The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'robots'
At the turn of the 1930s, recorded music was seen as an existential threat. Films with sound started appearing, and their prerecorded musical soundtracks started threatening the livelihoods of the musicians who, until then, had played accompaniments to silent films in cinemas. To wit, the American Federation of Musicians launched a campaign against the tyranny of “canned music”, which their advertisements depicted as a malevolent robot:
The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, though recorded music was seen as a threat to live musicians for decades after that. In the 1950s, for example, when the BBC was establishing a studio for experimental electronic music, it dubbed the studio with the decidedly unmusical name of the Radiophonic Workshop, perpetuating the fiction that its function only peripherally touched on the kingdom of music, as to avoid antagonising the unions of the musicians who worked on other BBC broadcasts.
The latest Japanese innovation for keeping its growing elderly population company: a robotic seal. Named "Paro", the therapeutic robot responds to touches and adapts its personality to its owner's; the human mind's tendency to see the illusion of agency does the rest.
I'm not sure why they chose a seal rather than a more conventional companion animal, though perhaps because, due to the unfamiliarity of seals as domestic pets, an apparently living plush toy would be less likely to fall into Mori's uncanny valley than, say, a fake dog or cat.
Paro is being tested in hospitals and nursing homes in Japan, where it has reportedly had positive results.
Jazari is essentially an automated, electromechanical percussion ensemble, controlled using two Nintendo Wii controllers. It consists of a MacBook, a bunch of Arduino boards and a room full of drums fitted with solenoids and motors, and software written in MAX and Java which parses input from the Wii controls and plays the drums. The software is also capable of improvising with the human operator, by imitating, riffing off and mutating what he plays.
Jazari was developed by a guy named Patrick Flanagan, who had been playing around with algorithmic composition, only to discover that people don't want to hear about algorithms, but do want to see a good live show. Anyway, here there are two videos: one of a Jazari performance (think robot samba float, conducted by a guy waving Wiimotes around; the music has a distinctly Afro-Brazilian feel to it), and one of Flanagan explaining how it works.
Boing Boing Gadgets' John Brownlee has an interesting account of playing a robot in an evangelical Christian school play as a child. An evangelical Christian robot, of course:
The play centered around Colby, a sentient Christian super-computer who — for some reason — had set up a secret neighborhood enclave for the Christian kids in the neighborhood. It was called Colby's Clubhouse, and inside, it was a Jim Jones phantasmagoria, in which a dancing, singing Christian robot led a gaggle of Bible-thumping kids in elaborate dance numbers, pausing only occasionally to recite scriptures. The main dramatic arc of the play concerned the arrival of new kid Eddie in the neighborhood: he cracked wise about Jesus, never read the Gospel, and was dismissive not only of the Colby Gang's impromptu hymnals but openly professed an admiration and affinity for that year's hot R&B supergroup, the New Kids on the Block. Eventually, Eddie is shown the error of his ways through the tireless proselytizing of the Colby Gang... as well as the direct intervention of Colby himself, who bluntly informs Eddie that he's going to hell if he doesn't mend his ways. Eventually, Eddie breaks down, falls to his knees, and welcomes Jesus into his heart as his Lord and Savior. At that point, Eddie is welcomed into the Colby Gang as an honorary member, presented with his very own pastel-colored, self-identifying t-shirt, and takes part in the exiting performance of the play's title song, "God Uses Kids." Curtain and applause.Of course, in retrospect, the play looks a lot more disturbing:
At the beginning of the play, Eddie moves into a new neighborhood. He's alone, depressed and friendless. Worse, he quickly discovers that none of the kids in the neighborhood like to play video games or watch movies or listen to records or play with action figures or throw the football around — you know, normal kid stuff. All they ever want to do is sing about Jesus. Raised non-secularly, poor Eddie finds himself ostracized from his newfound peers from the very start, and understandably compensates by adapting the defense mechanism of a smart aleck personality. He acts out. He differentiates himself through cynical non-conformity, but is soundly hated for it.
That's all bad enough, right? Poor Eddie. But consider what happens next. Eddie is invited to the neighborhood clubhouse. Hoping for the acceptance and friendship of the neighborhood's unseen but popular alpha dog — the mysterious but charismatic Colby — he goes, but instead of meeting another kid, the door is locked behind him and a giant metal monster lumbers out of the shadows. Its eyes spit sparks; its servos gnash like rusty teeth. It grabs Eddie by the arms and in a shrill falsetto scream that reverberates with metallic soullessness and the sounds of gears grinding, it inexorably begins to paint Eddie a picture of hell straight out of Bosch. Mewling, fleshless bird things with scissors for beaks. Oceans of boiling feces in which billions bob and drown. Bodies crawling with insects and scabs that never heal. Forced sodomy by impossible geometric shapes. The sound of infants screaming forever and ever and ever and ever. Eddie's mind breaks... as, in fact, had the mind of each and every member of the Colby Gang's under the same nightmarish duress. It is the initiation. He's been accepted. One of us. One of us.And then, of course, there is the theological question of whether an evangelical Christian robot would have a soul, which John's teacher couldn't quite satisfactorily answer.
