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.
“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.
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/.
A hologram is a three-dimensional image produced with holographic techniques, which has a physical presence in real space. The term “holography” is used to describe procedures that exploit the wave character of light to achieve a realistic representation. Interference and coherence play an important role here. Colloquially, certain three-dimensional projections are also referred to as holograms. According to Gizmodo, researchers at the University of Sussex have created animated 3D holograms that can not only be seen from any angle, they can also be touched. “The researchers took an approach that was similar to one pioneered by engineers at Utah’s Brigham Young University who used invisible lasers to levitate and manipulate a small particle in mid-air, which was illuminated with RGB lights as it zipped around to create the effect of a 3D image. What’s different with the University of Sussex’s holograms is that instead of lasers, two arrays of ultrasonic transducers generating soundwaves are used to float and control a lightweight polystyrene bead just two millimeters in size.” (Gizmodo, 14 November 2019) A video of the Guardian shows quite impressive examples. Further information is available on the Gizmodo website.
In 2019, Germany – once again- has been facing various scandals about food, to be concrete, about animal food. Starting with the outcome of the cruelty of milk cows in different dairy farms to the point of the latest occurrence – the scandal of the Wilke meat and sausage company. The manufacturer has sold plenty of meat and sausages contaminated with microbes and is now suspected of having caused the death of about 25 people, who have consumed their products. This again claims for the need of alternatives to animal products. One could be the production of meat by 3D printing, as the russian start-up Toubia tries to. With its method, the ISS has already printed steaks in space. This procedure would also lead to an increased reduction of carbon dioxid. But then the issue arises, whether vegetarians could also eat such meat. In case of the vegan diet, the answer is clear, as they avoid all groceries which contain ingredients of animal origin. In case of the vegetarian one, the answer is more tricky. It clearly depends on the reason why vegetarians became vegetarians. If their motive simply has been the reduction of their personal (in-)direct carbon dioxid emission and/or to avoid such risks like in the case of Wilke, this would definitely be a good alternative. But if their motivation has been the reduction of animals being killed, it depends on the individual view of every vegetarian. Like for the traditional cheese production, meat produced by the method of Toubia is based on cow cells. It is now the question, whether the use of animal cells for the production of meat is already one form of slaughtering or not. In addition, this does not solve the issue about the dairy cattle. There is no alternative production method for milk products, yet, so they are still needed for such food. Thus, the carbon dioxid reduction still remains higher and incidents like the one alredy mentioned above still can occur. Additionally, a huge part of the slaughter cattle consists of those cows, which have to be “disposed” after their high-volume milk production – at least in Germany. This indicates that slaughting also will persist, even though alternatives are in use. Another possibility would be the 3D printing method of the Israelian start-up Jet Eat imitating the texture of meat with purely vegan ingredients. But here again, it is questionable, whether inveterate meat eaters would see it as a feasable alternative. All these questions listed here are only some of many concerning this topic, but they sufficiently show its complex of problems.
According to SRF, Tages-Anzeiger and swissinfo.ch, the canton of Geneva prohibits Uber from continuing its activities in the canton. It now classifies the transportation intermediary as an employer, hence obliging it to pay social benefits to its drivers to continue operating. “Speaking to Swiss public television SRF, the head of the cantonal government Mauro Poggia said that the ride-hailing service was subject to the applicable taxi and transport law. This means Uber is currently not fulfilling its legal obligations and will have to hire its drivers and pay their social benefits, such as pensions, like other taxi companies. According to checks carried out by the canton of Geneva, criteria such as fares, invoices and even an evaluation system for drivers are used at Uber. For this reason, the authorities rejected the arguments of Uber’s lawyers that their drivers were self-employed.” (swissinfo.ch, 1 November 2019) One may be curious whether Uber will hire its drivers and pay social benefits or go to a Swiss court to appeal against the decision.
The papers of the AAAI 2019 Spring Symposium “Interpretable AI for Well-Being: Understanding Cognitive Bias and Social Embeddedness symposium” were published in October 2019. The participants had met at Stanford University at the end of March 2019 to present and discuss their findings. Session 5 (“Social Embeddedness”) includes the following publications: “Are Robot Tax, Basic Income or Basic Property Solutions to the Social Problems of Automation?” (Oliver Bendel), “Context-based Network Analysis of Structured Knowledge for Data Utilization” (Teruaki Hayashi, Yukio Ohsawa), “Extended Mind, Embedded AI, and ‘the Barrier of Meaning'” (Sadeq Rahimi), “Concept of Future Prototyping Methodology to Enhance Value Creation within Future Contexts” (Miwa Nishinaka, Yusuke Kishita, Hisashi Masuda, Kunio Shirahada), and “Maintaining Knowledge Distribution System’s Sustainability Using Common Value Auctions” (Anas Al-Tirawi, Robert G. Reynolds). The papers can be downloaded via ceur-ws.org/Vol-2448/.
The resistance movement in Hong Kong uses different means of defence, communication and information. This is reported by the German news portal Heise on 1 September 2019. Demonstrators direct laser beams at the video cams, which are installed everywhere, not least in intelligent street lamps. The pointers are intended to interfere with the facial recognition systems used by the police to analyse some of the video streams. On television, one could see how the civil rights activists were able to use chain saws and ropes to bring down the high-tech street lights. Services such as Telegram and Firechat are used for communication and coordination. According to Quartz, “Hong Kong’s protesters are using AirDrop, a file-sharing feature that allows Apple devices to send photos and videos over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, to breach China’s Great Firewall in order to spread information to mainland Chinese visitors in the city” (Quartz, 8 July 2019). You could read on a digital sticker distributed by AirDrop at subway stations: “Don’t wait until [freedom] is gone to regret its loss. Freedom isn’t god-given; it is fought for by the people.” (Quartz, 8 July 2019)
Security technologies are spreading more and more. Some of them, such as the security robot K5, guarantee and destroy security at the same time. Mass shootings such as those in Dayton and El Paso are a particular problem. New tech firms like Athena are offering solutions, as Fast Company reports. “Athena Security uses object-motion detection to spot when an individual brandishes a fireman, and immediately send an alert to their client, whether that’s a private security firm or local law enforcement. The company’s AI object-motion detection is camera agnostic, meaning it can work on any CCTV system. When a gun is detected, the video feed of the active shooter is made available to the client both on mobile devices and desktop computers, allowing officers to know what they are dealing with and where it is happening, all in the space of three seconds …” (Fast Company, 23 August 2019) In fact, technologies are often the only means against technologies. They may also be successful in preventing mass shootings. Another possibility would be to disarm the population – but this would meet with resistance in the USA. Another problem is that this is surveillance technology. Therefore, as with the K5 and other service robots, one thing applies: one form of security is gained, another form of security is lost.
The papers of the CHI 2019 workshop “Conversational Agents: Acting on the Wave of Research and Development” (Glasgow, 5 May 2019) are now listed on convagents.org. The extended abstract by Oliver Bendel (School of Business FHNW) entitled “Chatbots as Moral and Immoral Machines” can be downloaded here. The workshop brought together experts from all over the world who are working on the basics of chatbots and voicebots and are implementing them in different ways. Companies such as Microsoft, Mozilla and Salesforce were also present. Approximately 40 extended abstracts were submitted. On 6 May, a bagpipe player opened the four-day conference following the 35 workshops. Dr. Aleks Krotoski, Pillowfort Productions, gave the first keynote. One of the paper sessions in the morning was dedicated to the topic “Values and Design”. All in all, both classical specific fields of applied ethics and the young discipline of machine ethics were represented at the conference. More information via chi2019.acm.org.