Talking to Harmony

At the end of June 2020, DIE WELT conducted an interview with Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel about sex robots and love dolls. It was especially about their natural language skills. Particularly owners and users who want to have a relationship are interested in conversations of all kinds, about God and the world and in the sense of “dirty talk”. Companies like Realbotix go very far in this respect. Harmony for example can talk to her partners for hours in a quite convincing way. The engineers experiment with GPT-2, but also with other language models. Kino Coursey, AI boss of Realbotix, deals with this topic in his article “Speaking with Harmony” for the book “Maschinenliebe” (“Machine Love”) which will be released in October. The interview with Oliver Bendel was published on 11 July 2020 in the printed edition of DIE WELT, under the title “Intelligente Sexroboter sind begehrte Gesprächspartner” (already published the day before in the electronic edition, under the title “Was Sexpuppen können” …). In addition, an English version – “Intelligent sex robots are sought-after dialogue partners” – is available.

Show Me Your Hands

Fujitsu has developed an artificial intelligence system that could ensure healthcare, hotel and food industry workers scrub their hands properly. This could support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. “The AI, which can recognize complex hand movements and can even detect when people aren’t using soap, was under development before the coronavirus outbreak for Japanese companies implementing stricter hygiene regulations … It is based on crime surveillance technology that can detect suspicious body movements.” (Reuters, 19 June 2020) Genta Suzuki, a senior researcher at the Japanese information technology company, told the news agency that the AI can’t identify people from their hands, but it could be coupled with identity recognition technology so companies could keep track of employees’ washing habits. Maybe in the future it won’t be our parents who will show us how to wash ourselves properly, but robots and AI systems. Or they save themselves this detour and clean us directly.

IBM will Stop Developing or Selling Facial Recognition Technology

IBM will stop developing or selling facial recognition software due to concerns the technology is used to support racism. This was reported by MIT Technology Review on 9 June 2020. In a letter to Congress, IBM’s CEO Arvind Krishna wrote: “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency. We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.” (Letter to Congress, 8 June 2020) The extraordinary letter “also called for new federal rules to crack down on police misconduct, and more training and education for in-demand skills to improve economic opportunities for people of color” (MIT Technology Review, 9 June 2020). A talk at Stanford University in 2018 warned against the return of physiognomy in connection with face recognition. The paper is available here.

A Robot Enforces Social Distancing

According to Gizmodo, a robot from Boston Dynamics has been deployed to a park in Singapore to remind people they should follow social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. Spot is not designed as a security robot, like the K5 or the K3 from Knightscope. But it has other qualities: it can walk on four legs and is very fast. The machine, which was set loose on 8 May 2020 in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, “broadcasts a message reminding visitors they need to stay away from other humans, as covid-19 poses a very serious threat to our health”. It “was made available for purchase by businesses and governments last year and has specially designed cameras to make sure it doesn’t run into things.” (Gizmodo, 8 May 2020) According to a press release from Singapore’s GovTech agency, the cameras will not be able to track or recognize specific individuals, “and no personal data will be collected” (Gizmodo, 8 May 2020). COVID-19 demonstrates that digitization and technologization can be helpful in crises and disasters. Service robots such as security robots, transport robots, care robots and disinfection robots are in increasing demand.

AI as a Secret Weapon Against COVID-19?

Artificial intelligence is underestimated in some aspects, but overestimated in many. It is currently seen as a secret weapon against COVID-19. But it most probably is not. The statement of Alex Engler, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow, is clear: “Although corporate press releases and some media coverage sing its praises, AI will play only a marginal role in our fight against Covid-19. While there are undoubtedly ways in which it will be helpful – and even more so in future pandemics – at the current moment, technologies like data reporting, telemedicine, and conventional diagnostic tools are far more impactful.” (Wired, 26 April 2020) Above all, however, it is social distancing that interrupts the transmission paths and thus curbs the spread of the virus. And it’s drugs that will solve the problem this year or next. So there is a need for behavioural adjustment and medical research. Artificial intelligence is not really needed. Alex Engler identified the necessary heuristics for a healthy skepticism of AI claims around Covid-19 and explained them in Wired magazine.


