Sunday, November 28, 2010

NY TImes piece on Military Robotics

Sunday's frontpage New York Times piece on the trend towards increased roboticization of the military is accompanied online by an interactive graphic showing the latest platforms used by the U.S. Military. The article quotes Ron Arkin as saying that 56 countries now have military robotics programs, and Wendell is also quoted a couple of times, drawing attention to the long-term downside of these developments. The recent ICRAC meeting in Berlin is also linked.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Machine Consciousness 2011

SECOND Call For Papers:
Machine Consciousness 2011: Self, Integration and Explanation

Abstract submission deadline: December 31st, 2010

Submissions are invited for presentation at MC2011, a two-day symposium to be held in conjunction with Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour 2011 (AISB 2011), April 4-7 2011, University of York, UK. It is anticipated that the symposium will be held April 6th-7th (TBC).

Machine Consciousness (MC) concerns itself with the creation of artefacts which have, or model, mental characteristics typically associated with consciousness such as (self-) awareness, emotion, affect, phenomenal states, imagination, etc.

Specific Foci
We encourage submissions falling under one of more of these topics:
• MC and Self modelling
• MC and Information integration
• The explanatory power of MC models
• MC and Neuroscience
• MC and Functional versus phenomenal consciousness
• MC Ethics

Ryan Calo on the Legal Challenges Arising from Open Robotic Platforms

A very interesting article by Ryan Calo on issues of legal liability and open or closed robot platforms has been published by the Maryland Law Review. The full article titled, Open Robotics is available for download online.
With millions of home and service robots already on the market, and millions more on the way, robotics is poised to be the next transformative technology. As with personal computers, personal robots are more likely to thrive if they are sufficiently open to third-party contributions of software and hardware. No less than with telephony, cable, computing, and the Internet, an open robotics could foster innovation, spur consumer adoption, and create secondary markets.

But open robots also present the potential for inestimable legal liability, which may lead entrepreneurs and investors to abandon open robots in favor of products with more limited functionality. This possibility flows from a key difference between personal computers and robots. Like PCs, open robots have no set function, run third-party software, and invite modification. But unlike PCs, personal robots are in a position directly to cause physical damage and injury. Thus, norms against suit and expedients to limit liability such as the economic loss doctrine are unlikely to transfer from the PC and consumer software context to that of robotics.

This essay therefore recommends a selective immunity for manufacturers of open robotic platforms for what end users do with these platforms, akin to the immunity enjoyed under federal law by firearms manufacturers and websites. Selective immunity has the potential to preserve the conditions for innovation without compromising incentives for safety. The alternative is to risk being left behind in a key technology by countries with a higher bar to litigation and a serious head start.

Babies Learn from Robots and Vice Versa

The NSF website has an article of interest titled, Babies Learn From Robots While Robots Learn From Babies: Interdisciplinary research combines infant learning and computer science

The study indicates that more than appearance, robots will need to possess sophisticated cognitive abilities such as being able to understand speech and imitate human actions in order to pass the test of human social acceptance. The specific set of movements or gestures a robot should have will depend on a number of factors such as the domain in which it operates--whether the robot is an emergency responder or a child's tutor, for example. Programming for local culture also is important for determining whether humans will interact with it.

"Some skills such as being able to interact through speech and understand a human's intentions are universally applicable to all robots that interact with humans," said Rao. "Other skills will need to be learned on-the-fly, which is one of the reasons why we have focused our robotics research on learning by imitating humans."

IEET Poll: Consensus on Improving Human Morality

In an IEET poll only a minority of respondents believe we will need the assistance of AI to improve human morality.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Singularity Hypothesis

Springer has commissioned an edited volume in The Frontiers Collection (which deals with forefront topics in science and philosophy) about the singularity hypothesis and related questions, such as the intelligence explosion, acceleration, transhumanism, and whole brain emulation. The book shall examine answers to central questions which reformulate the singularity hypothesis as a coherent and falsifiable conjecture, examine its empirical value, and investigate its the most likely consequences, in particular those associated with existential risks.

The purpose of this volume is to report the results of using the standard toolkit of scientific enquiry and analytic philosophy to answer these questions. Chapters will consist of peer-reviewed essays addressing the scientifically literate nonspecialist in a language that is divorced from speculative, apocalyptic, and irrational claims.

Visit The Singularity Hypothesis Blog.

David Chalmers on the Singularity

As a follow-up to his 2009 talk at the Singularity Summit, David Chalmers has written an extended article on the subject. The article is titled, The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis. It is perhaps the most comprehensive reflection by a philosopher to date on the subject. The paper has three sections. The first section covers the arguments for an intelligence explosion. The second section will be of most interest to readers of this blog. In that part of the article Chalmers considers "how to negotiate the singularity: if it is possible that there will be a singularity, how can we maximize the chances of a good outcome?" In the last part he looks at uploading and the place for humans in a post-singularity world.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Call For Papers: Robotics: War and Peace

Special Issue of Philosophy and Technology
Editor-in-Chief: Luciano Floridi
Call for Papers on
Robotics: War and Peace
Guest Editor: John P. Sullins
Closing date for submissions: January 9th, 2011

The topic. Two of the most philosophically interesting aspects of robotics technology are their use in military applications, and as engineered companions and helpers in the home. Military technology is going through a change that is as significant as the advent of gunpowder, or nuclear weapons. Robotics has made great advances in the last decade due mostly to research and development funded by various militaries around the world. The resulting systems stand to change every aspect of war and peacekeeping. At the other end of the spectrum, robots are being engineered to care for the elderly and provide love and companionship for the lonely. This special issue will be devoted to exploring the constellation of philosophical issues that revolve around the roll of robots in war and peace.

