Research Program on Responsible AI

“HASLER RESPONSIBLE AI” is a research program of the Hasler Foundation open to research institutions within the higher education sector or non-commercial research institutions outside the higher education sector. The foundation explains the goals of the program in a call for project proposals: “The HASLER RESPONSIBLE AI program will support research projects that investigate machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence systems whose results meet requirements on responsibility and trustworthiness. Projects are expected to seriously engage in the application of the new models and methods in scenarios that are relevant to society. In addition, projects should respect the interdisciplinary character of research in the area of RESPONSIBLE AI by involving the necessary expertise.” (CfPP by Hasler Foundation) Deadline for submission of short proposals is 24 January 2021. More information at haslerstiftung.ch.

About the “Handbuch Maschinenethik”

The “Handbuch Maschinenethik” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer VS over a year ago. It brings together contributions from leading experts in the fields of machine ethics, robot ethics, technology ethics, philosophy of technology and robot law. It has become a comprehensive, exemplary and unique book. In a way, it forms a counterpart to the American research that dominates the discipline: Most of the authors (among them Julian Nida-Rümelin, Catrin Misselhorn, Eric Hilgendorf, Monika Simmler, Armin Grunwald, Matthias Scheutz, Janina Loh and Luís Moniz Pereira) come from Europe and Asia. They had been working on the project since 2017 and submitted their contributions continuously until it went to print. The editor, who has been working on information, robot and machine ethics for 20 years and has been doing intensive research on machine ethics for nine years, is pleased to report that 53,000 downloads have already been recorded – quite a lot for a highly specialized book. The first article for a second edition is also available, namely “The BESTBOT Project” (in English like some other contributions) …

New Journal on AI and Ethics

Springer launches a new journal entitled “AI and Ethics”. This topic has been researched for several years from various perspectives, including information ethics, robot ethics (aka roboethics) and machine ethics. From the description: “AI and Ethics seeks to promote informed debate and discussion of the ethical, regulatory, and policy implications that arise from the development of AI. It will focus on how AI techniques, tools, and technologies are developing, including consideration of where these developments may lead in the future. The journal will provide opportunities for academics, scientists, practitioners, policy makers, and the public to consider how AI might affect our lives in the future, and what implications, benefits, and risks might emerge. Attention will be given to the potential intentional and unintentional misuses of the research and technology presented in articles we publish. Examples of harmful consequences include weaponization, bias in face recognition systems, and discrimination and unfairness with respect to race and gender.

Gates and Jones Ask Big Questions

Bill Gates will start his own series of podcasts on 16 November 2020. The title is “Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions”. In a YouTube video (as well as in a description of the video) he and his partner explain what it’s all about. According to the description, the podcasts pair “Bill Gates with actress and writer Rashida Jones to tackle some of the biggest questions facing us today”: “Is it too late to solve climate change? Does everybody lie? Is inequality inevitable? Join them for deep dives into these questions” (YouTube, 12 November 2020). The podcasts will be available on Apple Podcasts and other services. Gates plans to give an overview on his own blog GatesNotes of all the episodes that have run so far, not to forget a transcript of each episode. Certainly there will also be statements on robotics and artificial intelligence – at least some episodes will deal with the modern workplace. Can one hope to get big answers to big questions? The future will show.

Swiss Space Days 2020

The Swiss Space Days offer – according to the responsible persons – a platform to exchange experiences and to support cooperation. It is possible to listen to prominent speakers involving ESA directors, representatives of Swiss companies and of the Large European System Integrators. “A high level panel is closing the morning session of the first day. In the afternoon of the first Day, a session will cater to the needs of companies and a parallel session will address the interests of the scientific community. The second day is dedicated to space applications and downstream services using Earth Observation, Telecom and/or Navigation data. A panel with representatives of institutional programmes and of user companies will conclude the Swiss Space Days …” (Website Swiss Space Days) On the marketplace there are several offers and requests for partnerships and research cooperations, for example regarding IGLUNA (“IGLUNA is a platform gathering students from all around the world to demonstrate innovative space technologies”) and the voicebot SPACE THEA (“SPACE THEA is designed to accompany astronauts to Mars and to show them empathy and emotions.”). More information via ssd2020.b2match.io.

