O meu amigo Pedro gosta de jazz. E também gosta muito de escrever.
Ora aqui há uns tempos ele lembrou-se que seria interessante conjugar esses dois gostos e materializou a ideia no blog My Jazz Festival, onde ele e alguns amigos conversam sobre os seus artistas/temas/discos favoritos.
Foi com muito prazer que aceitei o convite do Pedro para passar por lá de vez em quando e falar sobre algumas coisas de que gosto e hoje publiquei o meu primeiro artigo.
Se gostam de jazz, seja lá ele de que tipo for, passem por lá, acrescentem às vossas listas de leitura e deliciem-se com o festival do Pedro e dos amigos.
Space, the last frontier.
It seems we are about to start a new chapter on space exploration, with the process of america opening it up to private initiative clipping along.
This week we saw a major milestone being achieved when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched into space, carrying an unmaned Dragon 9 capsule—the spaceship proper—into a test flight and rendez-vous with the International Space station.
The mission will last for 10 days, with multiple stages occurring before success can be declared, but up until now all things are going well.
This mission is basically a test for what amounts to a space-trucking (pun intended) contract.
Now granted, there’s not much glamour in hauling cargo (and eventually people) to and from the ISS, but this is just the first part of what SpaceX promises will be a long and successful foray into space. After all, Elon Musk seemed to be serious when he famously said he is planing on retiring to Mars…
Meanwhile, down here on earth…
Trying to solve a slightly less challenging problem, Lit Motors is trying to build a special kind of motorcycle-car hybrid that can stand upright by itself and correct for whatever external factors try to push it into falling over—the C-1.
They have a partial prototype that shows their gyroscopically stabilized solution works as advertised, but I think there is no evidence of a full-on prototype available. You can watch the pitch, along with a rather short clip of the existing prototype here.
And as for gadgety stuff, prepare for the arrival of the Leap Motion’s The Leap.
Apparently this little piece of tech outperforms Microsoft Kinect in many important features, while being smaller and substantially cheaper.
Check out some videos demoing the device and notice it’s definition and responsiveness.
Evolution, that’s the name of the game here. The Kinect is amazing, but this is clearly one step ahead.
I’ve talked about assistive technology before, regarding robotic legs. This time I’ll mention a slightly trickier proposition: a neural interface system that is definitely intrusive (you have to have an electrode array surgically inserted into your brain), but which allows for the controlling of equipments such as robotic arms with nothing but the person’s conscious thoughts. The most notable part of this system is that it is not a simple lab prototype, it is already in clinical trials. You can watch a real-life demo of it here.
Our friends, the flying robots are coming along nicely, now getting free from the outer motion tracking mechanisms, and starting to do autonomous flight using only their in-board sensors and processing hardware. Some of them even do it rather aggressively.
The Opportunity Rover has woken up after the Martian winter and got back to work. Just to recap it’s history a little bit, Opportunity has landed on Mars on January 2004 and was supposed to perform a 90 day mission. It is now on it’s 8th year of service, with over 35Kms driven on the Mars surface. Talk about “above and beyond the call of duty”!
Another subject I’ve alluded to before is the legalization of self-driving cars in Nevada, USA. Well, the first license has been issued to Google and road-tests (of the legal kind) have probably already begun. Watch the seminal video of a blind man “driving” one of these cars here. A host of other entities (notably car makers) is also entering the fray and other states in the USA have also made known they are working on legalizing these kinds of vehicles, so this is a space where exciting things are bound to happen in the near future.
DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the United States Department of Defense—is one of the entities which has done the most for the advancement of technology in general and robotics in particular (at least as far as publicly visible actions are concerned).
It has a long standing tradition of putting forth challenges to the community regarding some areas where it thinks some stimulus is needed to push our knowledge and capabilities further.
One good example of such challenges was the famous DARPA Grand Challenge, which consisted of a long distance competition for fully autonomous (driverless) cars, along desert roads.
The first event was held on 2004 and none of the competing robots managed to finish it.
