Announcing AIhub.org

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, AIhub.org 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, AIhub.org 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 aihub.org.

Care Robots in Practice

The paper “Co-Robots as Care Robots” by Oliver Bendel, Alina Gasser and Joel Siebenmann, accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”, can be accessed via arxiv.org/abs/2004.04374. From the abstract: “Cooperation and collaboration robots, co-robots or cobots for short, are an integral part of factories. For example, they work closely with the fitters in the automotive sector, and everyone does what they do best. However, the novel robots are not only relevant in production and logistics, but also in the service sector, especially where proximity between them and the users is desired or unavoidable. For decades, individual solutions of a very different kind have been developed in care. Now experts are increasingly relying on co-robots and teaching them the special tasks that are involved in care or therapy. This article presents the advantages, but also the disadvantages of co-robots in care and support, and provides information with regard to human-robot interaction and communication. The article is based on a model that has already been tested in various nursing and retirement homes, namely Lio from F&P Robotics, and uses results from accompanying studies. The authors can show that co-robots are ideal for care and support in many ways. Of course, it is also important to consider a few points in order to guarantee functionality and acceptance.” Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical meeting to be held at Stanford University was postponed. It will take place in November 2020 in Washington (AAAI 2020 Fall Symposium Series).

Bodyhacking at Salon Suisse

“Bodily Encounters” is the title of the Salon Suisse at this year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice. On Thursday, 26 November 2020, a lecture by Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel on bio- and bodyhacking will take place in Palazzo Trevisan, followed by a discussion with Mike Schaffner and Prof. Dr. Georg Vrachliotis. Biohacking can be defined as the use of biological, chemical or technical means to penetrate organisms or their components in order to change and improve them. The combination of organisms is also possible, creating real-life chimeras. A subsection of biohacking is bodyhacking, in which one intervenes in the animal or human body with biological and chemical, but above all technical means (computer chips, magnets, devices of all kinds, exoskeletons and prostheses), often with the aim of animal or human enhancement and sometimes with a transhumanist mentality. Oliver Bendel is an information and machine ethicist and has been working on human enhancement and animal enhancement for years. Georg Vrachliotis is a professor of architecture, Mike Schaffner is a transhumanist. The Salon Suisse program is available here.

Considerations on Bodyhacking

In the case of bodyhacking one intervenes invasively or non-invasively in the animal or human body, often in the sense of animal or human enhancement and sometimes with the ideology of transhumanism. It is about physical and psychological transformation, and it can result in the animal or human cyborg. Oliver Bendel wrote an article on bio- and bodyhacking for Bosch-Zünder, the legendary associate magazine that has been around since 1919. It was published in March 2020 in ten languages, in German, but also in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Some time ago, Oliver Bendel had already emphasized: “From the perspective of bio-, medical, technical, and information ethics, bodyhacking can be seen as an attempt to shape and improve one’s own or others’ lives and experiences. It becomes problematic as soon as social, political or economic pressure arises, for example when the wearing of a chip for storing data and for identification becomes the norm, which hardly anyone can avoid.” (Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon) He has recently published a scientific paper on the subject in the German Journal HMD. More about Bosch-Zünder at www.bosch.com/de/stories/bosch-zuender-mitarbeiterzeitung/.

The HUGGIE Project

The first phase of the HUGGIE project will start at the School of Business FHNW in March 2020. Oliver Bendel was able to recruit two students from the International Management program. The project idea is to create a social robot that contributes directly to a good life and economic success by touching and hugging people and especially customers. HUGGIE should be able to warm up in some places, and it should be possible to change the materials it is covered with. A research question will be: What are the possibilities besides warmth and softness? Are optical stimuli (also on displays), vibrations, noises, voices etc. important for a successful hug? HUGGIE could also play a role in crises and disasters, in epidemics and pandemics and in cases of permanent social distancing. Of course it would be bad if only a robot would hug us, and of course it would be good if humans could hug us every day if we wanted them to do so – but maybe in extreme situations a hug by a robot is better than nothing. The HUGGIE project is located in the heart of social robotics and on the periphery of machine ethics. It is inspired by the work of Ishiguro, but especially by the research on HuggieBot. By summer 2020, the students will conduct an online survey to find out the attitudes and expectations of the users.

