Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three recent interviews by Gerhard Dabringer

Continuing his series of interviews with people working on robot ethics, Gerhard Dabringer has three recent installments:

George Bekey : Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California and Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Special Consultant to the Dean of the College of Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University. He is well known for his book Autonomous Robots (2005) and is Co-author of the study "Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics and Design" (2008).

J├╝rgen Altmann : University of Dortmund, a founding member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. Since 2003 he is a deputy speaker of the Committee on Physics and Disarmament of Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG, the society of physicists in Germany) and currently directs the project on “Unmanned Armed Systems - Trends, Dangers and Preventive Arms Control” located at the Chair of Experimentelle Physik III at Technische Universit├Ąt Dortmund.

John Sullins : Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Sonoma State University. His specializations are philosophy of technology, philosophical issues of artificial intelligence/robotics, cognitive science, philosophy of science, engineering ethics, and computer ethics.

Paperback edition of Moral Machines

Amazon has started listing the paperback edition of Moral Machines at $17.95 but not yet actually available.

UPDATE: Publication date is listed as June 3.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NPR: The Legal and Moral Issues of Drone Use

NPR's Talk of the Nation conducted an extended thirty minute discussion of legal and moral Issues arising from drone use with Peter Bergen, Amitai Etzioni, and Philip Alston.

Etzioni has also recently written an article titled, Unmanned Aircraft Systems: The Moral and Legal Case, in Joint Force Quarterly, which is a publication of the National Defense University Press (NDU).
As I see it, however, the main point of moral judgment must be faced earlier in the chain of action, well before we come to the question of which means are to be used to kill the enemy. The main turning point concerns the question of whether we should go to war at all. This is the crucial decision because once we engage in war, we must assume that there is going to be a large number of casualties on all sides and that these may well include innocent civilians. Often, discussions of targeted killings strike me as being written by people who yearn for a nice clean war, one in which only bad people will be killed using “surgical” strikes that inflict no collateral damage. Very few armed confrontations unfold in this way. Hence, when we deliberate whether or not to fight, we should assume that once we step on this train, it is very likely to carry us to places we would rather not go, but must. The UAS are a rather minor, albeit a new, stepping stone on this woeful journey.

Robots Among Us

The NYTIMES has an article titled the, Robots Among Us, which contains some interesting images.

Roboethics Symposium at WPI

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA is sponsoring a daylong symposium (April 10th) on Ethics for Robotics in our Changing World. Noel Sharkey and Ronald Arkin will be keynote speakers.

Time Activity
8:15 Registration & Breakfast Buffet Open
9:00 Introductory Remarks
9:30 - 10:30 Keynote #1: Noel Sharkey
10:40-11:30 Lecture #1: ABB Robotics
11:40-12:30 Lecture #2: WPI Student Group
12:40 Lunch Buffet Opens
1:10 - 2:00 Keynote #2: Ronald Arkin
2:10 - 3:00 Debate Session #1
3:20 - 4:10 Debate Session #2
4:20 - 4:45 Closing Remarks

US House Hearing on Military Drones and the Future of War

Roger F. Gay has brought our attention to:

US House of Representatives Hearing on Rise of the Drones: Unmanned Systems and the Future of War, which was held on March 23rd. Written testimony and webcasts of the two panels are available here.

Panel I:

•Peter W. Singer, Ph.D., Director, 21st Century Defense Initiative, The Brookings Institution; author, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century
•Edward Barrett, Ph.D. (Lt. Col., USAF), Director of Research, Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership, U.S. Naval Academy
•Mr. Kenneth Anderson, Professor, Washington College of Law, American University
•Mr. John Jackson (Captain, USN Ret.), Professor of Unmanned Systems, U.S. Naval War College
•Mr. Michael Fagan (Colonel, USMC Ret.), Chair, Unmanned Aerial Systems Advocacy Committee, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International

Panel II

•Mr. Michael J. Sullivan, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
•Mr. Dyke Weatherington (Lt. Col., USAF Ret.), Deputy, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Planning Taskforce, Office of the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, U.S. Department of Defense
•The Honorable Kevin Wolf, Assistant Secretary for Export Administration, Bureau of Industry and Security, U.S. Department of Commerce

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rescue Robots for the Battlefield

Robots to rescue soldiers from the NewScientist.
THE US military is asking inventors to come up with designs for a robot that can trundle onto a battlefield and rescue injured troops, with little or no help from outside.

