Friday, January 1, 2016

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise Of The Machines And A Post-Human Future - ERICA, The "Most Beautiful And Intelligent" Android, Leads Japan's Robot Revolution; Meet Knightscope's Crime-Fighting Robots; Gadgets Around Us Will Keep Getting Smarter, Like It Or Not; Presidential Candidate Claims Technology To Transform Us Into IMMORTAL CYBORGS Is Within Reach!

© Colin Anderson / Blend Images / Corbis

January 1, 2016 - TECHNOLOGY - Here are several stories that richly illustrated the staggering pace in the development of robotics and artificial intelligence.


Erica, the 'most beautiful and intelligent' android, leads Japan's robot revolution

Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, with Erica, his latest humanoid robot. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

Erica enjoys the theatre and animated films, would like to visit south-east Asia, and believes her ideal partner is a man with whom she can chat easily.

She is less forthcoming, however, when asked her age. “That’s a slightly rude question … I’d rather not say,” comes the answer. As her embarrassed questioner shifts sideways and struggles to put the conversation on a friendlier footing, Erica turns her head, her eyes following his every move.

It is all rather disconcerting, but if Japan’s new generation of intelligent robots are ever going to rival humans as conversation partners, perhaps that is as it should be.

Erica, who, it turns out, is 23, is the most advanced humanoid to have come out of a collaborative effort between Osaka and Kyoto universities, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR).

At its heart is the group’s leader, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, perhaps best known for creating Geminoid HI-1, an android in his likeness, right down to his trademark black leather jacket and a Beatles mop-top made with his own hair.

Erica, however, looks and sounds far more realistic than Ishiguro’s silicone doppelganger, or his previous human-like robot, Geminoid F. Though she is unable to walk independently, she possesses improved speech and an ability to understand and respond to questions, her every utterance accompanied by uncannily humanlike changes in her facial expression.

Erica, Ishiguro insists, is the “most beautiful and intelligent” android in the world. “The principle of beauty is captured in the average face, so I used images of 30 beautiful women, mixed up their features and used the average for each to design the nose, eyes, and so on,” he says, pacing up and down his office at ATR’s robotics laboratory. “That means she should appeal to everyone.”

She is a more advanced version of Geminoid F, another Ishiguro creation which this year appeared in Sayonara, director Koji Fukada’s cinematic adaptation of a stage production of the same name.The movie, set in rural Japan in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, made Geminoid F the world’s first humanoid film actor, co-starring opposite Bryerly Long. While robots in films are almost as old as cinema itself, Erica did not rely on human actors – think C-3PO – or the motion-capture technology behind, for example, Sonny from I, Robot.


Geminoid HI-1 - a humanoid made in Ishiguro’s likeness - and Geminoid F, the world’s first humanoid actor. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian


Although the day when every household has its own Erica is some way off, the Japanese have demonstrated a formidable acceptance of robots in their everyday lives over the past year.

From April, two branches of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group started employing androids to deal with customer enquiries. Pepper, a humanoid home robot, went on sale to individual consumers in June, with each shipment selling out in under a minute.

This year also saw the return to Earth of Kirobo, a companion robot, from a stay on the International Space Station, during which it became the first robot to hold a conversation with a human in space.

And this summer, a hotel staffed almost entirely by robots – including the receptionists, concierges and cloakroom staff – opened at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park near Nagasaki, albeit with human colleagues on hand to deal with any teething problems.But increasing daily interaction with robots has also thrown up ethical questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered. SoftBank, the company behind Pepper, saw fit to include a clause in its user agreement stating that owners must not perform sexual acts or engage in “other indecent behaviour” with the android.

Ishiguro believes warnings of a dystopian future in which robots are exploited – or themselves become the abusers – are premature. “I don’t think there’s an ethical problem,” he says. “First we have to accept that robots are a part of our society and then develop a market for them. If we don’t manage to do that, then there will be no point in having a conversation about ethics.”

Nomura Research Institute offered a glimpse into the future with a recent report in which it predicted that nearly half of all jobs in Japan could be performed by robots by 2035.

“I think Nomura is on to something,” says Ishiguro. “The Japanese population is expected to fall dramatically over the coming decades, yet people will still expect to enjoy the same standard of living.” That, he believes, is where robots can step in.

In Erica, he senses an opportunity to challenge the common perception of robots as irrevocably alien. As a two-week experiment with android shop assistants at an Osaka department store suggested, people may soon come to trust them more than they do human beings.

“Robots are a mirror for better understanding ourselves,” he says. “We see humanlike qualities in robots and start to think about the true nature of the human heart, about desire, consciousness and intention.”

Coming face to face with Erica can be disconcerting. Her ability to express a range of emotions via dozens of pneumatic actuators embedded beneath her silicone skin – left this human momentarily lost for words when invited by Ishiguro to strike up a conversation in her native Japanese.

For the time being, a flawless chat with Erica must revolve around a certain number of subjects, yet experts believe that free-flowing verbal exchanges could be only a few years away.

For that to happen, developers will have to imbue robots with a more humanlike presence – what the Japanese call sonzaikan – rather than settle for the human, but not quite, qualities that can put people on edge in the presence of a moving, talking android.

By Ishiguro’s reckoning, the more they resemble humans – from their physical appearance to their capacity for natural conversation – the easier it will be for us to overcome our phobias, exploited to dramatic effect by countless sci-fi movies.

“They will have to be able to guess a human’s intentions and desires, then refer to an internal system in order to partly or wholly match those intentions and desires in their response,” he says.