Then, in the second event held in 2005, five vehicles (out of twenty three) completed the course.
Driverless cars are something that we’ve been hearing a lot about these days, with some of the existing prototypes having driven hundreds of thousands of miles in real-world roads and some states in the USA even handing out licenses for such robots to drive on their roads, but if we think back to 2004, when the first challenge was held, it was nothing short of miraculous for any car to drive even 100 meters without assistance, let alone the full 240km of the race.
And yet, just one year after, Stanford’s University’s Stanley did just that and did it without a hitch.
Later, in 2007, DARPA ran another competition—the Urban Challenge—where the cars where also expected to drive autonomously for a long distance, under time constraints, but this time the challenge was run on a closed “urban area-style” course, where the cars encountered other traffic (both robotic and human) and had to obey all traffic rules and regulations while navigating their assigned course.
Even if it doesn’t look like it, this was a significantly tougher challenge for the robots and in the end six team finished the course successfully (out of eleven finalists).
Just as an aside, the practice of posing grand challenges to the community is not an exclusive of DARPA. I cannot help but briefly mention, by way of example, the X PRIZE Foundation’s space initiatives which gave us the first private space flight five years ago with it’s Ansari X Prize and which is currently, together with Google, trying to send a private robot to explore the moon.
Getting back on track, the robotic community has been abuzz in the last few weeks about a new challenge coming from DARPA: the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
This time, the competition revolves around the creation and/or programming of (preferably humanoid) robots to operate in search-and-rescue types of environments.
There will be different “tracks” that teams can compete on, with some of them expected to develop both the hardware and the software and others being given the robots and asked to develop “just” the software .
To give you a taste of what the challenge entails, the robots will be expected to:
All of these tasks must be accomplished by the robots in semi-autonomous mode, which means there will be some supervision of it’s actions, but that supervision must be light, performed by non-expert operators and communication links between the robot and the operator will be spotty.
This is a rather tall order given the current state of robotics, but then that’s the whole point of these challenges: to push the boundaries of what we can achieve in a very significant way.
If you want to know more about this fascinating challenge, I would point you towards the Broad Agency Announcement (the official documentation) and IEEE Spectrum’s interview with Dr. Gill Pratt (the creator of the challenge).
Time flies when you’re learning fun stuff.
Having had a blast recalling what little I’d learned about AI, years ago in university, with Thrun’s and Norvig’s “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” and also exploring the—until then—unknown science of Machine Learning with Ng’s introductory course a few months ago, I’ve now been expanding my knowledge about robotics, specifically self-driving cars (but learning lots of generally applicable stuff on the way) with Udacity’s CS373—Programming a Robotic Car (again by Sebastian Thrun).
The CS373 course is just about to finish and I now know more than enough to tackle a lot of projects I’ve dreamed up in my mind and also to finally get some other projects I’ve already tried to implement to fully work. Things get a lot easier when you know the maths and the algorithms, as opposed to simply throwing guesses at the problems.
What I lack is the tools, workspace and inclination to delve deep into the hardware side of things, but luckily I have friends who are more of the hardware and tinkering persuasion and so the potential for collaboration is high.
On a slightly different note, I’m also going through Coursera’s Game Theory class (by Jackson and Shoham), just because it seems really interesting and maths is kind of fun.
But getting back to the cool tech mentioned in the title of the post, this week we have…
MIT Media Labs have been busy developing a camera that can see around corners. There’s a video that explains the process in simple terms which is actually quite interesting to watch.
It uses lazers! So it’s cool, right?
Also in the “I can see you!” department, Face.com has some rather nifty software that is really good at not only detecting faces and the mood of the person, but now also at guestimating the person’s age.
And then it gets creepy fast, when Hitachi Kokusai Electric starts selling a system that is capable of analysing 36 million images per second to detect and match people’s faces, with quite a bit of flexibility regarding the person’s pose and the size of the picture.
