Robophilosophy 2020

“Once we place so-called ‘social robots’ into the social practices of our everyday lives and lifeworlds, we create complex, and possibly irreversible, interventions in the physical and semantic spaces of human culture and sociality. The long-term socio-cultural consequences of these interventions is currently impossible to gauge.” (Website Robophilosophy Conference) With these words the next Robophilosophy conference is announced. It will take place from 18 to 21 August 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark. The CfP raises questions like that: “How can we create cultural dynamics with or through social robots that will not impact our value landscape negatively? How can we develop social robotics applications that are culturally sustainable? If cultural sustainability is relative to a community, what can we expect in a global robot market? Could we design human-robot interactions in ways that will positively cultivate the values we, or people anywhere, care about?” (Website Robophilosophy Conference) In 2018 Hiroshi Ishiguro, Guy Standing, Catelijne Muller, Joanna Bryson, and Oliver Bendel had been keynote speakers. In 2020, Catrin Misselhorn, Selma Sabanovic, and Shannon Vallor will be presenting. More information via conferences.au.dk/robo-philosophy/.

How to Improve Robot Hugs

Hugs are very important to many of us. We are embraced by familiar and strange people. When we hug ourselves, it does not have the same effect. And when a robot hugs us, it has no effect at all – or we don’t feel comfortable. But you can change that a bit. Alexis E. Block and Katherine J. Kuchenbecker from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have published a paper on a research project in this field. The purpose of the project was to evaluate human responses to different robot physical characteristics and hugging behaviors. “Analysis of the results showed that people significantly prefer soft, warm hugs over hard, cold hugs. Furthermore, users prefer hugs that physically squeeze them and release immediately when they are ready for the hug to end. Taking part in the experiment also significantly increased positive user opinions of robots and robot use.” (Abstract) The paper “Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve Robot Hugs” was published in the International Journal of Social Robotics in January 2019 (First Online: 25 October 2018). It is available via link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12369-018-0495-2.

Atlas Does a Handstand

In a new video, Boston Dynamics shows its humanoid Atlas performing various gymnastics exercises. This was reported by Heise on 26 September 2019 with reference to various sources. The well-known robot is 1.50 meters high and weighs 80 kilograms. It has two legs and two arms and the impression of a head. Among other things, it does a handstand and several somersaults, and it jumps with rotation around its own axis. Obviously, it can do crazy things that are actually reserved for human beings. According to Heise, a new optimization algorithm, which translates certain maneuvers into executable reference movements, enables this progress in movements. Boston Dynamics is part of SoftBank. The Japanese company also manufactures Pepper and Nao, the well-known robots of the formerly independent French company Aldebaran Robotics.

Robots for Climate

On 20 September 2019 FridaysforFuture had called for worldwide climate strikes. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets to protest for more sustainable industry and long-term climate policies to fight global warming. Technological progress and the protection of the environment do not necessarily have to contradict. Quite the opposite, we will present 3 robots which show that technology can be used to achieve climate goals. Planting trees is the most efficient strategy to recover biodiversity and stop climate change. However, this method requires lots of human power. The GrowBot automates this task resulting in a planting rate that is 10 times faster than trained human planters. In contrast to planting drones, the little truck-alike robot not only spreads seeds, instead it plants small trees into the soil which gives them a better chance to survive and foster reforestation. The bio-inspired Row-bot converts organic matter into operating power just as the water boatman (a bug). The robot’s engine is based on a microbial fuel cell (MFC) which enables the robot to swim. Researchers from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory developed the 3D-printed Row-bot for environmental clean-up operations such as harmful algal bloom, oil spills or monitoring the impact of (natural or man-made) environmental catastrophes. Next-level-recycling like in the movie WALL·E can be expected with the sorting robot RoCycle which is developed at MIT. Other than classic recycling machines the robot is capable of distinguishing paper, plastic and metal carbage by using pressure sensors. This tactile solution is 85% accurate at detecting in stationary use and 63% when attached to an assembly line. Through cameras and magnets, the researchers aim to optimise recycling to help cleaning Earth.

Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots: Are we both ready?

In the recent years, there has been a widespread media coverage of the arrival of the sex robots (e.g., Harmony & Henry, produced by Realbotix™, 2019). This has created heated discussions around the pros and cons of introducing sex robots into human relationships. Nevertheless, it has also served to draw attention to far-reaching social and ethical challenges that will be imposed on us as users of this new technology. A recent Nature editorial (entitled AI LOVE YOU, Nature 547, 138, July 2017) called for urgent empirical research so that empirical evidences can be used to inform robotics design and guide public ethical debates. In response to this urgent need for empirical research in this field, Yuefang Zhou co-organized the first international workshop (AI Love You, 2017) on the theme of human-robot intimate relationships. The workshop brought together an interdisciplinary team, including psychologists, philosophers, computer scientists, ethicists, clinicians, as well as interested members of the general public to discuss this emerging topic. The newly released book (“AI Love You: Developments in Human-Robot Intimate Relationships”, 2019, www.springer.com/gp/book/9783030197339) builds on the presentations and discussions at the workshop to answer the questions of readiness from the perspectives of both technology and humans as users of the technology.

Robots, Empathy and Emotions

“Robots, Empathy and Emotions” – this research project was tendered some time ago. The contract was awarded to a consortium of FHNW, ZHAW and the University of St. Gallen. The applicant, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Schulze from the FHNW School of Applied Psychology, covers the field of psychology. The co-applicant Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel from the FHNW School of Business takes the perspective of information, robot and machine ethics, the co-applicant Prof. Dr. Maria Schubert from the ZHAW that of nursing science. The client TA-SWISS stated on its website: “What influence do robots … have on our society and on the people who interact with them? Are robots perhaps rather snitches than confidants? … What do we expect from these machines or what can we effectively expect from them? Numerous sociological, psychological, economic, philosophical and legal questions related to the present and future use and potential of robots are still open.” (Website TA-SWISS, own translation) The kick-off meeting with a top-class accompanying group took place in Bern, the capital of Switzerland, on 26 June 2019.