The Comeback of Cozmo

According to The Robot Report, Anki’s little robots might be making a comeback. Digital Dream Labs in Pittsburgh acquired the patents, trademarks, and domain. The start-up company “is planning to revive and manufacture more units of each product in the following order: Overdrive, Cozmo, Vector” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Digital Dream Labs founder H. Jacob Hanchar told The Robot Report “the goal is to have all three products available for purchase for Christmas 2020” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). The small robots belong to the best that the industry has produced. What is special about Cozmo is the many emotions it can show (but of course doesn’t have). It also has face recognition and a night vision device. The future of it and its siblings is not yet clear, as Digital Dream Labs has not purchased “physical assets and inventory” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Fans are waiting and hoping.

Robots against Plastic Waste

WasteShark is a remotely controlled robot by Ranmarine Technologies that collects plastics from the surface of lakes and oceans. “Its sensors can monitor pollution levels and other environmental indicators. It is electrically powered, emission-free and can collect hundreds of kilos of rubbish at a time.” (Euronews, 15 December 2019) According to Euronews, Richard Hardiman, the founder of the start-up-company, said: “What we’re trying to do is create a small enough vessel that will get into tight spaces where waste collects, particularly in the harbours and the ports, and stop all that waste being taken out into the greater ocean.” (Euronews, 15 December 2019) The project received support from the European funds allocated to making plastic circular. An overview of the most important projects against plastic waste in water can be found here.

Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions

In his lecture at the Orient-Institut Istanbul on 18 December 2019, Oliver Bendel dealt with care robots as well as therapy and surgery robots. He presented well-known and less known examples and clarified the goals, tasks and characteristics of these service robots in the healthcare sector. Afterwards he investigates current and future functions of care robots, including sexual assistance functions. Against this background, the lecture considered both the perspective of information ethics and machine ethics. In the end, it became clear which robot types and prototypes or products are available in healthcare, 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 lecture took place within the series “Human, medicine and society: past, present and future encounters” … The Orient-Institut Istanbul is a turkological and regional scientific research institute in the association of the Max Weber Foundation. In close cooperation with Turkish and international scientists, it dedicates itself to a multitude of different research areas. More information via www.oiist.org.

Towards Self-replicating Machines

In recent decades, there have been several attempts to supplement traditional electronic storage media. 3D codes with color as the third dimension are an interesting approach. They can be applied to paper or film, for example. Another approach has now been presented by researchers from Switzerland and Israel. They are able to generate artificial DNA and place it in any object. From the Abstract: “We devised a ‘DNA-of-things’ (DoT) storage architecture to produce materials with immutable memory. In a DoT framework, DNA molecules record the data, and these molecules are then encapsulated in nanometer silica beads, which are fused into various materials that are used to print or cast objects in any shape. First, we applied DoT to three-dimensionally print a Stanford Bunny that contained a 45 kB digital DNA blueprint for its synthesis. We synthesized five generations of the bunny, each from the memory of the previous generation without additional DNA synthesis or degradation of information. … DoT could be applied to store electronic health records in medical implants, to hide data in everyday objects (steganography) and to manufacture objects containing their own blueprint. It may also facilitate the development of self-replicating machines.” (Abstract) The approach could also be interesting for robots. They could, for example, reproduce themselves on Mars. The article with the title “A DNA-of-things storage architecture to create materials with embedded memory” has been published in NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY and can be accessed via www.nature.com/articles/s41587-019-0356-z.epdf.

The Ocean Cleanup’s First Results

As Golem reported on 13 December 2019, The Ocean Cleanup project has landed 60 large bags of plastic waste. The plastic waste comes from the Pacific, where several areas are heavily affected. In October, the project managers announced that the 001/B system was working as planned. System 001 had to be reworked because the plastic collected in it but then spilled out again. Now garbage of all sizes was found, from huge nets to household garbage such as car tires or plastic bottles to microplastic. The plastic is now to be recycled – so founder Boyant Slant is quoted by Golem. The goal is to create sustainable products. In a final thesis at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland a student recently described and evaluated six projects for the disposal of plastic waste in seas. An overview can be found here. The Ocean Cleanup was also discussed, beside the WasteShark that sticks out as a robot.

Moral Machines and Ethical Correctness

The demand for autonomous vehicles is globally increasing. But its market penetration has to wait. There is a global disagreement concerning the correct “behaviour” of the cars, as a project supported by the MIT shows. moralmachine.mit.edu is an online platform, where people all over the world are introduced in various scenarios about Autonomous Driving (AD). For every single case, they are asked about their opinion, how the car would react correctly. The actual results present many differences among the various cultures, but also within the single societies groups exist mutually contradicting in their point of view. This resulting varience makes the manufacturers facing the problem of how the car should be programmed: uniquely for all, individually for each society and if so, what about the groups with a different ethical understanding? What has been globally similar up to a certain degree, was the opinion that the car should react utilitarian (causing the least misery in case of an accident). Hence, this is interesting as you would hardly use such a car with the knowledge it could react in a way harming your safety. In the utilitarian case, this could happen, creating a social dilemma.  Adjusting the car to that broadly shared opinion, the manufacturers would run to risk of selling no car or at least not enough. Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel has published various articles about the issues caused by AD and ethics (see here). From his point of view, human road users should neither be quantified nor qualified. He also advocates that the vehicles have to be moralized towards animals like hedgehogs and toads. But in general, also the experts are at odds. So, how should the car manufacturers deal with all of these different interests and aspects? How should the society, in general, deal with ethical questions arising with the progress of technologies? Globally unique, individually for each country? The question, when autonomous cars will enter the mass market, is accordingly not depending on the progress of technologies, but rather on the ability to reduce 6 billion people to a common denominator.