The fact that the system seems to be extremely well thought out and allows you to immediately jump into the relevant point in the video stream being analyzed and also to search multiple possible matches for the same person throughout the timeline can be viewed as a bit disturbing.
Watch the demonstration video for a glimpse of what it can do.
By now we should be more than aware that privacy is dead but this still creeps me out a little.
Ever worried about our health, the helpful robots are now ready to try to prove their mettle on the Hospital floor.
Of course this is early days and this first trial will mostly let the developers of the robot know how much and in what ways it gets in the way of the doctors, but it is a necessary step towards taking the drudgery out of the hands of junior doctors, allowing them to focus on more important aspects of their development as professionals.
And now for the really cool and shinny piece of tech of the week: the Mighty morphing hexapod bot is back!
This spheric hexapod has been making the rounds for some time now and it has been learning and getting new abilities at a nice pace, until it reached what you can watch in this video.
That doesn’t mean that the development is done though, after all, there’s so much potencial with this lovely toy!
The robots, they are a-coming!
I’ve been beating the flying-robots-drum quite a bit lately, because that’s where much of the current research is happening (also because these articles are entitled “Assorted Cool Technology”) and because things have been evolving at a rapid pace in that area.
A lot of the most recent videos we’ve been seeing are in fact produced by the very same group and quite recently they’ve been incorporated into a Ted Talk presentation by Vijay Kumar which you should definitely check out. More info on the whole issue can be read in this article from the Singularity Hub.
Also, on the subject of flying things, these beauties are going to be available to us, mere mortals, soon.
Back on the ground, Boston Dynamic continues to impress us with legged robots that can out-do us in many ways. Be afraid, they can now out-run us in the long run. Read more about it at the ieee spectrum.
So if we’re inexorably going to be left in the dust, what can we do?
Nothing really, but at the very least we can look cool while wearing our tech-based life-enhancers. As is the case of those who wear these glasses to record what happens around them in first-person POV. The demo video and the specs are quite impressive.
One aspect that is often associated with the coming of the Singularity is that it will enable us to live forever (or at least for as long as we want to). This may or may not be desirable, but setting aside the discussion about whether we will want to live forever or even if we can cope with such a thing, at least the notion of substantially extending our current lifespan is very appealing to most people right now.
In fact, and regardless of the Singularity, for quite some time now we’ve been studying the ageing process in animals, with an especially keen eye towards the human species, in the hopes of being able to substantially delay said process or even to revert it and make it possible to rejuvenesce an ageing body into a younger, healthier one.
As it turns out, our bodies appear to have a definite expiry date after which, no matter how sound our mind is, they’ll simply shut down, independently of our efforts to keep them healthy. Assuming the following article accurately reflects the state-of-the-art of our knowledge about human ageing, trying to keep this body around for much more than a century is a losing proposition.
In “Your Body Wasn’t Built To Last: A Lesson From Human Mortality Rates” the author explains how
By looking at theories of human mortality that are clearly wrong, we can deduce that our fast-rising mortality is not the result of a dangerous environment, but of a body that has a built-in expiration date.
Now, even if we can’t live forever in our own bodies, we’ll still be inside them for quite some time, as the expected life span of the average human being increases (whether or not we do hit a biological limit). So what can we do to be better able to cope, then?
Well, some people are thinking about ways to enhance the human body, in order to make it more adapted to our living conditions here on earth. This could be taken to the natural conclusion in the form of a process of gradually replacing body parts that become defective. This process may have it’s appeal for some but it is also a controversial issue with it’s fair share of hot buttons (“When do I stop being a person and become a machine?”, “Am I less of a person as a Cyborg?”, “Am I the same person I was when I began the process?”, “And if not, when did I become a different person?” and so on and so forth…)
Others are working on ways to preserve and even enhance our brain’s abilities but only at a very small, personal level (no big society-scale jump here).
