The Old, New Neons

The company Neon picks up an old concept with its Neons, namely that of avatars. Twenty years ago, Oliver Bendel distinguished between two different types in the Lexikon der Wirtschaftsinformatik. With reference to the second, he wrote: “Avatars, on the other hand, can represent any figure with certain functions. Such avatars appear on the Internet – for example as customer advisors and newsreaders – or populate the adventure worlds of computer games as game partners and opponents. They often have an anthropomorphic appearance and independent behaviour or even real characters …” (Lexikon der Wirtschaftsinformatik, 2001, own translation) It is precisely this type that the company, which is part of the Samsung Group and was founded by Pranav Mistry, is now adapting, taking advantage of today’s possibilities. “These are virtual figures that are generated entirely on the computer and are supposed to react autonomously in real time; Mistry spoke of a latency of less than 20 milliseconds.” (Heise Online, 8 January 2019, own translation) The neons are supposed to show emotions (as do some social robots that are conquering the market) and thus facilitate and strengthen bonds. “The AI-driven character is neither a language assistant a la Bixby nor an interface to the Internet. Instead, it is a friend who can speak several languages, learn new skills and connect to other services, Mistry explained at CES.” (Heise Online, 8 January 2019, own translation)

Opportunities and Risks of Facial Recognition

The book chapter “The BESTBOT Project” by Oliver Bendel, David Studer and Bradley Richards was published on 31 December 2019. It is part of the 2nd edition of the “Handbuch Maschinenethik”, edited by Oliver Bendel. From the abstract: “The young discipline of machine ethics both studies and creates moral (or immoral) machines. The BESTBOT is a chatbot that recognizes problems and conditions of the user with the help of text analysis and facial recognition and reacts morally to them. It can be seen as a moral machine with some immoral implications. The BESTBOT has two direct predecessor projects, the GOODBOT and the LIEBOT. Both had room for improvement and advancement; thus, the BESTBOT project used their findings as a basis for its development and realization. Text analysis and facial recognition in combination with emotion recognition have proven to be powerful tools for problem identification and are part of the new prototype. The BESTBOT enriches machine ethics as a discipline and can solve problems in practice. At the same time, with new solutions of this kind come new problems, especially with regard to privacy and informational autonomy, which information ethics must deal with.” (Abstract) The book chapter can be downloaded from

Towards an Anti Face

Face recognition in public spaces is a threat to freedom. You can defend yourself with masks or with counter-technologies. Even make-up is a possibility. Adam Harvey demonstrated this in the context of the CV Dazzle project at the hacker congress 36C3 in Leipzig. As Heise reports, he uses biological characteristics such as face color, symmetry and shadows and modifies them until they seem unnatural to algorithms. The result, according to Adam Harvey, is an “anti face”. The style tips for reclaiming privacy could be useful in Hong Kong, where face recognition is widespread and used against freedom fighters. Further information can be found on the CV Dazzle website. “CV Dazzle explores how fashion can be used as camouflage from face-detection technology, the first step in automated face recognition.” (Website CV Dazzle)

AI Workshop at the University of Potsdam

In 2018, Dr. Yuefang Zhou and Prof. Dr. Martin Fischer initiated the first international workshop on intimate human-robot relations at the University of Potsdam, “which resulted in the publication of an edited book on developments in human-robot intimate relationships”. This year, Prof. Dr. Martin Fischer, Prof. Dr. Rebecca Lazarides, and Dr. Yuefang Zhou are organizing the second edition. “As interest in the topic of humanoid AI continues to grow, the scope of the workshop has widened. During this year’s workshop, international experts from a variety of different disciplines will share their insights on motivational, social and cognitive aspects of learning, with a focus on humanoid intelligent tutoring systems and social learning companions/robots.” (Website Embracing AI) The international workshop “Learning from Humanoid AI: Motivational, Social & Cognitive Perspectives” will take place on 29 and 30 November 2019 at the University of Potsdam. Keynote speakers are Prof. Dr. Tony Belpaeme, Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, Prof. Dr. Angelo Cangelosi, Dr. Gabriella Cortellessa, Dr. Kate Devlin, Prof. Dr. Verena Hafner, Dr. Nicolas Spatola, Dr. Jessica Szczuka, and Prof. Dr. Agnieszka Wykowska. Further information is available at

Health Care Prediction Algorithm Biased against Black People

The research article “Dissecting racial bias in an algorithm used to manage the health of populations” by Ziad Obermeyer, Brian Powers, Christine Vogeli and Sendhil Mullainathan has been well received by science and media. It was published in the journal Science on 25 October 2019. From the abstract: “Health systems rely on commercial prediction algorithms to identify and help patients with complex health needs. We show that a widely used algorithm, typical of this industry-wide approach and affecting millions of patients, exhibits significant racial bias: At a given risk score, Black patients are considerably sicker than White patients, as evidenced by signs of uncontrolled illnesses.” (Abstract) The authors suggest that the choice of convenient, seemingly effective proxies for ground truth can be an important source of algorithmic bias in many contexts. The journal Nature quotes Milena Gianfrancesco, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, with the following words: “We need a better way of actually assessing the health of the patients.”

An Autonomous Ship at Sea

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) could be the first vessel to cross the Atlantic that is able to navigate around obstacles and hazards by itself. It will depart from Plymouth, UK on the fourth centenary of the original Mayflower voyage, on 6 September 2020, and will reach Plymouth, USA after an ecxiting tour, dedicated to science. “The project was put together by marine research and exploration company ProMare in an effort to expand the scope of marine research. The boat will carry three research pods equipped with scientific instruments to measure various phenomena such as ocean plastics, mammal behaviour or sea level changes.” (ZDnet, 16 October 2019) According to ZDnet, IBM has now joined the initiative to supply technical support for all navigation operations. It is important that the futuristic ship is not only careful with things, but also with animals. In this context, insights of animal-machine interaction and machine ethics might be useful. Ultimately, the excursion will help the marine mammals by obtaining data on their behaviour.