The special issue. We are interested in high quality papers that research not only the how of robotics, but also answer the tough questions of why we should, or should not, deploy these systems in our homes and battlefields. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to, the following: How does the growing use of telerobotic weapons systems affect the future of peaceful relations? Should autonomous weapons be deployed to the modern battlefield? Can the values of just war be advanced thorough robotics? Is it feasible or desirable to build peace keeping robots? How do robotic weapons systems change the roll of the human warrior? How can we program warrior virtues into a machine? Do drones contribute to a more or less stable world? What changes need to be made to modern thinking on the rules of war given the rapid growth of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems? How doe drones change the public understanding of war and piece? What values are driving the raise of robotic casualty care systems? How does one engineer ethical rules in robotic weapons and love or companionship in artificial agents? What philosophical values are driving the development of elder care robots? What ethical norms should inform the design of companion robots? Can philosophically interesting relations occur between humans and machines? Is Eros a robot? What are the sexual politics and gender issues involved in building robotic love dolls?

We are particularly interested in papers that not only critique, but suggest ways to move forward on one of the most important issues confronting the philosophy of technology today.

Due Dates. Given the pace at which robotic technology is developing, we have adopted a very tight schedule for this issue. Initial submissions for review must be uploaded to the journal editorial management system by January 9th, 2011 with revised papers uploaded for final review in March 2011. This special issue will be published in July 2011 (3rd issue of Philosophy & Technology).

Submissions will be taken through the journal’s website:

For further information please write to the guest editor: Professor John Sullins

Prosthetic Limbs Interfaced with the Brain

Technology Review reports that DARPA financed prosthetic arms designed by two different manufacturers that have brain interfaces. The prosthetic limbs should be available within 5-10 years. One of the devices was developed by DEKA Research and Development the other by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University.
Limited testing of neural implants in severely paralyzed patients has been underway for the last five years. About five people have been implanted with chips to date, and they have been able to control cursors on a computer screen, drive a wheelchair, and even open and close a gripper on a very simple robotic arm. More extensive testing in monkeys implanted with a cortical chip shows the animals can learn to control a relatively simple prosthetic arm in a useful way, using it to grab and eat a piece of marshmallow.
"The next big step is asking, how many dimensions can you control?" says John Donoghue, a neuroscientist at Brown University who develops brain-computer interfaces. "Reaching out for water and bringing it to the mouth takes about seven degrees of freedom. The whole arm has on order of 25 degrees of freedom." Donoghue's group, which has overseen previous tests of cortical implants in patients, now has two paralyzed volunteers testing the DEKA arm. Researchers at APL have developed a second prosthetic arm with an even greater repertoire of possible movements and have applied for permission to begin human tests. They aim to begin implanting spinal cord injury patients in 2011, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and Caltech.

Read the full story by Emily Singer titled, Robotic Limbs that Plug Into the Brain: Scientists are testing whether brain signals can control sophisticated prosthetic arms.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Robonauts are Coming

robonautNY Times reporting today on NASA/GM project to send humanoid robots to the International Space Station and possibly the moon. The NASA page mentions the ISS mission, but not the moon.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Convicted for Outwitting 'Trading Robots'

A Report Listed on the CNBC Website.

Norwegians Convicted for Outwitting 'Trading Robots'
Financial Times | October 14, 2010 | 05:29 AM EDT

Two Norwegian day traders have been handed suspended prison sentences for market manipulation after outwitting the automated trading system of a big US broker. The two men worked out how the computerized system would react to certain trading patterns – allowing them to influence the price of low-volume stocks.

The case, involving Timber Hill, a unit of US-based Interactive Brokers, comes amid growing scrutiny of automated trading systems after the so-called “flash crash” in May, when a single algorithm triggered a plunge in US stocks. Svend Egil Larsen and Peder Veiby had won admiration from many Norwegians ahead of the court case for their apparent victory for man over machine.

Prosecutors said Mr Larsen and Mr Veiby “gave false and misleading signals about supply, demand and prices” by manipulating several Norwegian stocks through Timber Hill’s online trading platform. Anders Brosveet, lawyer for Mr Veiby, acknowledged that his client had learnt how Timber Hill’s trading algorithm would behave in response to certain trades but denied this amounted to market manipulation. “They had an idea of how the computer would change the prices but that does not make them responsible for what the computer did,” he told the Financial Times. Both men have vowed to appeal against their convictions.

Messages posted on Norwegian internet forums on Wednesday indicated widespread sympathy for the defendants. “It is the trading robots that should be brought to justice when it is them that cause so much wild volatility in the markets,” said one post. Mr Veiby, who made the most trades, was sentenced to 120 days in prison, suspended for two years, and fined NKr165,000 ($28,500). Mr Larsen received a 90-day suspended sentence and a fine of NKr105,000. The fines were about equal to the profits made by each man from the illegal trades. Christian Stenberg, the Norwegian police attorney responsible for the case, said any admiration for the men was misplaced. “This is a new kind of manipulation but it is still at the expense of other investors in the market,” he said. Interactive Brokers declined to comment. Irregular trading patterns were first spotted by the Oslo stock exchange and referred to Norway’s financial regulator.

Dancing with a Star Robot