Personally I don’t put much stock in the possibility of making our current frail shells last forever, preferring to bank on another staple of the Singularity concept, which is the idea that after it comes to pass, we’ll very soon be able to codify our minds (which is not the same as our brains exactly, but does include them) in such a way that will allow us tu upload them to a different container, be it a computer, a computer network (living in the clouds, anyone?) or a new, physical, engineered body. And some container that will be, can you imagine our ability to design such things by then?
Now the fun part comes when we try to ponder such a possibility under the light of our current moral standards. If the concept of incremental body enhancements through technology is a controversial one, what can be said about the concept of living as a bodiless entity, or about the concept of “self” when your mind can be uploaded and, thus, gasp copied!
Fun stuff indeed.
The universal jamming gripper is a piece of tech that has been demoed some time ago, which allows for picking up somewhat more intricately designed objects with much care and precision. It basically boils down to a sort of balloon, filled with small particles (think grains of sand or the like) which is pushed gently against the object you wish to pick up, so that it moulds to the outer shape of that object. After that, the air gets sucked out of the balloon, thus making the shape it is in permanent. At this point, the object is sort of “embedded” into the griper and can be moved around without causing it any harm. You can watch a video of the prototype to get a better sense of what I’m trying to describe.
So that’s cool and all, but at that stage the gripper prototype was still not being used to it’s full potential. But of course, the good folks at Cornell University and the University of Chicago did not stop there and very recently I’ve come across a much more enticing demonstration of the gripper’s new capabilities: by using positive pressure, as well as vacuum-induced negative pressure, it is now able to shoot some hoops and throw some darts. Now that’s progress!
I’ve blogged about another cool application of technology over at OneOverZero: robotic legs. This is a stripped-down version of the full exoskeleton that’s being developed for the military, but for this to have become an actual product for “regular people” is, I think, very important. Technology can improve our lives in myriad ways, but we have to fight our basic urge to resist it and this, because of the “look & feel” of the legs, is probably going to be a very important step towards full acceptance of bionic technologies in our everyday lives.
All hail the cyborg!
By a funny coincidence, just as I started reading the “The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century” I also started to delve into some more evolved melodies, twentieth century style, in music class.
So as of now, the playlist of favourites for “the beginning of the end of harmony and start of atonality” is something along the lines of Debussy’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune”, “Des pas sur la neige” and “Le fille aux cheveux de lin” and Satie’s “Le Fils des Etoiles (Preludes)”.
Small list so far, but it will grow.
Also in music-related stuff, I’ve been making public the sketches of songs I’ve been creating (very irregularly) to contribute to the twentieth project.
The songs are over at SoundCloud and and as I said, they’re mere sketches as they are though of, written, played, recorded and mixed in less than 4 hours. Yes, I still have that pesky day job to account for the rest of the day.
On a final note, according to last.fm, lately has been mostly about Sufjan Stevens (whose “Come On Feel The Illinoise!” album made a great soundtrack to the latest skiing season, by the way), John Grant, Louis Armstrong, The Portico Quartet and Jasper Steverlinck.
That feels about right.
The Cylons are taking to the streets! Well, not literally, but their forebearers certainly are.
As I’ve written about at the OneOverZero blog, robotic, self-driving cars are about to be allowed to legally drive the streets of Nevada.
This is an important step (albeit a very early one) on the way to full parity between human-driven and self-driving automotive vehicles on the public roads. Something that will inevitably happen and which can be a really big step for humanity in many ways (not the least of which are the reduction in the number of road accidents and of time wasted while on transit).
Related to the previous topic, the Udacity on-line university has opened up it’s first courses, with one in particular that I have my eye on: “Artificial Intelligence for Robotics: CS 373: Programming a Robotic Car”.
From what I’ve been able to gather about it, the course is a natural continuation to Stanford-based Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, which I took in the fall and it picks up neatly where it left off, with localization and particle filtering in full swing.
I find this course very exciting, not necessarily for the automobile component of it, but more for the hands-on approach it seems to take to the mobile robot orientation and guidance issues.
