AI

Meet Sophia, the mechasexual robot

Monday, 6 June, 2016 0 Comments

Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics has a daring goal: “We aim to bring-to-market the most compelling and engaging humanlike robots with greater-than-human wisdom, that are capable of developing a deep, trusted relationship with people.” The company’s mission is nothing less than “to create a better future for humanity by infusing artificial intelligence with kindness and compassion, achieved through millions of dialogs between our robots and the people whose lives they touch.”

Sophia is a Hanson robot and here she “dialogs” with Joanna Stern and Geoffrey Fowler of the Wall Street Journal. Does she prefer Mac to Windows? Android over iPhone? And, the big one: What does she think of Donald Trump?

Mechasexual: (1) Romantic and/or sexual attraction or behaviour between robots, androids or sentient machines. (2) The desire to have sexual relations with a sentient machine.


Those robot slackers

Friday, 29 April, 2016 1 Comment

The state-run China Daily, which has the largest print circulation of any English-language newspaper in the People’s Republic, has come up with one of the great headlines from the front-lines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “Robots must do more than just playing sports.” They’re slacking already!

What’s intriguing is that the story, however, is that it contains nothing to support the demand asserted in the headline. “Premier Li Keqiang visited a town in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, on Monday, during which he played badminton with a robot,” is how it begins, and the final paragraph is a classic example of socialist-realist reporting:

“Early in 2011, Zhejiang University developed Wu and Kong, two special sporting droids, which could play table tennis with each other and with human players. In that sport, the robots need to recognize the ball more precisely than in playing badminton. Instead of a technological breakthrough, the droid that plays badminton in Chengdu can be better called a good, practical model that uses these technologies.”

For those interested in how robotics and artificial intelligence are viewed in Beijing, China Daily is required reading. It informs us that on Tuesday President Xi Jinping visited the Institute of Advanced Technology in University of Science and Technology of China in Heifei, and was greeted by a pair of human-like robots developed by the institute. “The two life-like robots named ‘Xiao Man’ and ‘Jia Jia’ interacted with Xi when he approached them during the inspection,” we learn. “‘Hello Mr. President. I am Xiao Man. We have been looking forward to your visit,'” Xiao Man said. “‘I’m very happy to see you, dear President, I wish you happiness every day,'” said Jia Jia, who has been dubbed ‘robot goddess’ for her good-looks.”

This is all to the good, but they must do more than just playing sports.

Jia Jia


The burger bot

Monday, 18 April, 2016 0 Comments

Example 1: “Given nature of my work, I’m involved on Burger King® brand digital matters,” writes Steve Greenwood, who shows that one can dispense with the “the”.

Example 2: “Over last few months, my team and I have embarked on an exciting new journey: taking a traditionally offline company and turning it digital.”

Grammar aside, that company is Restaurant Brands International, which owns the Burger King brand. Burger King is big, Facebook is big and Steve Greenwood sees a global synergy in the making: “And one of most dominant existing user behaviors on mobile is with messaging and in particular Facebook Messenger,” he notes. His goal: to build “automated capabilities like bots” on the Messenger platform. Here’s his vision:

“You can use Messenger to book a flight, request an Uber, and later this year, we will begin releasing our bot on Messenger, which will at some point provide a whole new way to order a Whopper and all your other favorite Burger King food — all without leaving Messenger.”

The bots are coming, and they are hungry.


Playground: The next Big Thing, again

Friday, 15 April, 2016 0 Comments

The history of computing over the past four decades shows that a new platform emerges roughly every 12 years or so:

So, what’s next? Artificial intelligence as a service. Andy Rubin has created Playground, which aims to create a manufacturing and development platform for AI-equipped devices. Playground will build a common infrastructure for these, just as Windows did for PCs and Android did for smartphones. It’s all about the device, not the network:

“At this point, that big, big idea may sound familiar. For the past several years, technol­ogists have heralded the dawn of the Internet of Things — networked thermostats, lightbulbs, refrigerators, and other gizmos that talk to one another. Companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung have all built proprietary ecosystems to enable that communication and are racing to convince manufacturers to build products for them. But Rubin says they have it backward; ecosystems arise to support popular products, not the other way around. Play­ground’s first step is to provide startups with the tech­nology to build new devices; the network will emerge later.”

That’s a quote from “Andy Rubin Unleashed Android on the World. Now Watch Him Do The Same With AI,” which appeared in the March issue of Wired. Earlier this week, John Battelle expanded on Jason Tanz’s article in a NewCo piece titled “Android’s Founder Wants To Give The Internet A Body.” Now that house prices in San Francisco have fallen for the first time in four years, one gets the feeling that the search for the Next Big Thing is taking on a new urgency around the Bay Area.

Playground


The bots of F8

Tuesday, 12 April, 2016 0 Comments

Facebook’s F8 developer conference takes place today and tomorrow in San Francisco, and while Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t revealed what he’ll be revealing during the two-day event, there’s been a lot of buzz around bots. Specifically, chatbots within Facebook Messenger. At last year’s F8, Facebook presented its Messenger service, which gives developers access to a platform with more than 900 million users and the word on the street is that today we’ll see Facebook launch new APIs to bring chatbots into Messenger.

Bots are being touted as the new apps and Facebook’s anticipated move is designed to make up on ground lost to Telegram, Kik, WeChat and Slack. They’re all racing ahead with bot research. Google is rumoured to be working on a messaging-based chat bot and Microsoft, which is still recovering from the Tay meltdown, is incorporating the AI technology via Skype in the shape of video bots. Future slogan: “There’s a bot for that!”


#IoTDay today and the glass is filling

Saturday, 9 April, 2016 0 Comments

It’s the fifth annual Internet of Things Day today. In a much-quoted report about the IoT issued in November last year, the Gartner research firm predicted that “6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. In 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day.”