Retrieving casualties while under fire is a major cause of combat losses, says a posting on the Pentagon's small business technology transfer website ( So the army wants a robot with strong, dexterous arms and grippers that can cope with "the large number of body positions and types of locations in which casualties can be found".

It should be capable of planning an approach and escape route without prior knowledge of the local terrain and geography. The army also wants the robot to be able to cooperate with swarms of similar machines for mass rescues.

Inventors have until 24 March to file their ideas

The full proposal on Robotic Combat Casualty Extraction makes it clear just how much autonomy the military hopes the robot will have.
For several years the Army has conducted or sponsored research in robotic casualty extraction and evacuation (CASEVAC), but has yet to solve the challenges posed by autonomously and safely picking up combat casualties for the large number of body positions and locations at which casualties can be found. Autonomy or near-autonomy is needed in order to reduce or eliminate operator intervention and avoid distraction of soldier first responders from their primary duties.

Toddler Robot Upgrade

Film Documents the First Year of IBM's Bluebrain Project

Bluebrain | Year One from Couple 3 Films on Vimeo.

Princeton Scientists Take a Significant Step Toward Quantum Computing

A major hurdle in the ambitious quest to design and construct a radically new kind of quantum computer has been finding a way to manipulate the single electrons that very likely will constitute the new machines' processing components or qubits."


Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) coming soon?

h+ magazine has an article titled, How Long Till Human-Level AI? The article was written by long-time AGI researcher Ben Goertzel with Seth Baum and Ted Goertzel.

The majority of the experts who participated in our study were optimistic about AGI coming fairly quickly, although a few were more pessimistic about the timing. It is worth noting, however, that all the experts in our study, even the most pessimistic ones, gave at least a 10% chance of some AGI milestones being achieved within a few decades.

IBM Computer Summarizes Boring Conversations

Simon Tucker and colleagues at Sheffield University and Steve Whitter at IBM Research in Almaden, California, have develeloped an automatic speech recognition system called Catchup, which is:

designed to summarise in almost real time what has been said at a business meeting so the latecomers can... well, catch up with what they missed. Catchup is able to identify the important words and phrases in an ASR transcript and edit out the unimportant ones. It does so by using the frequency with which a word appears as an indicator of its importance, having first ruled out a "stop list" of very common words. It leaves the text surrounding the important words in place to put them in context, and removes the rest.

A key feature of Catchup is that it then presents the result in audio form, so the latecomer hears a spoken summary rather than having to plough through a transcript. "It provides a much better user experience," says Tucker.

In tests of Catchup, its developers reported that around 80 per cent of subjects were able to understand the summary, even when it was less than half the length of the original conversation. A similar proportion said that it gave them a better idea of what they had missed than they could glean by trying to infer it from the portion of the meeting they could attend.

Read the full article from NewScientist titled, Boring conversation? Let your computer listen for you.

Pervasive and Autonomous Information Technology (PAIT)

The newly formed PAIT sponsored its first workshop in Cincinnati on March 3-4. This workshop was made possible by a grant from the NSF and Kenneth D. Pimple is the project director. The speakers included:

Fred H. Cate, Distinguished Professor and C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law, IU School of Law, and Director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, Indiana University Bloomington.

Helen Nissenbaum, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, and Senior Fellow of the Information Law Institute, New York University.

Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Professor of Public Engagement, and EPSRC Senior Media Fellow, University of Sheffield.

For more information go to the PAIT website.

Moral Machines Session at PAC-APA

American Philosophical Association --Pacific Division Conference
Westin St Francis, San Francisco
April 2nd 7:00-10:00 p.m.

Topic: Authors-Meet-Critics: Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen, Moral Machines

Chair: John P. Sullins (Sonoma State University)
Authors: Colin Allen (Indiana University–Bloomington)
Wendell Wallach (Yale University)
Commentators: Mark Coeckelbergh (Universiteit Twente)
James H. Moor (Dartmouth College)
Thomas M. Powers (University of Delaware)
Carson Reynolds (University of Tokyo)
Robin Zebrowski (Beloit College)