Tag Archives: robots

Beckoning Skynet

Beyond robots that think about what they are thinking, Lipson and his colleagues are also exploring if robots can model what others are thinking, a property that psychologists call “theory of mind”. For instance, the team had one robot observe another wheeling about in an erratic spiraling manner toward a light. Over time, the observer could predict the other’s movements well enough to know where to lay a “trap” for it on the ground. “It’s basically mind reading,” Lipson says.

What could go wrong?

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I Hate This Thing

This is MOWGLI, in a video from a few years ago. I don’t know the state of the art in this technology, but I am sure this represents something great in engineering. And my highly visceral response to this thing is NO. NO NO NO NO NO.

Cat jumps in my lap? I love it, wooza good kitty, how about a treat. But I think I might be one of those people who want robots to stay where I can keep an eye on ’em. I mean, look at that thing. You know it won’t be content to require getting power via a cord forever. It just wants to sit in your lap now, but next thing you know, it’ll be leaping onto your bed, injecting you with some kind of paralytic compound, and using your body to charge its battery.

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I have mixed feelings about the Boston Dynamics Big Dog robot, too, but about 43 seconds into this video, someone tries to kick it over onto its side, and the way its little legs buckle to keep its balance inspires sympathy in me.

Giving Furniture a Taste for Blood

Auger-Loizeau is making pet robots. Sort of.

To satisfy the basic robot criteria, each one has been given a normative utilitarian aspect, performing basic services for their human hosts:
1. Mouse Trap combined with coffee table Robot.
2. Flypaper combined with Robotic clock.
3. Pest Control combined with lamp shade Robot.
4. Fly Stealing Robot. (this is a pure entertainment robot)
5. U.V. flykiller Parasite Robot.
The CDERs are autonomous as a consequence of using the Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) as energy source.
Their motivation, via programming, to capture biomass gives them agency.
They move or have mechanical moving parts.
They can sense their environment.

In other words: Trouble brewing.

More at Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

Update: Robots to get their own internet: “Wikipedia is something that humans use to share knowledge, that everyone can edit, contribute knowledge to and access,” he said. “Something like that does not exist for robots.” … RoboEarth is likely to become a tool for the growing number of service and domestic robots that many expect to become a feature in homes in coming decades. So … calorie counts and so on? Terrific.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cry, Teach’

Like any new kid in class, RUBI took some time to find a niche. Children swarmed the robot when it first joined the classroom: instant popularity. But by the end of the day, a couple of boys had yanked off its arms.

The engineers went beyond stronger arms (or mounted weapons):

The RUBI team hit upon a solution one part mechanical and two parts psychological. The engineers programmed RUBI to cry when its arms were pulled. Its young playmates quickly backed off at the sound.

If the sobbing continued, the children usually shifted gears and came forward — to deliver a hug.

Students, Meet Your New Teacher, Mr. Robot

Solar dragonfly

solar dragonfly

Fossil. August 2005

Fossil is a vary large solar powered mechanical dragon fly.
In sunshine the wings will periodicly flutter and the mouth section twitches.

Length: 28cm. Wing Span: 33cm.

Fossil is so named because as I constructed it I was thinking of Meganeura,
a huge 320 million years old dragonfly-like insect belonging to the Protodonata group,
which had a wing span of around 70cm.

See larger photos and more at James G Watt’s site.

Mark Bryan

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been troubled by the state of things.” That’s how Mark Bryan begins his artist statement. I read it after looking through a couple dozen images of his work, and it tied some things together for me.

Last of the Clowns

Bryan’s work spans politics, popular culture, social commentary, and quiet contemplation. He says he usually starts with a beautiful landscape but can’t leave it at that. His subjects are by turns funny and mischievous and troubling and destructive. He’s thoughtful and respectful, even loving, in his work, but not sentimental. He manages to understate even in bizarre pieces.

The originals of much of the work at his portfolio site have been sold, I am delighted to see. He also makes prints available. When I started this entry, I wanted to compare him to another painter I also love, but Bryan deserves his own entry. “Apart from all the trouble we cause ourselves, I believe we are immersed in a powerful and beautiful mystery,” he says. All the most observant realists are passionate romantics, too.

Calkins on Robots

David Calkins spoke at this month’s Ask a Scientist about robots. With infectious enthusiasm, he gave a brief overview of how robots have developed, how they’re used today, and what’s likely to happen with them in the near future. “This is Ask a Scientist – not Hear a Scientist Go On and On,” he said, and took loads of questions, all of which he answered with thought and style. And he closed with a delightful show and tell of soccer-playing, cartwheel-turning robots – you know, models that prove and demonstrate useful robotic strategies.

