258 posts tagged Robotics
Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly
Engineers in the US have built a swarm of 1,000 little robots that can shuffle into specific formations on command.
Each of the identical robots is given a picture of the required shape, and then they work together to make it happen. It takes up to 12 hours, but then this is the biggest throng of robots ever built and studied in this way. Inspired by biological examples, like cells forming organs or ants building bridges, the work could help develop self-assembling tools and structures. “Each robot is identical and we give them all the exact same program,” explained Dr Michael Rubenstein, the first author of the study, which is published in Science. “The only thing they have to go on, to make decisions, is what their neighbours are doing.” (via BBC News - Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly)
If robots become more cognitively capable than humans, then what happens to … everything?
“In such a future —perhaps a mere fifty years from now — the planet will be completely filled with cognitive and intelligent systems, which will intervene in all aspects of biological life, and humans will be influenced every moment by the decisions these machines make automatically,” Alexandre Pupo writes in a World Future Review report titled Cognitively Everywhere: The Omnipresence of Intelligent Machines and the Possible Social Impact. In the future, machines with brain-like capabilities will be able to know everything about everything using tools already in place, such as the internet, and then will be able to reason and put that knowledge to use like people. Pupo lists a few of the ways that this will have a drastic impact on human civilization.
If a Self-Driving Car Gets in an Accident, Who—or What—Is Liable?
The carmaker, the car owner, or the robot car itself? On the surprisingly not-crazy argument for granting robots legal personhood.
On first contact with the idea that robots should be extended legal personhood, it sounds crazy. Robots aren’t people! And that is true. But the concept of legal personhood is less about what is or is not a flesh-and-blood person and who/what is or is not able to be hauled into court. And if we want to have robots do more things for us, like drive us around or deliver us things, we might need to assign them a role in the law, says lawyer John Frank Weaver, author of the book Robots Are People, Too, in a post at Slate. “If we are dealing with robots like they are real people, the law should recognize that those interactions are like our interactions with real people,” Weaver writes. “In some cases, that will require recognizing that the robots are insurable entities like real people or corporations and that a robot’s liability is self-contained.” Here’s the problem: If we don’t define robots as entities with certain legal rights and obligations, we will have a very difficult time using them effectively. And the tool that we have for assigning those things is legal personhood. Right now, companies like Google, which operate self-driving cars, are in a funny place. Let’s say Google were to sell a self-driving car to you. And then it got into an accident. Who should be responsible for the damages—you or Google? The algorithm that drives the car, not to mention the sensors and all the control systems, are Google’s products. Even the company’s own people have argued that tickets should not be given to any occupant of the car, but to Google itself. (via If a Self-Driving Car Gets in an Accident, Who—or What—Is Liable? - The Atlantic)
Burger Robot Poised to Disrupt Fast Food Industry
I saw the future of work in a San Francisco garage two years ago. Or rather, I was in proximity to the future of work, but happened to be looking the other direction. At the time, I was visiting a space startup building satellites behind a carport. But just behind them—a robot was cooking up burgers. The inventors of the burger device? Momentum Machines, and they’re serious about fast food productivity. “Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient,” cofounder Alexandros Vardakostas has said. “It’s meant to completely obviate them.” The Momentum burger-bot isn’t remotely humanoid. You can forget visions of Futurama’s Bender. It’s more of a burger assembly line. Ingredients are stored in automated containers along the line. Instead of pre-prepared veggies, cheese, and ground beef—the bot chars, slices, dices, and assembles it all fresh. Why would talented engineers schooled at Berkeley, Stanford, UCSB, and USC with experience at Tesla and NASA bother with burger-bots? Robots are increasingly capable of jobs once thought the sole domain of humans—and that’s a huge opportunity. Burger robots may improve consistency and sanitation, and they can knock out a rush like nobody’s business. Momentum’s robot can make a burger in 10 seconds (360/hr). Fast yes, but also superior quality. Because the restaurant is free to spend its savings on better ingredients, it can make gourmet burgers at fast food prices. Or at least, that’s the idea. (via Burger Robot Poised to Disrupt Fast Food Industry | Singularity Hub)
When Robots Take All the Work, What’ll Be Left for Us to Do?