These are astonishing numbers and they reinforce the notion that the internet is ubiquitous. Blake Snow considers the implications of this in The Atlantic in a piece titled What Would a World Without Internet Look Like? He quotes the academic Clay Shirky, who thinks that it’s futile now to separate the net from everyday life: “the Internet has become our civilization,” says Shirky.

This is a philosophy that would be endorsed by Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine. Two years ago, in a post on Medium, he looked at innovation from the viewpoints of 1984 and 2044, and concluded: “Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 2014? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category X and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud.”

Glass There is, however, a different take on the IoT and it was expressed, also in 2014, by Bruce Sterling, the science fiction author, in “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things.” This long-form composition was in the style of his 2005 book Shaping Things. For Sterling, the IoT is an ominous social transformation: omnipresent automation via digital surveillance enabled by wireless broadband. Snippet:

“So, let’s imagine that the reader has a smartphone in one hand, as most people in the Twenty-Teens most definitely tend to. In the other hand, the reader has some ‘Thing’. Let’s say it’s the handle of his old-fashioned domestic vacuum cleaner, which is a relic of yesterday’s standard consumer economy.

As he cheerfully vacuums his home carpet while also checking his Facebook prompts, because the chore of vacuuming is really boring, the reader naturally thinks: ‘Why are these two objects in my two hands living in such separate worlds? In my left hand I have my wonderfully advanced phone with Facebook — that’s the ‘internet’. But in my right hand I have this noisy, old-fashioned, ineffective, analogue ‘thing’! For my own convenience as a customer and consumer, why can’t the ‘internet’ and this ‘thing’ be combined?”

And then it turns pessimistic. Meanwhile, here’s wishing you a Happy #IoTDay! 🙂


comma.ai

Monday, 4 April, 2016 0 Comments

Given its name, one might think that a business titled “comma.ai” is working on a venture that combines punctuation and artificial intelligence. And the story gets more curious when one learns that it’s hiring “Competitors:”

Competitors: People who have done well at math competitions(USAMO, PUTNAM), competition programming(ACM, USACO, codejam, topcoder), science fairs(ISEF, STS), or capture the flag(DEFCON, secuinside, GITS). Those competitions don’t just select for ability, they also select for quickness. We are in a very competitive space.

comma The company slogan is “ghostriding for the masses”, which might be an obscure reference to punctuation, but it’s a nod to transport, in fact, because the brains behind this is George Hotz, a brilliant hacker, who has built his own self-driving car. He’s now forming a team of machine learning experts specializing in hardware, software and data, and Andreessen Horowitz announced today that it is leading a $3.1 million investment in Comma.ai.

Interestingly, it was on this day in 1994 that Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark founded Netscape. Eight years later, it was acquired by AOL in a deal valued at $4.2 billion. Back then, it was all about the web. Today, the key words are mobile, data and AI. On 21 February, the startups investor Chris Dixon wrote a post on Medium titled “What’s Next in Computing?” Snippet:

“I tend to think we are on the cusp of not one but multiple new eras. The ‘peace dividend of the smartphone war’created a Cambrian explosion of new devices, and developments in software, especially AI, will make those devices smart and useful.”

Comma. Punctuation, is? interesting!


A week in AI: Tay goes rogue and HAL revives

Saturday, 26 March, 2016 1 Comment

Less than a day after she joined Twitter, Tay, Microsoft’s colourful Artificial Intelligence bot, was taken down this week for becoming a Hitler-loving, feminist-bashing, racist monster. Machine learning software, clearly, is not ready for prime time.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, at the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, Helen Bear, a computer scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and her colleague Richard Harvey, presented a lip-reading algorithm that improves a computer’s ability to differentiate between sounds — such as p, b and m — that all look similar on lips. Machine learning software that reliably reads lips could be used to solve crime; it could help people who go deaf later in life, and it could also be used for better film dubbing. What’s not to like? Wait, did someone say HAL?

In Stanley Kubrick’s superb 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL 9000 is an artificial general intelligence computer that manages the Discovery One spacecraft mission, but when astronauts Bowman and Poole realize that it has made a mistake they go into a pod to discuss what to do. They turn off the communications systems and test that HAL doesn’t follow their orders to make sure it isn’t listening to them. HAL is watching through the pod window, however, and reads their lips. The results are fatal and some have come to interpret this as a warning about the potential of AI to go rogue. Like Tay did.


AlphaGo was yesterday, Boston Dynamics is today

Friday, 18 March, 2016 0 Comments

How fickle these times are. How quickly glory fades and how rapidly doubt steps into its shoes. For example: Google was being deluged with praise last week after AlphaGo won the DeepMind Challenge against the champion Lee Sedol. Suddenly, the scary concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was, well, less scary and Google got lots of love. How short our attention span is, however.

Yesterday, Bloomberg rattled the rosy future with the headline, “Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat.” The talk on the street was of the inability of Boston Dynamics to produce marketable robots anytime soon. Hence the reported “For Sale” sign. But there’s another aspect to the story, one which relates to the scary AI scenario. Boston Dynamics posted a humanoid robotics video on YouTube last month that made many people uneasy and the mother company, Alphabet, sensing another Google Glass moment, perhaps, began to count the negative publicity cost. Bloomberg quoted from e-mails published on an internal online forum that were visible to all Google employees:

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X. Hohne asked her colleagues to “distance X from this video,” and wrote, “we don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”

After the match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, the scoreline read: Machines, 4, Humanity, 1. With Google’s retreat from robots, some would says it’s now Machines, 4, Humanity, 2. But that will probably change next week. This is a fast-paced game and the job-eating robots are advancing, despite the headlines.