(via Boing Boing)
Some miscellaneous web links from today:
- Scientists in Britain have developed a robot for teaching social skills to autistic children. The robot, named KASPAR (presumably a reference to Kaspar Hauser) can smile, gesticulate and simulate emotions such as surprise and sadness and acts as a "social mediator".
- A taxonomy of terrorist group logos, taken from Wikipedia. There are a lot of swords and AK-47s there, along with a few stars (mostly from the Marxist-influenced, rather than nationalist or Islamist, groups).
- In a year's time, Israel will have a national internet censorship firewall, blocking all adult content, with those wishing to access it being able to do so by signing a "perverts' register". If the Israelis make this work, there'll probably be pressure in Australia to implement something like this (after all, there is theoretical bipartisan support for a national firewall).
- A WIRED article looking at the subculture of people who deliberately try to fly as many miles as possible for the lowest price, and the strategies they employ.
A funny thing happened during a recent test of a military mine-disposal robot:
This is not the only incident of a curious camaraderie developing between soldiers and robots; the article describes other stories of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq (where robots are being widely deployed) befriending their mechanical compatriots, ascribing quirks of individual robots to personalities, giving them names and (virtual) battlefield honours, and even going fishing with their robot buddies.
At the Yuma Test Grounds in Arizona, the autonomous robot, 5 feet long and modeled on a stick-insect, strutted out for a live-fire test and worked beautifully, he says. Every time it found a mine, blew it up and lost a limb, it picked itself up and readjusted to move forward on its remaining legs, continuing to clear a path through the minefield.
Finally it was down to one leg. Still, it pulled itself forward. Tilden was ecstatic. The machine was working splendidly.
The human in command of the exercise, however -- an Army colonel -- blew a fuse.
The colonel ordered the test stopped.
Why? asked Tilden. What's wrong?
The colonel just could not stand the pathos of watching the burned, scarred and crippled machine drag itself forward on its last leg.
This test, he charged, was inhumane.
Which could be more evidence that the human mind automatically perceives anything whose actions show signs of intention to have psychological states. An example (in the book Mind Hacks) describes children being shown a display with two shapes moving on a screen, one after the other, and when asked what was happening, describing one as chasing the other. Could it be that when a machine tries to defuse a bomb, its operators, even though they know it is a machine, can't help but mentally classify it as being "alive"?
Researchers at the University of Essex are building a flock of miniature helicopters with embedded web servers. Could this be a hint to how Google plans to take over and/or index the world?
There is apparently an entire subculture in the US of people who build sex machines. So much so that the Museum of Sex in New York is having an exhibition on the subject, and for those not in New York, there is a book.
These are tinkerers, people who like to mess with all things mechanical. And they have a sense of creative invention — they are proud of these things when they create them. But also they think about sex a lot and this is what resulted from that combination. It's not just a sculptural thing. They are making it for a purpose. A number of them are married, they are making it to try and introduce something to their wives. Some may be using it to attract women — or they think it might attract women. And for some of them it's a business. But they are not part of a scene, like a sexual scene. It's more that they got the idea independently that this is something they wanted to make, they wanted to have.The machines look like anything from dentists' chairs to Luxo lamps, with conspicuous plastic appendages attached. One appears to be a modified sledgehammer, and looks frightening. There is even a coffin-shaped one built by a couple of goth kids (aww, isn't that cute!).
Meanwhile, Japanese roboticists have developed a lifelike "female" android. Apparently Repliee Q1, which moves and even appears to breathe like a human, is so realistic that unconsciously, people forget that it is a non-sentient machine:
"More importantly, we have found that people forget she is an android while interacting with her. Consciously, it is easy to see that she is an android, but unconsciously, we react to the android as if she were a woman."The researchers plan to make even more realistic robots (all of which, for some reason, tend to be modelled on women or young girls; perhaps that has something to do with the objectification of women Japanese culture or something?), and believe that they can get robots which can fool humans into believing they are real for up to 10 minutes in controlled situations.
Putting this together with the recent Swiss cockroach robot research suggests a lot of opportunities. Maybe we'll see Japanese android trials involving fembots successfully luring sararimen out of karaoke bars, or something similar.