What still remains to be seen is if I can find the time to follow along this course. When I took the ai-class and ml-class courses, last fall, I got really, really strained for time…
Other bits of interesting tech on the radar (because, you know, I’m going to quit my job and start taking some speeds to get a full 23h a day of free time) are:
Carrying on with the robotics trend, I’ve been looking a bit more carefully at ROS and I’m finding it to be a really nice development platform for me. The way it is designed to be so easily distributed makes my plans for a robot-house a natural fit for it. The integration with the rather inexpensive Arduino platform is also a plus. But more on that later, when I have something to show for it (if I ever do).
There is a study that came out a while ago, about the way children envision the integration of robots in school and which, I think, ultimately reflects the way they envision their integration on our society as a whole. I would recommend to everyone interested to go download the pdf file with the findings, as it contains some interesting insights.
Some of the findings clearly show how children tend to conceive of robots as special (as in very gifted) helpers and even as friends and protectors. In fact they go all the way towards humanizing them and expecting them to be part of their lives in a very close way. Robots, for them, wouldn’t be mere machines, but instead they would be their companions. Just like their friends, only sometimes more dependable and trustworthy.
And those expectations might just be the guidance we need in our current and future development efforts with these entities. Late last year, when I applied for the developer documentation package of the NAO robot, I was asked to describe a cool application for it and what I came up with at that moment was a kind of “guardian angel” robot for toddlers that while being a cute and interesting toy for them (have you seen the robot? it’s actually a beautiful piece of hardware) would also watch over them, trying to avoid dangerous situations if possible and alerting adults whenever necessary. This was a mere coincidence as I hadn’t known about this study by then, but it seems I was thinking along the right lines there. :-)
Anyway, it’s like Carlo Ratti says in the latest episode of the Robots Podcast, the best robots are the ones that do not look like robots, but the ones that become seamlessly integrated with us and our environment. We may still be a long way off, but that seems like a nice goal to have in mind.
This is another cross-post from the One Over Zero blog where I write about (loosely) singularity-related topics.
This week’s article is entitled ‘A few notes on “Singularity and Its Discontents”’ and it is developed enough that I think warrants it’s cross-posting here.
My good friend Benjamim tweeted a link this week that prompted me to get back onto the singularity topic itself. The tweet pointed to an article entitled “The Singularity and Its Discontents” which presents a summary of what I interpret as being objections to the notion of the singularity.
First off we read about Jaron Lanier’s opinion that many singulitarians’ discourses feel uncomfortably close to religious indoctrination. Then he goes on to point out that the singularity is used mainly as a way to excuse people from making decisions and taking responsibility for their own lives and future.
Then we learn about Paul Root Wolpe’s objection to the concept of the singularity as a single event that suddenly transforms our lives forever. If I understand his arguments, he basically asserts that we’ve often been promised such radically transformational events before and they’ve often failed to materialize as such and, instead, whatever major disruptive events and advancements we’ve experienced have mostly brought us new unknowns and the possibility of further major changes in the future.
The author of the article, Jason Gots, then goes on to opine that
In reality, the future may be much closer in some respects to William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer, in which biotechnology and artificial intelligence solve some of our problems, only to introduce a myriad of new ones.
Now, before I go any further, I must say I do hope I’m not misrepresenting any of the ideas or positions presented in the article and if I am, it is my mistake and I’ll correct it if it is pointed out to me.
I must say I find Jason Gots’ opinion to be rather according to my own view of things. In fact I don’t see any of the arguments posed by the so called “discontents” as arguments against the notion of the singularity itself. Instead they feel to me more like a list of important and rather valid points about our lives in the present and the way we think about progress and science in general.
I do agree that many self-proclaimed singulitarians sound and act more like bogus religious cult leaders than like rational, scientific-minded people. I also agree that no kind of technological advancement should ever excuse us from deciding what we want for ourselves (or what we should want for ourselves) at any given point and especially they should never excuse us from going after what we want or need. Finally, I too don’t think the singularity will happen as a big bang kind of event, changing everything in a split-second. But I do think it will change everything forever. And change will be fast. Too fast for most of us to follow. But then, wasn’t it always like that? Didn’t people also complain, when the printing press was invented, that they were being overloaded with information, now that all those newfangled books were being automatically printed left and right? And they probably were being overloaded. People at that age just couldn’t cope. But then the human brain kept evolving and, most importantly, our methods evolved to be able to deal with the new complexity our world had just gained.
