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 embracingai.wordpress.com/.

Virtual Reality for Cows?

Various media claimed in November 2019 that there would be very special experiments with cows in Russia. There are pictures circulating showing an animal wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset. This one could reduce anxiety and increase milk yield if it would show a pleasant environment – that’s at least the media’s assumption. But, according to The Verge, “it’s not at all clear whether this is a genuine trial or an elaborate marketing stunt” (The Verge, 26 November 2019). At the moment, there is hardly any evidence as to whether VR would work for cows. There is no doubt that it makes sense for humans, at least in the context of marketing. They could wear VR glasses to see a landscape with cows. They would then believe that most cows have a good life. But this good life does not exist. Cows suffer from what you do to them – some more, some less. “At the end of the day, what we can say is that someone took the time to make at least one mock-up virtual reality headset for a cow and took these pictures. We don’t need to milk the story any more than that.” (The Verge, 26 November 2019)

Human, Medicine and Society

In his lecture “Service Robots in Health Care” at the Orient-Institut Istanbul on 18 December 2019, Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel from Zurich, Switzerland is going to deal with care robots as well as therapy and surgery robots. He will present well-known and less known examples and clarify the goals, tasks and characteristics of these service robots in the healthcare sector. Afterwards he will investigate current and future functions of care robots, including sexual assistance functions. Against this background, the lecture is going to consider both the perspective of information ethics and machine ethics. In the end, it should become clear which robot types and prototypes or products are available in health care, which purposes they fulfil, which functions they assume, how the healthcare system changes through their use and which implications and consequences this has for the individual and society. The program of the series “Human, medicine and society: past, present and future encounters” can be downloaded here.

Robots that Learn as They Go

“Alphabet X, the company’s early research and development division, has unveiled the Everyday Robot project, whose aim is to develop a ‘general-purpose learning robot.’ The idea is to equip robots with cameras and complex machine-learning software, letting them observe the world around them and learn from it without needing to be taught every potential situation they may encounter.” (MIT Technology Review, 23 November 2019) This was reported by MIT Technology Review on 23 November 2019 in the article “Alphabet X’s ‘Everyday Robot’ project is making machines that learn as they go”. The approach of Alphabet X seems to be well though-out and target-oriented. In a way, it is oriented towards human learning. One could also teach robots human language in this way. With the help of microphones, cameras and machine learning, they would gradually understand us better and better. For example, they observe how we point to and comment on a person. Or they perceive that we point to an object and say a certain term – and after some time they conclude that this is the name of the object. However, such frameworks pose ethical and legal challenges. You can’t just designate cities as such test areas. The result would be comprehensive surveillance in public spaces. Specially established test areas, on the other hand, would probably not have the same benefits as “natural environments”. Many questions still need to be answered.

Holograms that You can Feel and Hear

A hologram is a three-dimensional image produced with holographic techniques, which has a physical presence in real space. The term “holography” is used to describe procedures that exploit the wave character of light to achieve a realistic representation. Interference and coherence play an important role here. Colloquially, certain three-dimensional projections are also referred to as holograms. According to Gizmodo, researchers at the University of Sussex have created animated 3D holograms that can not only be seen from any angle, they can also be touched. “The researchers took an approach that was similar to one pioneered by engineers at Utah’s Brigham Young University who used invisible lasers to levitate and manipulate a small particle in mid-air, which was illuminated with RGB lights as it zipped around to create the effect of a 3D image. What’s different with the University of Sussex’s holograms is that instead of lasers, two arrays of ultrasonic transducers generating soundwaves are used to float and control a lightweight polystyrene bead just two millimeters in size.” (Gizmodo, 14 November 2019) A video of the Guardian shows quite impressive examples. Further information is available on the Gizmodo website.

About the Urgence of Alternative Meat Production Methods

In 2019, Germany – once again- has been facing various scandals about food, to be concrete, about animal food. Starting with the outcome of the cruelty of milk cows in different dairy farms to the point of the latest occurrence – the scandal of the Wilke meat and sausage company. The manufacturer has sold plenty of meat and sausages contaminated with microbes and is now suspected of having caused the death of about 25 people, who have consumed their products. This again claims for the need of alternatives to animal products. One could be the production of meat by 3D printing, as the russian start-up Toubia tries to. With its method, the ISS has already printed steaks in space. This procedure would also lead to an increased reduction of carbon dioxid. But then the issue arises, whether vegetarians could also eat such meat. In case of the vegan diet, the answer is clear, as they avoid all groceries which contain ingredients of animal origin. In case of the vegetarian one, the answer is more tricky. It clearly depends on the reason why vegetarians became vegetarians. If their motive simply has been the reduction of their personal (in-)direct carbon dioxid emission and/or to avoid such risks like in the case of Wilke, this would definitely be a good alternative. But if their motivation has been the reduction of animals being killed, it depends on the individual view of every vegetarian. Like for the traditional cheese production, meat produced by the method of Toubia is based on cow cells. It is now the question, whether the use of animal cells for the production of meat is already one form of slaughtering or not. In addition, this does not solve the issue about the dairy cattle. There is no alternative production method for milk products, yet, so they are still needed for such food. Thus, the carbon dioxid reduction still remains higher and incidents like the one alredy mentioned above still can occur. Additionally, a huge part of the slaughter cattle consists of those cows, which have to be “disposed” after their high-volume milk production – at least in Germany. This indicates that slaughting also will persist, even though alternatives are in use. Another possibility would be the 3D printing method of the Israelian start-up Jet Eat imitating the texture of meat with purely vegan ingredients. But here again, it is questionable, whether inveterate meat eaters would see it as a feasable alternative. All these questions listed here are only some of many concerning this topic, but they sufficiently show its complex of problems.