Soft robots with transparent artificial skin can detect human touch with internal cameras and differentiate between a prod, a stroke, or a hug. This is what New Scientist writes in its article “Robot that looks like a bin bag can understand what a hug is“. According to the magazine, the technology could lead to better non-verbal communication between humans and robots. What is behind this message? A scientific experiment that is indeed very interesting. “Guy Hoffman and his colleagues at Cornell University, New York, created a prototype robot with nylon skin stretched over a 1.2-metre tall cylindrical scaffold atop a platform on wheels. Inside the cylinder sits a commercial USB camera which is used to interpret different types of touch on the nylon.” (New Scientist, 29 January 2021) In recent years, there have been several prototypes, studies and surveys on hugging robots. For example, the projects with PR2, Hugvie, and HUGGIE are worth mentioning. Cornell University’s research certainly represents another milestone in this context and in a way puts humans in the foreground.
Luís Moniz Pereira is one of the best known and most active machine ethicists in the world. Together with his colleague The Anh Han he wrote the article “Evolutionary Machine Ethics” for the “Handbuch Maschinenethik” (“Handbook Machine Ethics”). Editor is Oliver Bendel (Zurich, Switzerland). From the abstract: “Machine ethics is a sprouting interdisciplinary field of enquiry arising from the need of imbuing autonomous agents with some capacity for moral decision-making. Its overall results are not only important for equipping agents with a capacity for moral judgment, but also for helping better understand morality, through the creation and testing of computational models of ethics theories. Computer models have become well defined, eminently observable in their dynamics, and can be transformed incrementally in expeditious ways. We address, in work reported and surveyed here, the emergence and evolution of cooperation in the collective realm. We discuss how our own research with Evolutionary Game Theory (EGT) modelling and experimentation leads to important insights for machine ethics, such as the design of moral machines, multi-agent systems, and contractual algorithms, plus their potential application in human settings too.” (Abstract) Springer VS published the “Handbuch Maschinenethik” in October 2019. Since then it has been downloaded thousands of times.
In 2018, Dr. Yuefang Zhou and Prof. Dr. Martin Fischer initiated the first international workshop on intimate human-robot relations at the University of Potsdam, “which resulted in the publication of an edited book on developments in human-robot intimate relationships”. This year, Prof. Dr. Martin Fischer, Prof. Dr. Rebecca Lazarides, and Dr. Yuefang Zhou are organizing the second edition. “As interest in the topic of humanoid AI continues to grow, the scope of the workshop has widened. During this year’s workshop, international experts from a variety of different disciplines will share their insights on motivational, social and cognitive aspects of learning, with a focus on humanoid intelligent tutoring systems and social learning companions/robots.” (Website Embracing AI) The international workshop “Learning from Humanoid AI: Motivational, Social & Cognitive Perspectives” will take place on 29 and 30 November 2019 at the University of Potsdam. Keynote speakers are Prof. Dr. Tony Belpaeme, Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, Prof. Dr. Angelo Cangelosi, Dr. Gabriella Cortellessa, Dr. Kate Devlin, Prof. Dr. Verena Hafner, Dr. Nicolas Spatola, Dr. Jessica Szczuka, and Prof. Dr. Agnieszka Wykowska. Further information is available at embracingai.wordpress.com/.
“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/.
The research article “Dissecting racial bias in an algorithm used to manage the health of populations” by Ziad Obermeyer, Brian Powers, Christine Vogeli and Sendhil Mullainathan has been well received by science and media. It was published in the journal Science on 25 October 2019. From the abstract: “Health systems rely on commercial prediction algorithms to identify and help patients with complex health needs. We show that a widely used algorithm, typical of this industry-wide approach and affecting millions of patients, exhibits significant racial bias: At a given risk score, Black patients are considerably sicker than White patients, as evidenced by signs of uncontrolled illnesses.” (Abstract) The authors suggest that the choice of convenient, seemingly effective proxies for ground truth can be an important source of algorithmic bias in many contexts. The journal Nature quotes Milena Gianfrancesco, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, with the following words: “We need a better way of actually assessing the health of the patients.”
