Spot in Chernobyl

Boston Dynamics is known for several two- and four-legged robots. Videos often show spectacular movements and stunts. Surely the scenes have to be shot often to be as impressive as possible. The robot Spot has recently been given some new features. Several media report that it was used in Chernobyl. “A team of engineers from the University of Bristol visited the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant last week to test out Spot, a four-legged robodog made by US-based robotics company Boston Dynamics … Spot is capable of making inspection rounds all by itself and can navigate hostile environments such as the highly radioactive site of the former nuclear power plant. Spot went for a walk around the surrounding areas and into the New Safe Confinement structure, a massive moveable dome of steel meant to keep in dangerous radiation from the plant’s number 4 reactor unit, which was destroyed during the 1986 disaster. The robot’s main task was to survey levels of radiation in the area, creating a three-dimensional map of the distribution.” (Website Futurism, 26 October 2020) Spot and Co. stand in the probably oldest tradition of robotics: They take over tasks that are too dangerous or too strenuous for humans.

Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Prisons

On 24 October 2020 the article “Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Unproven and Unexplored Fields of Application” by Oliver Bendel was published in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics. From the abstract: “Love dolls, the successors of blow-up dolls, are widespread. They can be ordered online or bought in sex shops and can be found in brothels and households. Sex robots are also on the rise. Research, however, has been slow to address this topic thoroughly. Often, it does not differentiate between users and areas of application, remaining vague, especially in the humanities and social sciences. The present contribution deals with the idea and history of love dolls and sex robots. Against this background, it identifies areas of application that have not been investigated or have hardly been investigated at all. These include prisons, the military, monasteries and seminaries, science, art and design as well as the gamer scene. There is, at least, some relevant research about the application of these artefacts in nursing and retirement homes and as such, these will be given priority. The use of love dolls and sex robots in all these fields is outlined, special features are discussed, and initial ethical, legal and pragmatic considerations are made. It becomes clear that artificial love servants can create added value, but that their use must be carefully considered and prepared. In some cases, their use may even be counterproductive.” The article is available here for free as an open access publication.

AI in Medical Robotics

The Emmy Noether Research Group “The Phenomenon of Interaction in Human-Machine Interaction” and the Institute of Ethics, History, and Theory of Medicine (LMU Munich) host a lecture series “on some of the pressing issues arising in the context of implementing and using AI in medicine”. “Each date will consist of three short talks by renowned experts in the respective fields followed by a roundtable discussion. All lectures are held online (Zoom) until further notice.” (Website The Philosophy of Human-Machine Interaction) On 19 November 2020 (18.00-19.30) the topic will be “AI in Medical Robotics”. Speakers will be Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel (University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland), Prof. Dr. Manfred Hild (Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin) and Dr. Janina Loh (University of Wien). The presentation language is German. More information via interactionphilosophy.wordpress.com.

Service Robots in Epidemics and Pandemics

On October 14, 2020 the article “Der Einsatz von Servicerobotern bei Epidemien und Pandemien” (“The use of service robots in epidemics and pandemics”) by Oliver Bendel was published in HMD – Praxis der Wirtschaftsinformatik. From the abstract: “Robots have always been used to carry out dangerous tasks or tasks that are not manageable for us. They defuse bombs, transport hazardous materials and work their way into areas inaccessible to humans. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that even service robots, which are not actually intended for special cases, can provide helpful services in the care of isolated persons and in the containment of diseases. This paper presents four types of service robots. Then it gives examples of robot use during the coronavirus crisis in 2020. Finally, the question in which extent and in what way the robot types can cooperate and whether some of them can be developed into generalists is examined. Business models and operating opportunities are also discussed. The paper shows that cohorts of robots could be vital in the future.” It is part of Volume 57, Issue 6 (December 2020) with a focus on robotics and is available here for free as an open access publication (in German).

Launch of the Interactive AI Magazine

AAAI has announced the launch of the Interactive AI Magazine. According to the organization, the new platform provides online access to articles and columns from AI Magazine, as well as news and articles from AI Topics and other materials from AAAI. “Interactive AI Magazine is a work in progress. We plan to add lot more content on the ecosystem of AI beyond the technical progress represented by the AAAI conference, such as AI applications, AI industry, education in AI, AI ethics, and AI and society, as well as conference calendars and reports, honors and awards, classifieds, obituaries, etc. We also plan to add multimedia such as blogs and podcasts, and make the website more interactive, for example, by enabling commentary on posted articles. We hope that over time Interactive AI Magazine will become both an important source of information on AI and an online forum for conversations among the AI community.” (AAAI Press Release) More information via interactiveaimag.org.

Machine Love

The book “Maschinenliebe” (“Machine Love”/”Machines of Love”/”Machines for Love”/”Love for Machines”), edited by Oliver Bendel, has gone into production. The subtitle is “Liebespuppen und Sexroboter aus technischer, psychologischer und philosophischer Perspektive” (“Love Dolls and Sex Robots from a Technical, Psychological and Philosophical Perspective”). The volume contains contributions by internationally renowned experts as well as interviews with a love doll brothel operator and a sex worker. It has about 200 pages and some color illustrations. Three of the 16 contributions are in English. They come from internationally renowned experts in this field, from Kate Devlin (King’s College London), Yuefang Zhou and Martin H. Fischer (University of Potsdam), and Kino Coursey (Realbotix; picture by courtesy of this company). The book will be published in autumn 2020. Further information is available at www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

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.

Dogs Obey Social Robots

The field of animal-machine interaction is gaining new research topics with social robots. Meiying Qin from Yale University and her co-authors have brought together a Nao and a dog. From the abstract of their paper: “In two experiments, we investigate whether dogs respond to a social robot after the robot called their names, and whether dogs follow the ‘sit’ commands given by the robot. We conducted a between-subjects study (n = 34) to compare dogs’ reactions to a social robot with a loudspeaker. Results indicate that dogs gazed at the robot more often after the robot called their names than after the loudspeaker called their names. Dogs followed the ‘sit’ commands more often given by the robot than given by the loudspeaker. The contribution of this study is that it is the first study to provide preliminary evidence that 1) dogs showed positive behaviors to social robots and that 2) social robots could influence dog’s behaviors. This study enhance the understanding of the nature of the social interactions between humans and social robots from the evolutionary approach. Possible explanations for the observed behavior might point toward dogs perceiving robots as agents, the embodiment of the robot creating pressure for socialized responses, or the multimodal (i.e., verbal and visual) cues provided by the robot being more attractive than our control condition.” (Abstract) You can read the full paper via dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3371382.3380734.

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/.

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.