Is it OK to torture a robot?


The ethics of torturing robots is not a new question, but it's becoming more important as robots and AI becomes more lifelike. Author Ted Chiang explored it in his 2010 novella, The Lifecycle of Software Objects. In 1998 I wrote an article for Wired Online called "Virtual Sadism" about people who liked to torture artificial life forms called "norns" (and a movement of norn lovers who tried to stop them). In 1977 Terrel Miedaner wrote a philosophical science fiction novel called The Soul of Anna Klan, which featured a little Roomba like creature that seems to be afraid to "die" when someone tries to crush it with a hammer. (An excerpt from the novel appears in the excellent book, The Mind's I: Fantasies And Reflections On Self & Soul, edited by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett.)

Dylan Love of Inverse revisits the idea of robot abuse in his article for Inverse, "Is it OK to torture a robot?"

Consider the latest robot to be unveiled by Google’s Boston Dynamics. When the collective internet saw a bearded scientist abuse the robot with a hockey stick, weird pangs of empathy went out everywhere. Why do we feel so bad when we watch the robot fall down, we wonder? There’s no soul or force of life to empathize with, and yet: This robot is just trying to lift a box, why does that guy have to bully it?

The Boston Dynamics video reminded me of the inflatable Bozo men, meant to be abused: Read the rest

Meat dog dislikes mechanical dog


From Steve Jurvetson's YouTube channel: "The robot's lifelike movement catches the attention of a real dog. The uncanny uncanine valley. This is the latest quadruped robot from Google's Boston Dynamics group, and the only one outside of the military." Read the rest

Nine key legal cases about robots, and the messy legal future of robotic devices


Robot legal theorist Ryan Calo writes, "I thought you might enjoy my new paper, canvassing decades of American case law involving robots. Courts have had to decide, for instance, whether a robot represents something 'animate,' whether the robot band at Chuckie Cheese 'performs,' and whether a salvage crew 'possesses' a ship wreck by visiting it with a robot sub." Read the rest

Kickstarting "Uprising - A Post-Apocalyptic Robot Comedy"


Ben Hansford writes about his Kickstarter campaign for a short film called "Uprising - A Post-Apocalyptic Robot Comedy,"On the surface it's a comedy - but at its heart it's a story about me (an idiot man-child) becoming a responsible father. It's also a one-man show, with me doing all of the development, production, post, and visual effects on a shoe-string budget. But most importantly, Uprising is my chance to do my film, my way, with my friends and family by my side." Read the rest

Teaching students at a Co-Op City public school to make pollution-fighting robots

NYU associate professor Natalie Jeremijenko brought her Feral Robot Dogs project to twenty-nine of our gifted and special-needs students at New York City's PS 153.

Happy Birthday, Roy Batty

In this case, the cake was certainly a lie. [via] Read the rest

Check out Disney's real wall-climbing robot!

Disney Research Zurich and ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) developed VertiGo, a mobile robot that can roll up walls. It uses two tiltable propellers that keep it rolling and also provide the thrust that keeps it against the wall when moving vertically.

“About why Disney is interested in this area, I am not able to say specifics as you can understand," Disney Research scientist Paul Beardsley told IEEE Spectrum. "But just speaking in general, one can imagine that robots with lighting effects could be useful for entertainment effects or for wall games. This also relates to the question of why the ground-wall transition is useful. If you have to manually place a robot on a wall at the start of a deployment, and manually remove it at the end, then that's taking manpower and it's not flexible. If the robot can make those transitions automatically, then you are a step in the direction of autonomous deployment, and that makes the technology more powerful. We are motivated by making a practical device, so it is real-world feedback and challenges that drive our work.”

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In-mouth dental CNC mill


This Russian video shows a high-tech, terrifying in-mouth CNC mill that uses built-in cameras and a machine controlled drill to precisely mill out rotten parts of teeth while you clench the machine's anchor in your jaw, whimpering around it (usefully, it doubles as a gag). (via JWZ) Read the rest

The first robot in cinema

Houdini MAster of Mystery

Harry Houdini thought he was a superstar, but there was one medium he was unable to conquer: movies.

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Friday eve in SF: "100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area"


Tomorrow evening (11/20), San Francisco's de Young Museum will celebrate "100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area" with an event organized by UC Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg and Alexander Rose, executive director of the Long Now Foundation. The program includes a "Long Conversation," sort of a relay race discussion that I'll be participating in along with ten interesting people whose work is at the intersection of art and technology! Bonus: My friend Kal Spelletich will also bring two of his "praying robots" seen above! Best of all, it's free and starts early (6:30pm)!

