Towards Animal-machine Interaction

Animal-machine interaction (AMI) and animal-computer interaction (ACI) are increasingly important research areas. For years, semi-autonomous and autonomous machines have been multiplying all over the world, not only in factories, but also in outdoor areas and in households. Robots in agriculture and service robots, some with artificial intelligence, encounter wild animals, farm animals and pets. Jackie Snow, who writes for New York Times, National Geographic, and Wall Street Journal, talked to several people on the subject last year. In an article for Fast Company, she quoted the ethicists Oliver Bendel (“Handbuch Maschinenethik”) and Peter Singer (“Animal Liberation”). Clara Mancini (“Animal-computer interaction: A manifesto”) also expressed her point of view. The article with the title “AI’s next ethical challenge: how to treat animals” can be accessed here. Today, research is also devoted to social robots. One question is how animals react to them. Human-computer interaction (HCI) experts from Yale University recently looked into this topic. Another question is whether we can create social robots specifically for animals. The first beginnings were made with toys and automatic feeders for pets. Could a social robot replace a contact person for weeks on end? What features should it have? In this context, we must pay attention to animal welfare from the outset. Some animals will love the new freedom, others will hate it.

From Cozmo to Moxie

In 2016, the roboticist Maja Matarić founded Embodied, together with Paolo Pirjanian, former CTO of iRobot. In April 2020, the company started accepting preorders for Moxie, its first social robot. “Whereas other companion robots like the household assistant Jibo or Paro the robotic seal are designed for adults or the elderly, Moxie is built to foster social, cognitive, and emotional development in children. These are skills that are typically imparted to kids by their parents, teachers, and other adults, but Pirjanian noticed that many families want some extra help.” (Wired, 30 April 2020) According to the company, weekly themes and missions with Moxie explore human experiences, ideas, and life skills like kindness, empathy, and respect. Showing emotions is an important skill of social robots. SoftBank has created a model example with Pepper. Cozmo by Anki – currently not available – can also show emotions, even a multitude. And both Pepper and Cozmo create emotions in the user. Cozmo and Moxie have something in common, namely an effort of Pixar: “Taking a page from Anki’s Cozmo playbook, the company has enlisted the help of employees from Pixar and Jim Henson to flesh out the real-world robotic character. At first glance, the results are plenty impressive.” (TechCrunch, 4 May 2020)

Online Survey on Hugs by Robots

Embraces by robots are possible if they have two arms, such as Pepper and P-Care, restricted also with one arm. However, the hugs and touches feel different to those made by humans. When one uses warmth and softness, like in the HuggieBot project, the effect improves, but is still not the same. In hugs it is important that another person hugs us (hugging ourselves is totally different), and that this person is in a certain relationship to us. He or she may be strange to us, but there must be trust or desire. Whether this is the case with a robot must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. A multi-stage HUGGIE project is currently underway at the School of Business FHNW under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel. Ümmühan Korucu and Leonie Brogle started with an online survey that targets the entire German-speaking world. The aim is to gain insights into how people of all ages and sexes judge a hug by a robot. In crises and catastrophes involving prolonged isolation, such as the COVID 19 pandemic, proxy hugs of this kind could well play a role. Prisons and longer journeys through space are also possible fields of applications. Click here for the survey (only in German):  ww3.unipark.de/uc/HUGGIE/

Care Robots and Sex

The paper “Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions” by Oliver Bendel, accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”, can be accessed via arxiv.org/abs/2004.04428. From the abstract: “Residents in retirement and nursing homes have sexual needs just like other people. However, the semi-public situation makes it difficult for them to satisfy these existential concerns. In addition, they may not be able to meet a suitable partner or find it difficult to have a relationship for mental or physical reasons. People who live or are cared for at home can also be affected by this problem. Perhaps they can host someone more easily and discreetly than the residents of a health facility, but some elderly and disabled people may be restricted in some ways. This article examines the opportunities and risks that arise with regard to care robots with sexual assistance functions. First of all, it deals with sexual well-being. Then it presents robotic systems ranging from sex robots to care robots. Finally, the focus is on care robots, with the author exploring technical and design issues. A brief ethical discussion completes the article. The result is that care robots with sexual assistance functions could be an enrichment of the everyday life of people in need of care, but that we also have to consider some technical, design and moral aspects.” 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).

SPACE THEA

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 2020 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 2020.

Co-Robots as Care Robots

The paper “Co-Robots as Care Robots” by Oliver Bendel, Alina Gasser and Joel Siebenmann was accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposia. 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.” The paper had been submitted to the symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”. Oliver Bendel will present the results at Stanford University between 23 and 25 March 2020.

Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions

The paper “Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions” by Oliver Bendel was accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposia. From the abstract: “Residents in retirement and nursing homes have sexual needs just like other people. However, the semi-public situation makes it difficult for them to satisfy these existential concerns. In addition, they may not be able to meet a suitable partner or find it difficult to have a relationship for mental or physical reasons. People who live or are cared for at home can also be affected by this problem. Perhaps they can host someone more easily and discreetly than the residents of a health facility, but some elderly and disabled people may be restricted in some ways. This article examines the opportunities and risks that arise with regard to care robots with sexual assistance functions. First of all, it deals with sexual well-being. Then it presents robotic systems ranging from sex robots to care robots. Finally, the focus is on care robots, with the author exploring technical and design issues. A brief ethical discussion completes the article. The result is that care robots with sexual assistance functions could be an enrichment of the everyday life of people in need of care, but that we also have to consider some technical, design and moral aspects.” The paper had been submitted to the symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”. Oliver Bendel will present the paper at Stanford University between 23 and 25 March 2020.

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.

Jealousy 4.0

The international workshop “Learning from Humanoid AI: Motivational, Social & Cognitive Perspectives” took place from 30 November – 1 December 2019 at the University of Potsdam. Dr. Jessica Szczuka raised the question: “What do men and women see in sex robots?” … Her talk was based on the paper “Jealousy 4.0? An empirical study on jealousy-related discomfort of women evoked by other women and gynoid robots” by herself and Nicole Krämer. In their introduction the authors write: “In a paper discussing machine ethics, Bendel asked whether it is ‘possible to be unfaithful to the human love partner with a sex robot, and can a man or a woman be jealous because of the robot’s other love affairs?’ … In this line, the present study aims to empirically investigate whether women perceive robots as potential competitors to their relationship in the same way as they perceive other women to be so. As the degree of human-likeness of robots contributes to the similarity between female-looking robots and women, we additionally investigated differences between machine-like female-looking robots and human-like female-looking robots with respect to their ability to evoke jealousy-related discomfort.” (Paper) The paper can be accessed here.

Robophilosophy 2020

“Once we place so-called ‘social robots’ into the social practices of our everyday lives and lifeworlds, we create complex, and possibly irreversible, interventions in the physical and semantic spaces of human culture and sociality. The long-term socio-cultural consequences of these interventions is currently impossible to gauge.” (Website Robophilosophy Conference) With these words the next Robophilosophy conference is announced. It will take place from 18 to 21 August 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark. 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. In 2020, Catrin Misselhorn, Selma Sabanovic, and Shannon Vallor will be presenting. More information via conferences.au.dk/robo-philosophy/.