Speaking with Harmony

There is great media interest in the new book “Maschinenliebe” (ed. Oliver Bendel), which was published in October 2020. Several review copies were sent out. The title means “Machine Love”, “Machines for Love” or “Machines of Love”. Three contributions are in English. One of them – “Speaking with Harmony: Finding the right thing to do or say … while in bed (or anywhere else)” – is by Kino Coursey (Realbotix). From the abstract: “Doing or saying the right thing in response to circumstances is a constant problem, especially for embodied personal companions like Realbotix’s Harmony. In this paper we will describe the Harmony system, how it finds the right thing to say or do, and how recent advances in neural network-based natural language processing and generation will be integrated into next-generation systems. These advances will allow the transition from pattern-oriented responses to dynamic narrative-oriented response generation. Future systems will be able adapt to their situation much more flexibly, and allow a wider range of role-playing and interaction.” More information via www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

Spot in Chernobyl

Boston Dynamics is known for several two- and four-legged robots. Videos often show spectacular movements and stunts. Surely the scenes have to be shot often to be as impressive as possible. The robot Spot has recently been given some new features. Several media report that it was used in Chernobyl. “A team of engineers from the University of Bristol visited the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant last week to test out Spot, a four-legged robodog made by US-based robotics company Boston Dynamics … Spot is capable of making inspection rounds all by itself and can navigate hostile environments such as the highly radioactive site of the former nuclear power plant. Spot went for a walk around the surrounding areas and into the New Safe Confinement structure, a massive moveable dome of steel meant to keep in dangerous radiation from the plant’s number 4 reactor unit, which was destroyed during the 1986 disaster. The robot’s main task was to survey levels of radiation in the area, creating a three-dimensional map of the distribution.” (Website Futurism, 26 October 2020) Spot and Co. stand in the probably oldest tradition of robotics: They take over tasks that are too dangerous or too strenuous for humans.

Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots

In October 2020 the book “Maschinenliebe” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer. The title means “Machine Love”, “Machines for Love” or “Machines of Love”. Three contributions are in English. One of them (“Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots”) is by Yuefang Zhou and Martin H. Fischer (University of Potsdam). From the abstract: “The topic of human-robot intimate relationships is not only an intensely emotional one that is present in the mass media because of its ability to stir excitement. The very same topic also requires our understanding of basic mechanisms of the human mind and of social cognition in particular. A scientifically-minded framing of the debate around whether and how we might engage in intimate relationships with humanoid robots in the near future might in turn improve our understanding of human sexuality. Viewed from this angle, intimate human-robot interaction is then merely one of many examples of studying human-machine interactions for the benefit of users and as a means of improving our knowledge about humans and the human mind. In this chapter we will adopt such a stance and discuss both social-cognitive and sexual aspects of this innovative topic, review available empirical evidence and offer some suggestions for further research.” More information via www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Prisons

On 24 October 2020 the article “Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Unproven and Unexplored Fields of Application” by Oliver Bendel was published in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics. From the abstract: “Love dolls, the successors of blow-up dolls, are widespread. They can be ordered online or bought in sex shops and can be found in brothels and households. Sex robots are also on the rise. Research, however, has been slow to address this topic thoroughly. Often, it does not differentiate between users and areas of application, remaining vague, especially in the humanities and social sciences. The present contribution deals with the idea and history of love dolls and sex robots. Against this background, it identifies areas of application that have not been investigated or have hardly been investigated at all. These include prisons, the military, monasteries and seminaries, science, art and design as well as the gamer scene. There is, at least, some relevant research about the application of these artefacts in nursing and retirement homes and as such, these will be given priority. The use of love dolls and sex robots in all these fields is outlined, special features are discussed, and initial ethical, legal and pragmatic considerations are made. It becomes clear that artificial love servants can create added value, but that their use must be carefully considered and prepared. In some cases, their use may even be counterproductive.” The article is available here for free as an open access publication.

Guys and Dolls

In October 2020 the book “Maschinenliebe” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer. The title means “Machine Love”, “Machines for Love” or “Machines of Love”. Three contributions are in English. One of them (“Guys and Dolls”) is by Kate Devlin and Chloé Locatelli (King’s College London). From the abstract: “This chapter explores the creators and potential consumers of sex robots. With Realbotix as our case study, we take a closer look at the language and sentiments of those developing the technology and those who are testing, consuming, or showing an interest in it. We do this by means of website and chat forum analysis, and via interviews with those involved. From this, we can see the motivation for developing a sexual companion robot places the emphasis firmly on the companionship aspect, and that those involved in creating and consuming the products share an ideology of intimacy and affection, with sexual gratification only playing a minor role.” More information via www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.