And so it went with many other advances in human civilization. Right now we (again) feel overwhelmed by so much information being thrown at us from all around. Many (maybe most) of us just can’t cope. And when the singularity rolls around, people on our level of intelligence will be left in the dust. But our descendants may learn to cope, they will most likely be equipped with the tools necessary for the job (yes, brain implants, bionic sensors and more) and there’s a real possibility that instead of destroying mankind, the singularity will actually elevate it to a whole new level of existence. Maybe.
In short, I actually do agree with most of what is said and still, I don’t find evidence against the singularity itself or the possibility of it happening. Just some discontentment with humans, mostly as they stand now.
I’ve been wanting to get a place where I can post simple links, accompanied by some small observations about random cool stuff and quite frankly I think this blog is the right place to do it.
There is the OneOverZero blog, where I write about singularity-related topics, but I wanted to write about (or rather, link to) more than just singularity-related stuff. I want to start collecting links to things that are just cool to look at. And that’s why I’ve decided to try and keep a kind of journal of those things right here.
Lots of good intentions, let’s see how long I can keep it up.
A few weeks ago the robots dreams blog posted an article about an autonomous quad copter demonstration video, with a few links to relevant sources that really got my will to build one of these things going. Luckily (?) for me I am fully aware of just how many side projects I’ve gotten myself into lately and how much I don’t have time for something like this. For now. :-)
But anyway, do watch this video of ongoing riots, captured by a Polish quad builder.
Also regarding quad copters (aren’t they just the coolest things?), I’ve posted a link at the OneOverZero blog regarding a quad rotor swarm demonstration video. My views about it are explained on the post and, really, need not be repeated here, just watch it and you’ll get what the excitement is all about.
If there’s one topic of technology I’ve always been in love with it has to be robots. And lately I’ve been paying a little more attention to it on a few fronts, from building a few tentative arduino-based experiments, to getting back to studying and playing around with AI.
So when I got word of the new NAO, the humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics (which you have to love, if only just for their name) I was quick to register for access to the developers kit and the community resources.
Unfortunately that’s about as far as I will go regarding this beautiful piece of tech, because the price of the robot, even for individual developers, is way out of what I can reasonably justify before myself for a hobby.
Lastly, I’ve finally gotten around to watching some of the videos from 2011’s Google IO conference and I was particularly struck by the Cloud Robotics session. First off, the quick presentation they give of ROS is very well structured and useful. I’d never delved into it before, but just from that talk I was surprised to find out that ROS is, at it’s heart, a “simple” message routing system. The way that it allows for the whole robot to be a highly-distributed system is very interesting. And then, the integration with android seems to be getting in place really well.
I am aware of a few other initiatives of taking your robots to the cloud, but this seems to be one with a real future. As long as Google keeps interested in it and doesn’t forget about it as it’s done with so many other projects.
Descobri muito recentemente, completamente por acaso, uma pérola que quero partilhar.
Embora não consiga devotar o tempo que gostaria a concertos e actividades musicais semelhantes (e quem é que consegue?), faço questão de pelo menos me manter minimamente informado do que vai acontecendo à minha volta, por forma a evitar falhar aqueles concertos “imperdíveis”. Naturalmente também tento descobrir música nova interessante (nova para mim, bem ententido), mas essa parte é, claro está, muito mais dificil.
Uma das minhas fontes de informação nesta área é a mailing list da Gulbenkian Música, que me dá a conhecer regularmente a programação mensal desta entidade.