AAAI has announced the launch of a new website, which has the goal to connect the AI community with the public. “By providing free, high-quality technical and accessible information about AI, aims to improve public understanding so that everyone can have a meaningful discussion about the deployment of AI in society.” (Newsletter AAAI, 23 April 2020) According to the organization, hosts daily updates about the latest news, opinions, tutorials, and events in AI. “All information is produced by those working directly in the field, without filter or intermediary.” (Newsletter AAAI, 23 April 2020)  This means that everyone in the AI community has the opportunity to participate in the website and address topics such as AI ethics and robot philosophy. More information via

WHO Fights COVID-19 Misinformation with Viber Chatbot

A new WHO chatbot on Rakuten Viber aims to get accurate information about COVID-19 to people in several languages. “Once subscribed to the WHO Viber chatbot, users will receive notifications with the latest news and information directly from WHO. Users can also learn how to protect themselves and test their knowledge on coronavirus through an interactive quiz that helps bust myths. Another goal of the partnership is to fight misinformation.” (Website WHO) Some days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services have launched a chatbot that helps people decide what to do if they have potential Coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. However, this dialog system is only intended for people who are permanently or temporarily in the USA. The new WHO chatbot is freely available in English, Russian and Arabic with more than 20 languages to be added.

The Coronavirus Chatbot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services have launched a chatbot that will help people decide what to do if they have potential Coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. This was reported by the magazine MIT Technology Review on 24 March 2020. “The hope is the self-checker bot will act as a form of triage for increasingly strained health-care services.” (MIT Technology Review, 24 March 2020) According to the magazine, the chatbot asks users questions about their age, gender, and location, and about any symptoms they’re experiencing. It also inquires whether they may have met someone diagnosed with COVID-19. On the basis of the users’ replies, it recommends the best next step. “The bot is not supposed to replace assessment by a doctor and isn’t intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment purposes, but it could help figure out who most urgently needs medical attention and relieve some of the pressure on hospitals.” (MIT Technology Review, 24 March 2020) The service is intended for people who are currently located in the US. International research is being done not only on useful but also on moral chatbots.

A Morality Markup Language

There are several markup languages for different applications. The best known is certainly the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). AIML has established itself in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For synthetic voices SSML is used. The question is whether the possibilities with regard to autonomous systems are exhausted. In the article “The Morality Menu” by Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, a Morality Markup Language (MOML) was proposed for the first time. In 2019, a student research project supervised by the information and machine ethicist investigated the possibilities of existing languages with regard to moral aspects and whether a MOML is justified. The results were presented in January 2020. A bachelor thesis at the School of Business FHNW will go one step further from the end of March 2020. In it, the basic features of a Morality Markup Language are to be developed. The basic structure and specific commands will be proposed and described. The application areas, advantages and disadvantages of such a markup language are to be presented. The client of the work is Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, supervisor Dr. Elzbieta Pustulka.


Space travel includes travel and transport to, through and from space for civil or military purposes. The take-off on earth is usually done with a launch vehicle. The spaceship, like the lander, is manned or unmanned. The target can be the orbit of a celestial body, a satellite, planet or comet. Man has been to the moon several times, now man wants to go to Mars. The astronaut will not greet the robots that are already there as if he or she had been lonely for months. For on the spaceship he or she had been in the best of company. SPACE THEA spoke to him or her every day. When she noticed that he or she had problems, she changed her tone of voice, the voice became softer and happier, and what she said gave the astronaut hope again. How SPACE THEA really sounds and what she should say is the subject of a research project that will start in spring 2021 at the School of Business FHNW. Under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, a student is developing a voicebot that shows empathy towards an astronaut. The scenario is a proposal that can also be rejected. Maybe in these times it is more important to have a virtual assistant for crises and catastrophes in case one is in isolation or quarantine. However, the project in the fields of social robotics and machine ethics is entitled “THE EMPHATIC ASSISTANT IN SPACE (SPACE THEA)”. The results – including the prototype – will be available by the end of 2021.