Cybathlon 2020 Postponed

According to a press release, ETH Zurich has decided to postpone the Cybathlon until 19 – 20 September 2020. “The decision was prompted by the uncertainty as to how the coronavirus will develop over the coming weeks, and the international dimension of the Cybathlon – over 25 of the teams that have registered come from Asia and Italy, areas badly hit by the virus.” (Press release ETHZ, 10 March 2020) During the Cybathlon in the SWISS Arena in Kloten near Zurich in 2016, athletes with disabilities competed to master everyday challenges using assistive technology. The teams came from all over the world. The audience enthusiastically joined in as the virtual race with mind control, the bicycle race with muscle stimulation and the arm prosthesis, leg prosthesis and wheelchair course took place. Since February 2020, COVID-19 has led to numerous cancellations and postponements of major events. More information via ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2020/03/cybathlon-postponed.html.

How to Use Service Robots in the Coronavirus Disease

COVID-19 demonstrates that digitization and technologization can be helpful in crises and disasters. In China, service robots deliver medicine and food in hospitals and quarantine stations, and drones track people without breathing masks. Those who has to stay at home can continue to perform their tasks and receive further training via a computer workstation and e-learning applications. Globalisation is a problem in the spread of the virus, but also a solution in combating it: research was immediately carried out worldwide on a drug against SARS-CoV-2. The use of robots and drones in China has been criticised for the loss of privacy. There was also criticism of the fact that the communist party and the media market the use of robots as a chinese success story, but that some of them originate from abroad. Well-known transport robots are, for example, from Starship Technologies and Savioke. Both companies are based in California.

Extended Deadline for RP2020

The organizers of the conference “RP2020: Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics” announced that the deadline for submission has been extended to May 1, 2020. The CfP raises questions like that: “How can we create cultural dynamics with or through social robots that will not impact our value landscape negatively? How can we develop social robotics applications that are culturally sustainable? If cultural sustainability is relative to a community, what can we expect in a global robot market? Could we design human-robot interactions in ways that will positively cultivate the values we, or people anywhere, care about?” (Website Robophilosophy Conference) In 2018 Hiroshi Ishiguro, Guy Standing, Catelijne Muller, Joanna Bryson, and Oliver Bendel had been keynote speakers of the Robophilosophy conference. In 2020, Catrin Misselhorn, Selma Sabanovic, and Shannon Vallor will be presenting. More information via conferences.au.dk/robo-philosophy/.

Will Biorobots Clean Up the Seas?

In a paper published on 13 January 2020, researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University discuss computer-designed, novel organisms called Xenobots. Xenobots consist of skin and muscle cells. The skin cells stabilize the organisms, the muscle cells enable them to perform different activities. A nervous system is not present. An AI system calculates the optimal structure and ratio of the cells in relation to a specific function. The Xenobots are assembled according to the resulting construction plan. In fact, the cells appear to work together. The researchers see different areas of application. One could build Xenobots that move forward in the sea and have a pocket inside in which they collect microplastics. Once the biorobots are filled, they can go to a place where they die, whereby it is not clear whether they live at all, like classical organisms. In any case, all that would remain in this place would be the plastic particles and functionless cells. Both can easily be disposed of. However, Xenobots would also be swallowed by marine animals like fishs and turtles during their work and would be exposed to other dangers. In addition, normal robots are better suited for the removal of macroplastics.

The Old, New Neons

The company Neon picks up an old concept with its Neons, namely that of avatars. Twenty years ago, Oliver Bendel distinguished between two different types in the Lexikon der Wirtschaftsinformatik. With reference to the second, he wrote: “Avatars, on the other hand, can represent any figure with certain functions. Such avatars appear on the Internet – for example as customer advisors and newsreaders – or populate the adventure worlds of computer games as game partners and opponents. They often have an anthropomorphic appearance and independent behaviour or even real characters …” (Lexikon der Wirtschaftsinformatik, 2001, own translation) It is precisely this type that the company, which is part of the Samsung Group and was founded by Pranav Mistry, is now adapting, taking advantage of today’s possibilities. “These are virtual figures that are generated entirely on the computer and are supposed to react autonomously in real time; Mistry spoke of a latency of less than 20 milliseconds.” (Heise Online, 8 January 2019, own translation) The neons are supposed to show emotions (as do some social robots that are conquering the market) and thus facilitate and strengthen bonds. “The AI-driven character is neither a language assistant a la Bixby nor an interface to the Internet. Instead, it is a friend who can speak several languages, learn new skills and connect to other services, Mistry explained at CES.” (Heise Online, 8 January 2019, own translation)