Amazon Rekognition is a well-known software for facial recognition, including emotion detection. It is used in the BESTBOT, a moral machine that hides an immoral machine. The immoral is precisely caused by facial recognition, which endangers the privacy of the user and his or her informational autonomy. The project is intended not least to draw attention to this risk. Amazon announced on 12 August 2019 that it has improved and expanded its system: “Today, we are launching accuracy and functionality improvements to our face analysis features. Face analysis generates metadata about detected faces in the form of gender, age range, emotions, attributes such as ‘Smile’, face pose, face image quality and face landmarks. With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification. In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Angry’, ‘Surprised’, ‘Disgusted’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Confused’) and added a new emotion: ‘Fear’.” (Amazon, 12 August 2019) Because the BESTBOT accesses other systems such as MS Face API and Kairos, it can already recognize fear. So the change at Amazon means no change for this artifact of machine ethics.
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.
“Robots, Empathy and Emotions” – this research project was tendered some time ago. The contract was awarded to a consortium of FHNW, ZHAW and the University of St. Gallen. The applicant, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Schulze from the FHNW School of Applied Psychology, covers the field of psychology. The co-applicant Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel from the FHNW School of Business takes the perspective of information, robot and machine ethics, the co-applicant Prof. Dr. Maria Schubert from the ZHAW that of nursing science. The client TA-SWISS stated on its website: “What influence do robots … have on our society and on the people who interact with them? Are robots perhaps rather snitches than confidants? … What do we expect from these machines or what can we effectively expect from them? Numerous sociological, psychological, economic, philosophical and legal questions related to the present and future use and potential of robots are still open.” (Website TA-SWISS, own translation) The kick-off meeting with a top-class accompanying group took place in Bern, the capital of Switzerland, on 26 June 2019.
Artificial intelligence has human or animal intelligence as a reference and attempts to represent it in certain aspects. It can also try to deviate from human or animal intelligence, for example by solving problems differently with its systems. Machine ethics is dedicated to machine morality, producing it and investigating it. Whether one likes the concepts and methods of machine ethics or not, one must acknowledge that novel autonomous machines emerge that appear more complete than earlier ones in a certain sense. It is almost surprising that artificial morality did not join artificial intelligence much earlier. Especially machines that simulate human intelligence and human morality for manageable areas of application seem to be a good idea. But what if a superintelligence with a supermorality forms a new species superior to ours? That’s science fiction, of course. But also something that some scientists want to achieve. Basically, it’s important to clarify terms and explain their connections. This is done in a graphics that was published in July 2019 on informationsethik.net and is linked here.
“AI has definitively beaten humans at another of our favorite games. A poker bot, designed by researchers from Facebook’s AI lab and Carnegie Mellon University, has bested some of the world’s top players …” (The Verge, 11 July 2019) According to the magazine, Pluribus was remarkably good at bluffing its opponents. The Wall Street Journal reported: “A new artificial intelligence program is so advanced at a key human skill – deception – that it wiped out five human poker players with one lousy hand.” (Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2019) Of course you don’t have to equate bluffing with cheating – but in this context interesting scientific questions arise. At the conference “Machine Ethics and Machine Law” in 2016 in Krakow, Ronald C. Arkin, Oliver Bendel, Jaap Hage, and Mojca Plesnicar discussed on the panel the question: “Should we develop robots that deceive?” Ron Arkin (who is in military research) and Oliver Bendel (who is not) came to the conclusion that we should – but they had very different arguments. The ethicist from Zurich, inventor of the LIEBOT, advocates free, independent research in which problematic and deceptive machines are also developed, in favour of an important gain in knowledge – but is committed to regulating the areas of application (for example dating portals or military operations). Further information about Pluribus can be found in the paper itself, entitled “Superhuman AI for multiplayer poker”.