Robots have loomed over the future of labor for decades—at least since robotic arms started replacing auto workers on the assembly line in the early 1960s. Optimists say that more robots will lead to greater productivity and economic growth, while pessimists complain that huge swaths of the labor force will see their employment options automated out of existence. Each has a point, but there’s another way to look at this seemingly inevitable trend. What if both are right? As robots start doing more and more of the work humans used to do, and doing it so much more efficiently than we ever did, what if the need for jobs disappears altogether? What if the robots end up producing more than enough of everything that everyone needs? The redefinition of work itself is one of the most intriguing possibilities imagined in a recent Pew Research report on the future of robots and jobs. Certainly, the prospect of a robot-powered, post-scarcity future of mandatory mass leisure feels like a far-off scenario, and an edge case even then. In the present, ensuring that everyone has enough often seems harder for humans to accomplish than producing enough in the first place. But assuming a future that looks more like Star Trek than Blade Runner, a lot of people could end up with a lot more time on their hands. In that case, robots won’t just be taking our jobs; they’ll be forcing us to confront a major existential dilemma: if we didn’t have to work anymore, what would we do? The answer is both a quantitative and qualitative exercise in defining what makes human intelligence distinct from the artificial kind, a definition that seems to keep getting narrower. And in the end, we might figure out that a job-free roboticized future is even scarier than it sounds. (via When Robots Take All the Work, What’ll Be Left for Us to Do? | Business | WIRED)
When Robots Write Songs
Bach, Coltrane, McCartney: New algorithms can produce original compositions in the style of the greats. But can those compositions actually be great?
When Pharrell Williams accepted five Grammy Awards this year for the French duo Daft Punk (pretending to be robots), he may have portended a coming invasion by real music robots, from France. Computer scientists in Paris and the U.S. are working on algorithms enabling computers to make up original fugues in the style of Bach, improvise jazz solos a la John Coltrane, or mash up the two into a hybrid never heard before. “We are quite close now to [programming computers to] generate nice melodies in the style of pop composers such as Legrand or McCartney,” says Francois Pachet, who heads Sony’s Computer Science Lab in Paris. The commercial applications of such efforts may include endless streams of original music in shopping malls that can respond to crying babies with soothing harmonies, as well as time-saving tools for busy composers. But the questions raised by computerized composition are more abstract—touching on the nature of music, art, emotion, and, well, humanity. The music-bots analyze works by flesh-and-blood composers and then synthesize original output with many of the same distinguishing characteristics. “Every work of music contains a set of instructions for creating different but highly related replications of itself,” says David Cope, a computer scientist, composer, and author who began his “Experiments in Musical Intelligence” in 1981 as the result of a composer’s block. “It’s truly impressive,” says jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, commenting on a track by a jazz-bot programmed by Pachet’s team to sound like sax legend Charlie “Bird” Parker blended with French composer Pierre Boulez. “I sent it to Chris Potter, the saxophone player in the band I am touring with right now, and asked him who the player was. He immediately started guessing people.” (via When Robots Write Songs - The Atlantic)
What makes love so important to us? Why is it so central to our lives? Why do we invest so much of ourselves into its discovery and feel so strongly that our happiness depends on it lasting? Are we fools to embrace the twisted turns of human relations, with their unimaginable unpredictability, which often leaves us feeling angry, resentful, insecure, sad, and alone? Or, is this just the gambit of our existence; our unavoidable human condition, a product of our being social animals, coupling species — a simple consequence of our apparent pursuit of the other half, as Plato would have us believe? What if we could simplify the process and fall in love with a machine instead of a person? Would we be happier if we found somebody who was designed just for our unique personality and who would align with our ideal version of ourselves? After all, how often in love do we say ‘he is the one for me’ or that ‘we are soul mates’? Too often for it to be credible, perhaps, but often enough to know that it matters that we mean it. In love, more than any other form of human connection, we long to find someone who truly gets us, so why not create someone who does precisely that? Not an automaton; that would be silly, but an evolved being, someone or something with higher intelligence, who knew how best to challenge us, love us, understand us and, through this intimate knowledge, help us grow, help us become the people we want to be, someone who will help us find happiness. The movie Her invites us to consider this prospect. It introduces us to the protagonist Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), whose melancholic disposition encouraging us to empathize with his romantic, idealised view of relationships, and the genuine sadness he feels at his marriage ending. He is unable to move on, to believe in love again, to accept that true love can end.
Robot Olympics Planned for 2020 Powered by Japan’s ‘Robot Revolution’
Japan likes robots. And while some Americans raised on a confusing sci-fi diet of Star Wars, Terminator, and iRobot are perhaps a little wary of advanced AI and robotics—Japan simply can’t wait for the “robot revolution.” In a recent tour of Japanese robotics firms, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe declared his intention to create a government task force to study and propose strategies for tripling the size of Japan’s robotics industry to $24 billion. And one more thing, Abe said, “In 2020, I would like to gather all of the world’s robots and aim to hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills.” While mere mortals compete in the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo—in a stadium somewhere nearby, the world’s most advanced robots may go head to head in events showcasing their considerable prowess (hopefully by then, right?). (via Robot Olympics Planned for 2020 Powered by Japan’s ‘Robot Revolution’ | Singularity Hub)