If you think about this stuff at all, the early part of the presentation was familiar ground. We’re not talking about automobile assembly arms or the Terminator series, but Calkins clearly focused on robots doing real work and on humanoid robots. Robots are already allowing physicians to practice some remarkably sophisticated medicine at a distance, including procedures, and remote-control devices reach even further, with several devices exploring Mars today. Back home, dishwashers, Roombas, and other household devices will, he says, continue to populate our homes and handle more of such straightforward tasks. And yes, homes can expect to keep featuring, for the most part, many single-purpose devices rather than being run by magically balancing, multipurpose Rosies.

What’s next? Is it only a matter of time before SkyNet becomes aware? Calkins says no; he believes that robots will never be alive, although they will continue to have their capacities for emulating human interaction refined. Because humans like that. He’s up front that ethics is a big issue for robotics, though. One of the most interested parties in robotics development is the US military, and if killing at a distance, say, by dropping a bomb from a plane, is a little “too easy,” psychologically speaking, how about killing at a distance where your interaction with your targets is represented on a screen? Not unlike a video game – right down to the operator being at little to no personal risk.

This isn’t Asimov’s-laws stuff. Does your Roomba need know you’re human, let alone have a working definition of harm? But robots that are in a position to intervene around humans can’t use overly simple rules like “do no harm;” they may have to manage, or accurately screen for human input, issues like “which figure in this room is the hostage taker?” At a time when robots can’t generally tell a cardboard cutout of Princess Leia from the real thing, a big dose of humane thinking has to stand between a robot and a robot carrying weapons.

The biggest limits on robots in the immediate future, says Calkins, are mainly about batteries, although ethics guidelines are a big need. He sees a lot more robotics being used in medicine, naming increasingly sophisticated control of prosthetics as a promising area. He wonders aloud whether people will start lining up for prosthetics as they become better (stronger, faster) than original human equipment. He sees this as a 10-year concern, although it’s hard to imagine medicine moving quickly enough to make prosthetic placement easy enough on the part of the body where a device is attached to make elective amputation attractive.

And then there’s just plain fun. Calkins is the founder of “the only event in the world that both Geeks and Jocks agree on:” RoboGames. “It’s kind of like a weird family reunion,” says a participant in a short video posted at the website. The single-minded focus and engineering ethos of participants – taking what they have and making what they need … or really really want – helps illuminate some of the cultural reasons that this is an area that is big on working models and light on formal policy statements. “Real men don’t have hobbies – they have obsessions.”

Robots! This Week in San Francisco

The human love affair with robots dates all the way back to ancient Greece, whose lore told that Hephaestus made a man of bronze to defend Crete. They are splendid screens for our projections, for our fantasies and fears, and populate countless works of fiction, opinion, proposal, and speculation. In real life, robots pick up dog hair and assemble cars and stuff.

Ask a Scientist: This coming Wednesday, David Calkins will talk about artificial intelligence and real-life applications of robotic technology. Also, he’s bringing along some ROBOTS! The format is a medium-length talk followed by a question-and-answer session. Ask a Scientist is held at the Axis Cafe, which serves light meals, coffeeshop drinks, beer, and wine. Get there early if you want a seat at a table.

Wednesday, August 6th, 7:00 PM: Robots, David Calkins, at Ask a Scientist

Down to a Science: Professor Goldberg is investigating questions raised by robots and social networks. His group is interested in leadership, group discovery, and the power of crowds. The format is a brief talk by the expert followed by a highly interactive question-and-answer session. Down to a Science is held at the Atlas Cafe, which serves coffeeshop drinks, and soups, salads, sandwiches, and pizzas. Get there early to get a seat – this venue is small, and it attracts more people than it has chairs.

Monday, August 18th, 7:00 PM: Robots and Representational Democracy, by Ken Goldberg, at Down to a Science

The Long Now Foundation: If robots are a little too concrete for you, there’s the Long Now talk Friday at Fort Mason about software bots. Daniel Suarez, author of thriller Daemon and a software developer, will give a talk about the growing use of these bits of programming – and the risk of unintended consequences as we use them more frequently for more tasks. The Long Now talks are extended, relatively formal talks, in an auditorium. The talk itself will likely be more than an hour, and Long Now talks in general focus on long-term thinking (the organization’s mission is to work within a framework of 10,000 years).

Friday, August 8, 7:30 PM: Bot-mediated Reality, by Daniel Suarez, at the Long Now Foundation