Participants include:

Josette Melchor (Grey Area Foundation for the Arts)

Dorothy R. Santos (writer, curator)

Tim Roseborough (artist, musician, former Kimball Artist-in-Residence)

John Markoff (author of Machines of Loving Grace)

Karen Marcelo (dorkbotSF)

David Pescovitz (Boing Boing and Institute for the Future)

Catharine Clark (Catharine Clark Gallery)

Alexander Rose (director, Long Now Foundation)

Pieter Abbeel (professor, Computer Sciences, UC Berkeley)

Terry Winograd (Computer Science department, Stanford Univeristy)

Kal Spelletich (Seemen)

With special VJ Jenny Odell

Ticket Information

Complimentary tickets for the long conversation are distributed beginning at 5:30 pm at the Koret Auditorium entrance. Seating is limited. Tickets are first come, first served.

Programming and general admission to the permanent collection galleries are free of charge during Friday Nights at the de Young. A discounted $15 ticket is required to visit the special exhibition galleries.

Long Conversation (de Young)

“100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area” Long Conversation November 20th 02015 (The Long Now Foundation) Read the rest

Adorable robotic cube jumps to the top of a pile


Robots have a hard time making their way across uneven, unstable terrain. Read the rest

See MIT's odd new jumping cube robots


MIT researchers developed this "Soft Cube Capable of Controllable Continuous Jumping." From IEEE Spectrum:

Inside of the robot there are two motorized rotors, each connected to one end of four flattened loops of spring steel. Activating the rotors causes the spring steel loops that I’m just going to go ahead and call tongues to get pulled through rectangular openings (mouths) into a round cavity inside the body of the robot, compressing them. As the rotors continue to turn, eventually the compressed tongues get pulled all the way around back to the mouths, at which point they spring out, releasing that elastic energy all at once and causing the robot to jump.

"With some light-weight payloads, such as miniature cameras, the robot can be used for exploration tasks," write the researchers. "Moreover, a wireless sensor network can be automatically deployed and reconfigured for outdoor surveillance by using a group of our jumping robots."

Next, they hope to increase the robots' power so the cubes can jump higher and cover more ground.

"MIT's Cube Robot Uses Springy Metal Tongues to Jump" (IEEE Spectrum)

Read the rest

Why is the US military funding robots that play jazz?


The US military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding a new project to develop musical robots that can improvise a solo when playing with human jazz musicians. A collaboration between new media researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and musicians at the University of Arizona, the goal of the MUSICA (Musical Improvising Collaborative Agent) project is to explore non-traditional "languages" for people and computers to interact. From Scientific American:

"There is definitely a desire for more natural kinds of communications with computational systems as they grow in their ability to be intelligent," Ben Grosser, an assistant professor of new media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Live Science. "A lot of us are familiar with various methods of interacting with computers, such as text-based and touch-based interfaces, but language-based interfaces such as Siri or Google Now are extremely limited in their capabilities...."

To develop a machine capable of playing improvisational jazz, the researchers will create a database of jazz solos from a variety of musicians and have computers analyze the recordings to figure out the various processes that come into play when a musician improvises. The researchers will then develop a performance system to analyze the components of human jazz performances, including the beat, pitch, harmony and rhythm. The system will also consider what it has learned about jazz solos to communicate and respond musically in real time....

"Let's face it—trying to develop a system that can play jazz is a crazy idea," Grosser said.

Read the rest

Call for papers: We Robot, a conference on robots, ethics, philosophy and regulation


Michael Froomkin writes, "We Robot is a cool conference that brings together lawyers, engineers, philosophers, robot builders, ethicists, and regulators who are on the front lines of robot theory, design, or development. The 2016 editioni will be in Coral Gables, Florida on April 1-2, 2016 at the University of Miami School of Law. The main conference will be preceded by a day of special workshops on March 31. Full details at Read the rest

Ape Lad's killbot tee


From Ape Lad: "I have a shirt up for sale on Cotton Bureau for a couple weeks. Perfect for the disloyal robot in your life!" Read the rest

Tossable spherical robot transforms into insectoid robot with legs!


Researchers from Japan's Chiba Institute of Technology demonstrated this spherical robot that rolls around until its four legs pop out for scurrying. Like a quadruped robot disguised as a Spheero! From the scientific paper (PDF):

We have proposed and developed a new quadruped walking robot with a spherical shell, called "QRoSS". QRoSS is a transformable robot that can store its legs in the spherical shell. The shell not only absorbs external forces from all directions, but also improves mobile performance because of its round shape. In rescue operations at a disaster site, carrying robots into a site is dangerous for operators because doing so may result in a second accident. If QRoSS is used, instead of carrying robots in, they are thrown in, making the operation safe and easy. We developed QRoSS-I and conducted basic experiments to verify performance which includes landing, rising and walking through a series of movements.

(via IEEE Spectrum)

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Fantastic DIY robot "juggles" more than five balls

Nathan Peterson built this fantastic "juggling" robot that can be programmed with different juggling patterns and handles more than five balls.

"I believe this is the first juggling robot to juggle more than 5 balls," Peterson says. "Yeah it's not toss juggling (into the air), but that would be my next project."

Build notes and images on imgur here.

Here's his full project page with previous designs.

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