Essa mailing list é-me muito útil, mas tem um senão: na programação da Gulbenkian Música são incluídos muitos autores/peças/intérpretes/orquestras/etc que eu não conheço. O que, à partida, seria uma coisa óptima, porque me daria a possibilidade de os vir a conhecer, se eu tivesse o tempo necessário, quando recebo o mail, para ir investigar cada um dos intérpretes ou obras lá incluídos e seleccionar os que me parecem mais interessantes. Claro que na realidade eu raramente consigo fazer esta pesquisa e acabo invariavelmente por perder belissimas oportunidades de vir a conhecer música muito boa.
E é aqui que entra a minha recente descoberta dos podcasts da Gulbenkian Música. Em particular do podcast “Grande Auditório”.
Neste podcast semanal, é apresentado o programa musical da semana seguinte do grande auditório da Fundação Gulbenkian. Nele são referidos não só os concertos, mas também outras actividades relacionadas, como sejam filmes passados nesse espaço.
Mas, mais importante do que listar as actividades da semana, no podcast são apresentados os intérpretes e compositores dos concertos, os realizadores dos filmes e por aí fora, e são passadas (na íntegra) peças que serão interpretadas nos concertos ou que fazem parte das bandas sonoras dos filmes.
Ou seja, toda a pesquisa que eu adoraria fazer semanalmente está condensada neste podcast.
Acho que esta é uma ideia brilhante e que é muito bem executada, resultando numa utilização excelente do meio podcast.
É com muito gosto que digo à Gulbenkian Música (e em particular à equipa Jorge Rodrigues e Tiago Jónatas) um grande “Bravo!” e obrigado.
This is a cross-post from another blog—OneOverZero—where I write (somewhat infrequently) about Singularity topics in general.
In it I mostly link to other interesting articles, and I want to keep some of my posts for future reference, so I’ll be copying them over to this site.
Before I get to the latest post, here are a few of the interesting posts/links I wrote about there:
And now, for the cross-post.
Today we’re coming back to the topic of ethics and morality.
It is not a commonly accepted fact that there is a real need for serious thought and debate over the subject of “synthetic” moral agents. Many people and institutions still regard this issue as something of an esoteric topic that the techies have dreamed up in their wildest dreams and not something that will ever impact society at large, at least not for the foreseeable future.
Still, there are a number of people who take this issue very seriously indeed and today we point you to an article about it: The Future of Moral Machines. In it the author, a self professed Singularity-sceptic (and co-author of a book on this very subject), makes the point that regardless of the Singularity issue, the fact remains that robots moving around in the physical space and interacting with humans are something that will inevitably become more and more common and that many of these machines will necessarily be making operational decisions that will impact humans in very serious (and potentially very dangerous) ways. It will, therefore, be necessary for us to provide these machines with ways to evaluate their actions in light of doing “good” or “bad” by us humans.
The machines, the article argues, will be autonomous, not in a human sense (they will not be self-aware or have freedom of will-in fact, they will have no will whatsoever), but they will be autonomous in the operational sense. This “engineers’ autonomy” will make for the absolute necessity of some kind of “functional morality” that tries to “make autonomous agents better at adjusting their actions to human norms”.
The article is somewhat long, but the viewpoints and arguments are very compelling and I urge you to read it in full. I just can’t resist quoting one final passage that I found particularly inspiring:
The different kinds of rigor provided by philosophers and engineers are both needed to inform the construction of machines that, when embedded in well-designed systems of human-machine interaction, produce morally reasonable decisions even in situations where Asimov’s laws would produce deadlock.
While I do not share the author’s skepticism towards the Singularity, I find the notion of a “functional morality” to be a very interesting and, really, very important one. Here is a topic into which we can (and I think we should) make headway today, regardless of what the future brings, because Singularity or no Singularity, one thing is certain (as the author posits): short of a cataclysmic event at a global scale, robots will be all around, and so we’d better make sure they understand our ways, our needs and our frailties so that they are able to deal with us without causing us harm. Wether they end up being conscious entities, or mere mindless tools, it behoves us, as their creators, to provide them with that knowledge.