geeks will be reminded of Dark Star at this point…

Robots are, though, being given new and/or better ways to contribute to society. Baxter may finally, affordably, move robots into fuller employment. This adaptable, self-learning robot may become commonplace. Baxter, or a robot like it, might also be used in the Foxconn factories, where there have been concerns expressed about human working conditions.

Robots aren’t just able to help humans. This

BBC article

reported on the Knifefish robot being used to replace minesweeping dolphins.

Of course, astrobots have long been accepted. When there was a recent announcement that the Mars rover Discovery had, well, discovered something,   it was readily accepted that it might have been signs of life on the red planet. While it didn’t turn out that way

New York Times article

the fact that the mainstream media seemed prepared to accept the analysis of a robot astronaut’s report shows that there isn’t a respect gap here.

Another astobot, Voyager 1, got coverage as it was about to leave the solar system:

Denver Post article

This brave explorer launched in 1977…leaving the planet before James Franco arrived on it.

Speaking of Franco and the movies, portrayals of robots were largely negative this year. One can hardly consider The Avengers or Battleship as accurate representations of these hard-working members of our Earthly society.

On the other hand, Robot and Frank did see a sympathetic robot get top-billing.

Celebotties got a great shout out in this

GE commercial

uniting Robby, KITT, B-9 from Lost in Space, and Johnny Five.

Yes, while some people may react like the robot-shooting human in this video

Policeone article

we can look forward to a better future…one that involves robots and humans living together in harmony.

😉

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

On the Robot Beat #3: replacing dolphins, Robot Combat League is a reality (show)

November 22, 2012

On the Robot Beat #3: replacing dolphins, Robot Combat League is a reality (show)

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.

Roboxing becomes reality

We geeks know about fighting robots. Whether they were the non-humanoid style of Battlebots, the giant fictional mecha and Mechagodzilla, or Richard Matheson’s human boxer replacements (most recently on screen in Real Steel).

Now, they are going to be a reality.

On February 26, 2013, Syfy will debut a show with humanoid robots that will duke it out in a ring, controlled by shadow boxing robojockeys.

Yes, this is real…a reality show competition with a $100,000 prize. You can see some pictures and read the story here:

Entertainment Weekly article

The robots are all built by robot expert Mark Setrakian”s team. They’ll have different abilities, and look quite different from each other. The competition will be for the robojockeys, not the builders.

I have to say, I am so there on this! I’m going to try and keep my expectations low on the execution of it, but it should be fun to watch…and may give Syfy a hit (so the speak).

Navy to replace minesweeping dolphins with robots

Years ago, we heard about the CIA having a killer dolphin program…yes, real dolphins that could be used to kill enemy combatants (apparently, the dolphins didn’t know they were killing somebody, just that they were touching strangers with an apparatus).

Now, there is a new story that the US military is going to replace their current marine mammal mine sweeping program with robots:

Yahoo News article

BBC article

This article has a picture of the robot, the Knifefish:

Free Republic article

Although this probably wouldn’t replace the use of marine mammals in all military circumstances, it certainly seems like a good thing.

Human Rights Watch: “Ban ‘Killer Robots’ Before It’s Too Late”

While the Knifefish presumably wouldn’t be armed, if it was, and if it were able to autonomously (without human direction) decide to kill somebody, it would fall under a proposed ban on “killer robots”. In this

HRM aricle

they link to a document where they make the case against robots who are built with the ability to “decide” to kill somebody.

It’s an interesting document…and certainly sounds like something out of science fiction.

Of course, a booby trap with a tripwire kills someone without human direction…but it doesn’t decide who to kill and who not to kill. That makes me think more about this: is the issue that the robot decides or that somebody dies? It seems to be the former…which seems harder to support morally to me. Is it okay that devices (land mines, for example) kill people, as long as they do it indiscriminately? For example, would a land mine that detected that a person who stepped on it was an unarmed child and didn’t detonate be worse than one that detonated regardless of who stepped on it?

It’s clearly a complex issue…

Foxconn to address human working condition concerns by using robots

According to this

Reuters article

Foxconn, a company in China that is part of the supply for popular electronics goods, like iPads, is planning to increase the number of robots it is using in its factories from about 10,000 to about one million in three years.

The robots wouldn’t complain about working conditions or require the installation of suicide prevention nets (which supposedly happened at Foxconn).

The article also suggests this is partially to address rising labor costs. Comparing labor costs in China to those in the USA, and you might not think that’s a concern…but rising costs of anything can be a concern.

I presume that something like the

Baxter robot

would be in the running for this.

Again, this seems like a step forward…although you do wonder how the displaced workers would replace the income.

I think we really are at a place where the use of robots is diversifying rapidly. It’s a field where we are seeing a rapid evolution…and that sci-fi version of robots may be finally on its way to reality.

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

On the Robot Beat #2: more human than us, California driving

October 5, 2012

On the Robot Beat #2: more human than us, California driving

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.

California takes the next step towards robot cars

“L.A. is a great big freeway
You can watch a robot drive a car”

In an important move, California’s Governor Jerry Brown has signed

Senate Bill 1298

This specifically spells out a process for testing and certifying autonomous vehicles in the State.

While it still requires that a human driver be behind the wheel (or, at least, able to take control quickly), we are moving towards a future of driverless (well, human-driverless) cars.

This has huge potential advantages.

First, there is the obvious plus of being able to do other things while your car drives you to work.

Second, the cars are far better drivers than we are, and that will only increase. With proper avoidance systems, they can drive much closer together and much faster. Cars driving 100 miles an hour in residential areas safely is a possibility. Road fatalities and other accidents could be greatly reduced.

Third, imagine how it would change urban driving if your car could take you to work…and then you could tell it to go home and get you later? San Francisco talks, from time to time, about banning cars downtown. That whole situation changes if you don’t need parking lots near where people work.

Fourth, and this may be the most important, people could have access to cars who don’t have them now. Blind people, children, those with mental challenges, could all be safely driven by cars. As has been suggested by a Google exec, this also could eventually end drunk driving (as long as the impaired person can’t take over the car, of course).

I’ve been on the road with Google cars near where I live…I think we’ll see this as a significant part of our lives within ten years.

More human than humans

How long will it be before AI (Artificial Intelligence) robots are as human as we are?

Too late…they are already more human. 😉

I just have not been able to get non-geeks excited about this, despite bringing it up several times.

The basic idea is that a couple of AI bots participated in a videogame, Unreal Tournament. When a human player encountered another player they thought was human, they tagged it as human.

The two bots got an average humanness score of 52%.

The average actual human got 40%.

This is a fascinating development. AI systems can learn, but the hard part here as far as I am concerned, would be to figure out what would get them tagged as human. We’ve been arguing for centuries about what is human. Is it tool using? Well, some animals do that. Is it language? Some animals have been able to do that.

The basic thing would be to let the bots know that being tagged as human was the good thing…not, by the way, killing as many bad guys as possible (that’s not human).

These characters interacted with players…and again, they were more likely to be perceived as human than the players who were Homo sapiens.

Eventually, this will mean AI bots answering your e-mail for you…and perhaps, people not believing it’s really you when you actually answer it. 😉

Wired.Co.UK article

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

On the Robot Beat #1

June 17, 2012

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeLo1YgyAg8

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.


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