The Fight against Plastic in the Seas

The pollution of water by plastic is a topic that has been in the media for a few years now. In 2015, the School of Engineering FHNW and the School of Business FHNW investigated whether a robotic fish – like Oliver Bendel’s CLEANINGFISH (2014) – could be a solution. In 2018, the information and machine ethicist commissioned another work to investigate several existing or planned projects dealing with marine pollution. Rolf Stucki’s final thesis in the EUT study program was based on “a literature research on the current state of the plastics problem worldwide and its effects, but also on the properties and advantages of plastics” (Management Summary, own translation). “In addition, interviews were conducted with representatives of the projects. In order to assess the internal company factors (strengths, weaknesses) and external environmental factors (opportunities, risks), SWOT analyses were prepared on the basis of the answers and the research” (Management Summary) According to Stucki, the results show that most projects are financially dependent on sponsors and donors. Two of them are in the concept phase; they should prove their technical and financial feasibility in the medium term. With regard to social commitment, it can be said that all six projects are very active. A poster shows a comparison (the photos were alienated for publication in this blog). WasteShark stands out as a robot. He is, so to speak, the CLEANINGFISH who has become reality.

Ethical and Statistical Considerations in Models of Moral Judgments

Torty Sivill works at the Computer Science Department, University of Bristol. In August 2019 she published the article “Ethical and Statistical Considerations in Models of Moral Judgments”. “This work extends recent advancements in computational models of moral decision making by using mathematical and philosophical theory to suggest adaptations to state of the art. It demonstrates the importance of model assumptions and considers alternatives to the normal distribution when modeling ethical principles. We show how the ethical theories, utilitarianism and deontology can be embedded into informative prior distributions. We continue to expand the state of the art to consider ethical dilemmas beyond the Trolley Problem and show the adaptations needed to address this complexity. The adaptations made in this work are not solely intended to improve recent models but aim to raise awareness of the importance of interpreting results relative to assumptions made, either implicitly or explicitly, in model construction.” (Abstract) The article can be accessed via https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2019.00039/full.

The Resurrection of Dead Authors

lyrikline.org is an interesting and touching project. The writers themselves read their works. You can listen to Ingeborg Bachmann as well as Paul Celan. Spoken literature has been booming in Europe and the USA for about 15 years. The Chinese discovered audio books some time ago. Basically it is time-consuming and expensive to produce such books professionally. Moreover, the authors are not always available. The Chinese search engine Sogou wants to solve this problem with the help of visualization technology and artificial intelligence. It creates avatars of the authors who speak with the voice of the authors. “At the China Online Literature+ conference, the company announced that the first two authors to receive this avatar treatment will be Yue Guan and Bu Xin Tian Shang Diao Xian Bing … If these first AI author avatars are well-received, others could follow – and that could just be the jumping-off point. A company could produce book readings by deceased authors, for example, as long as enough audio and video footage exists. Eventually, they could even incorporate hologram technology to really give bibliophiles the feeling of being at their favorite author’s reading.” (futurism.com, 15 August 2019) So you could have Ingeborg Bachmann or Charles Bukowski read all of their own texts and watch them, many years after their death. Whether the results really sound like the originals, whether they influence us just as emotionally, can be doubted. But there is no doubt that this is an exciting project.

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.

Amazon’s Delivery Robots Arrive in Irvine, California

Transport and delivery robots convey items of all kinds, like parcels and purchases from one party (often the provider or broker) to another (often the customer) or they accompany and relieve pedestrians and cyclists of their burden. From 2016 to 2018, Swiss Post tested small transport robots by Starship Technologies in Berne. Amazon began testing autonomous robots in a suburb of Seattle at the beginning of the year. According to USA TODAY, they will deliver packages to customers in Irvine, California. Irvine is a university town with about 250,000 inhabitants. It was planned and built in the 1960s by the Irvine Company. “Amazon said the robots, which are light blue and have the Amazon smile logo stamped on its sides, are able to avoid crashing into trash cans or pedestrians. Still, a worker will accompany the robots at first.” (USA TODAY, 6 August 2019) This is, of course, an effort that cannot be operated indefinitely. Once the escort is removed, accidents are inevitable. Transport robots of this type are dangerous trip hazards. They also create enormous complexity in urban traffic. These problems were addressed in Oliver Bendel’s article “Service Robots in Public Spaces” in June 2017 which can be downloaded here.

Self-Repairing Robots

Soft robots with soft surfaces and soft fingers are in vogue. They can touch people, animals, and plants as well as fragile things in such a way that nothing is hurt or destroyed. However, they are vulnerable themselves. One cut, one punch, and they are damaged. According to the Guardian, a European commission-funded project is trying to solve this problem. It aims to create “self-healing” robots “that can feel pain, or sense damage, before swiftly patching themselves up without human intervention”. “The researchers have already successfully developed polymers that can heal themselves by creating new bonds after about 40 minutes. The next step will be to embed sensor fibres in the polymer which can detect where the damage is located. The end goal is to make the healing automated, avoiding the current need for heat to activate the system, through the touch of a human hand.” (Guardian, 8 August 2019) Surely the goal will not be that the robots really suffer. This would have tremendous implications – they would have to be given rights. Rather, it is an imaginary pain – a precondition for the self-repairing process or other reactions.