Scientists in Switzerland have developed a robot cockroach convincing enough to infiltrate cockroach societies and subvert them from within, with the other roaches never twigging to the fact that their new companion was a robot:
That's part of what the scientists have been successful at showing with InsBot. In their latest experiment, the miniature robot drew the group of insects from a darkly lighted den to a more lit location, despite the roaches' affinity for low lighting. The roaches followed InsBot for the companionship.
Scientists believe that if they can use robots to mimic and respond to animals then they could eventually control the animals' behaviour. For example, they could use robots to stop sheep from jumping off cliffs or to migrate cockroaches out of infested homes. Progress in the field could ultimately influence and aid in scientific fields like medicine, agriculture and ethology (which is the study of animal behaviour).
What happens when technical ingenuity and scatological humour collide: RoboDump, a pair of legs with speakers, fitted over a toilet in a cubicle, and playing an endless loop of a vividly evocative soundtrack. Prank of the year.
I snuck RoboDump into the men's room at the office. Unfortunately, today turned out to be the day of a board meeting. Whoops! It still went over well; the office was abuzz all morning with gossip about the guy in the bathroom. Several people theorized it was the CFO. The janitor commented to someone in the hallway that he wanted to clean the restroom but "this guy's been in there all morning."
The CIA have created a robot catfish, which looks just like a real fish and may or may not have been used for unspecified purposes. The catfish, named Charlie, is being exhibited at the CIA museum, along with robotic bumblebees and dragonflies (which turned out too hard to navigate for practical use) and the usual assortment of miniature cameras and such; the exhibition, however, is off-limits to the public. So next time an innocuous-looking 600mm-long catfish swims past, smile.
A former Lernout and Hauspie director is about to market a robotic guinea pig he invented whilst in prison, under investigation for fraud. The robot, named Gupi, "has a memory of his own, can walk on a table without tumbling over the edge, makes sounds of approval when being cuddled and falls asleep when it's getting dark", and will retail for £60.
Japanese scientists pair up monkey and robot designed to mimic attractive female monkey; social awkwardness ensues.
But the 10-year-old-male monkey, named Choromatsu, paid little attention Saturday to the swooning robot, whose flashy metallic eyelashes and bulging synthetic eyeballs failed to charm.
Choromatsu sat with a scowl through most of the session, often staring at the ceiling or looking at researchers and photographers
Sounds like a fairly typical blind date. Except for the bit about the researchers and photographers, that is. (via jwz)
Mori's Uncanny Valley is the phenomenon in human perception of human-like entities that accounts for people feeling revulsion when they see zombies in a horror movie. Put simply, the theory postulates that the relationship between similarity to human appearance and movement and emotional response is not a straight line; instead, there is a peak shortly before the appearance becomes completely human -- and then response dives into visceral horror, as the not-quite-human object enters the realm of moving corpses, blasphemous abominations and Things That Should Not Be, looking too human, yet somehow loathsomely unnatural. First postulated in the 1970s, the Uncanny Valley theory is behind advise to make all human-like agents/robots look slightly stylised, just enough to appear distinctly non-human and not trigger the sensations of horror.
Via the story of the guy who mistook his girlfriend for a robot -- or rather made a lifelike animated head modelled on said girlfriend's head, and wired with cameras, motors and software. David Hanson, the roboticist in question, is not an adherent of the Uncanny Valley theory, or believes that he can cross said valley and come out at the other side. (via jwz)
Meet Hektor, a Swiss-designed spraycan graffiti robot, or possibly one of the world's largest portable inkjet printers. (Note that it's not the largest, as the BBC piece suggests; I recall a larger version of GraffitiWriter, one of Hektor's predecessors, mounted on the underside of a van, and used to inscribe dot-matrix slogans on roads.)
A Scottish artificial intelligence lab has developed
a robot with an eye for the ladies. The robot, nicknamed Doki, can identify male and female faces by appearance, and as a side effect, can calculate how physically attractive female faces are. (Mind you, this assumes that attractiveness is exclusively a factor of femininity of appearance, a somewhat simplistic model.) I wonder if (a) it would be fooled by transvestites, and (b) whether it gives a readout in
Helens millihelens (the unit of beauty required to launch one ship).
It must be the silly season again; BBC News has an article on what Christmas will be like in 2050. Robot helpers bringing out the synthetic turkey, wall-sized video screens hooking up instantly with family members far away and providing virtual scenery, and emotion-sensitive Barbie dolls as presents. In other words, the usual future scenario, much unchanged since the Jetsons first aired. But it's from a BT futurologist, so it must be credible.
We. Are the robots: A bar staffed entirely by robots has opened in Berlin. Everything in the Automaten bar is automated, and the jukebox only has electronic music.