Towards Robot Enhancement

Social robots and service robots usually have a defined locomotor system, a defined appearance and defined mimic and gestural abilities. This leads, on the one hand, to a certain familiarization effect. On the other hand, the actions of the robots are thus limited, for example in the household or in a shopping mall. Robot enhancement is used to extend and improve social robots and service robots. It changes their appearance and expands their scope. It is possible to apply attachments to the hardware, extend limbs and exchange components. One can pull skin made of silicone over the face or head, making the robots look humanoid. One can also change the software and connect the robot to AI systems – this is already done many times. The project or thesis, announced by Oliver Bendel in August 2020 at the School of Business FHNW, should first present the principles and functional possibilities of robot enhancement. Second, concrete examples should be given and described. One of these examples, e.g., the skin made of silicone, has to be implemented. Robots like Pepper or Atlas would be completely changed by such a skin. They could look uncanny, but also appealing. The project will start in September 2020.

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.

Next ROBOPHILOSOPHY in Helsinki

One of the world’s most important conferences for robot philosophy (aka robophilosophy) and social robotics, ROBOPHILOSOPHY, took place from 18 to 21 August 2020, not in Aarhus (Denmark) as originally planned, but – due to the COVID 19 pandemic – in virtual form. Organizers and presenters were Marco Nørskov and Johanna Seibt. A considerable number of the lectures were devoted to machine ethics, such as “Moral Machines” (Aleksandra Kornienko), “Permissibility-Under-a-Description Reasoning for Deontological Robots” (Felix Lindner) and “The Morality Menu Project” (Oliver Bendel). The keynotes were given by Selma Šabanović (Indiana University Bloomington), Robert Sparrow (Monash University), Shannon Vallor (The University of Edinburgh), Alan Winfield (University of the West of England), Aimee van Wynsberghe (Delft University of Technology) and John Danaher (National University of Ireland). In his outstanding presentation, Winfield was sceptical about moral machines, whereupon Bendel made it clear in the discussion that they are useful in some areas and dangerous in others, and emphasized the importance of machine ethics for the study of machine and human morality, a point with which Winfield again agreed. The last conference was held in Vienna in 2018. Keynote speakers at that time included Hiroshi Ishiguro, Joanna Bryson and Oliver Bendel. The next ROBOPHILOSOPHY will probably take place in 2022 at the University of Helsinki, as the organisers announced at the end of the event.

Chocolate Could Increase Acceptance

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 Stocker (formerly Leonie Brogle) started with an online survey. The aim was 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. Nearly 300 people took part in the online survey. The evaluation is almost complete and the results are remarkable. Among other things, it was found that women want to be hugged by a robot that is bigger than them, and men want to be hugged by a robot that is smaller than them. Not only the size is relevant for the acceptance of robotic hugging: “An interesting input given by one of the participants was that it could be more pleasant to hug a robot if it smelled nicely, for example like chocolate.” (Draft of Bachelor Thesis) Whether this is a typically Swiss view remains to be investigated. The results of the survey and the conclusions drawn from them for the design of HUGGIE will be compiled in a paper in the course of the year.

Towards a Proxy Machine

“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 was announced. It would have taken place in Aarhus, Denmark, from 18 to 21 August 2019, but due to the COVID 19 pandemic it is being conducted online. One lecture will be given by Oliver Bendel. The abstract of the paper “The Morality Menu Project” states: “Machine ethics produces moral machines. The machine morality is usually fixed. Another approach is the morality menu (MOME). With this, owners or users transfer their own morality onto the machine, for example a social robot. The machine acts in the same way as they would act, in detail. A team at the School of Business FHNW implemented a MOME for the MOBO chatbot. In this article, the author introduces the idea of the MOME, presents the MOBO-MOME project and discusses advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. It turns out that a morality menu can be a valuable extension for certain moral machines.” 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/.

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.

Human, Medicine and Society

In his lecture “Service Robots in Health Care” at the Orient-Institut Istanbul on 18 December 2019, Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel from Zurich, Switzerland is going to deal with care robots as well as therapy and surgery robots. He will present well-known and less known examples and clarify the goals, tasks and characteristics of these service robots in the healthcare sector. Afterwards he will investigate current and future functions of care robots, including sexual assistance functions. Against this background, the lecture is going to consider both the perspective of information ethics and machine ethics. In the end, it should become clear which robot types and prototypes or products are available in health care, which purposes they fulfil, which functions they assume, how the healthcare system changes through their use and which implications and consequences this has for the individual and society. The program of the series “Human, medicine and society: past, present and future encounters” can be downloaded here.

Robots that Learn as They Go

“Alphabet X, the company’s early research and development division, has unveiled the Everyday Robot project, whose aim is to develop a ‘general-purpose learning robot.’ The idea is to equip robots with cameras and complex machine-learning software, letting them observe the world around them and learn from it without needing to be taught every potential situation they may encounter.” (MIT Technology Review, 23 November 2019) This was reported by MIT Technology Review on 23 November 2019 in the article “Alphabet X’s ‘Everyday Robot’ project is making machines that learn as they go”. The approach of Alphabet X seems to be well though-out and target-oriented. In a way, it is oriented towards human learning. One could also teach robots human language in this way. With the help of microphones, cameras and machine learning, they would gradually understand us better and better. For example, they observe how we point to and comment on a person. Or they perceive that we point to an object and say a certain term – and after some time they conclude that this is the name of the object. However, such frameworks pose ethical and legal challenges. You can’t just designate cities as such test areas. The result would be comprehensive surveillance in public spaces. Specially established test areas, on the other hand, would probably not have the same benefits as “natural environments”. Many questions still need to be answered.

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/.

The Girl with Robot Arms

Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old. Due to that disease, the doctors had to amputate both her arms and toes to give her a chance to survive. Since then, her mom has been fighting to ensure that she can do everything that children with hands can do. In the past years, they tried various myoelectric prosthesis, which Tilly describes as “very basic” as these were only capable of opening and closing. In January 2019 Tilly was surprised with Open Bionic Hero Arms for the Alita: Battle Angel film premiere. This medically certified prosthesis is custom 3D-printed and detects muscle movement thanks to special sensors. It works fully intuitively and provides its user with feedback through vibrations, lights and sounds. Thanks to 3D printing, an arm can be made within 40 hours and is quite affordable compared to other bionic hands (launching price of £5,000). The Hero Arms allow Tilly to be a “normal” teenager. She says she feels “more like everyone else”. Which is apparent in simple things such as doing thumbs up on a selfie or playing the Wii. Intelligent prostheses like the Hero Arms have a great impact on the quality of life for people like Tilly. It is that kind of transhuman achievements that increase independence and self-confidence tremendously for individuals. Here you can find more Hero Arm success stories (image source: Open Bionics Press Images).