He pauses, before asking how that could alter the dynamics of the robot-human relationship. It is a rhetorical question: “It means,” he says, “that one day, humans and robots will be able to love each other.” - The Guardian.



Meet Knightscope’s Crime-Fighting Robots

The robots might one day rise up and take over, but a Palo Alto startup called Knightscope has developed a fleet of crime-fighting machinery it hopes to keep us safe.

Knightscope’s K5 security bots resemble a mix between R2D2 and a Dalek from Doctor Who – and the system behind these bots is a bit Orwellian. The K5’s have broadcasting and sophisticated monitoring capabilities to keep public spaces in check as they rove through open areas, halls and corridors for suspicious activity.

The units upload what they see to a backend security network using 360-degree high-definition and low-light infrared cameras and a built-in microphone can be used to communicate with passersby. An audio event detection system can also pick up on activities like breaking glass and send an alert to the system as well.

Malls and office buildings are also starting to employ the K5 units as security assistants. Knightscope couldn’t name names, but tells TechCrunch the robots are being used at a number of tech companies and a mall in Silicon Valley at the moment.


 WATCH: Knightscope the Autonomous Data Machines.




CEO Stacey Dean Stephens, a former law enforcement agent, came up with the idea to build a predictive network to prevent crime using robots. He and his co-founder William Li have raised close to $12 million in funding so far from Konica Minolta and others to build on the idea.

While Knightscope doesn’t think its robots will replace mall cops or security guards in the near future, the company does see them as assistants to human security teams. The startup currently rents each five-foot, 300-pound K5 unit out for $6.25 per hour (or less than minimum wage). However, teenagers or others tempted to kick or push the robots over may be shocked to find the robots can talk back to them, capture their behavior on film and alert authorities behind the scenes as well.There’s more to these droids than becoming our future security forces, of course. Stephens invited me to Knightscope HQ for a behind the scenes look at an integrated security network the company is working on. This network is able to monitor and report suspicious activity in real time in public places based on robot observation and could possibly be used to predict and act quickly in tense and violent situations (possibly even mass shootings), according to Stephens.

Take a look at the video at the top for the behind the scenes interview with Stephens and to get a better sense of what these robots are capable of. - Tech Crunch.



Gadgets around us will keep getting smarter, like it or not

In this Feb. 14, 2015 file photo, Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom during the North American International Toy Fair in New York. The toy records and stores
conversations between kids and their dolls to improve speech-recognition technology and help its makers create more relevant automated responses for kids. Parents
concerned about privacy can review and delete those conversations by visiting a website. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Our cars, our homes, our appliances and even our toys: Things around us are going to keep getting smarter. In 2016, we'll entrust even more of our lives and their intimate details to machines - not to mention the companies that run them.

Are we ready for that?

You might, for instance, like the idea of turning on your TV with a spoken command - no more fumbling for the remote! But for that to work, the TV needs to be listening all the time, even when you're not watching. And even when you're discussing something extremely personal, or engaged in some other activity to which you'd rather not invite eavesdroppers.

How much should you worry? Maybe your TV never records any of your casual conversations. Or maybe its manufacturer is recording all that, but just to find ways to make the TV better at understanding what you want it to do. Or maybe it retains everything it hears for some other hidden purpose.

You may never know for sure. At best, you can hope the company keeps its promises on privacy. More important, you have to trust that its computer systems are really secure, or those promises are suddenly worthless. That part is increasingly difficult to guarantee - or believe - as hacking becomes routine.

And here's the chief quandary: Every technological benefit comes with a cost in the form of a threat to privacy. Yet not paying that price has its own cost: an inability to participate in some of technology's greater achievements.

Because smart gadgets thrive on data - data about you and your habits, data about what large numbers of people do or say or appear to want in particular situations - it's difficult not to share pretty much everything with them. Doing otherwise would be like turning off your phone's location services, which disables many of its most useful features.

The consequences aren't restricted to phones and TVs:

- Kids will be able to talk to more toys and get personalized, computer-generated responses. Does the "don't talk to strangers" rule apply if the stranger is the Hello Barbie talking doll or Dino, the dinosaur powered by IBM's Watson artificial-intelligence system?

- Cars will work with GPS technology and sensors in parking meters, roads and home appliances to help route you around traffic and turn on your living-room lights as you approach the driveway. But that can also generate a detailed record of your whereabouts.

- Thermostats from Nest and others will get smarter at conserving energy when you're away. Potential burglars might find that information handy.

- Home security cameras are getting cheaper and more plentiful, but they're sometimes insecure themselves, especially if you set them up clumsily. There's already a website devoted to showing video from cameras with no passwords. Though they are mostly outdoor or business cameras, one was trained on a baby's crib, and another in a living room.

- Wearable health devices will track your heart rate, fitness levels and more - and share achievements with friends and family. But slacking off may carry a heavier cost than those extra holiday pounds, particularly if your insurance company yanks discounts for meeting fitness goals.

- Software from Google and Facebook will get even more refined to help you cut through the noise. That's great if Facebook is showing you posts from friends you already interact the most with, but will a long-lost friend's plea for help go unanswered because you don't see it?

The pending onslaught of privacy trade-offs might seem trivial when it comes to a talking - and listening - Barbie. But maybe it's less so when your phone knows enough about you to remind you it's time to leave for an important interview (if the alternative would be losing a shot at that job) or your smart home can really tell you if you turned off the oven before leaving for an international trip.

"The encroachments on our privacy are often self-inflicted in the sense that we will accept the trade-off one bit at a time," says John Palfrey, co-author of "Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems.

And these trade-offs can be quite subtle. Technological advances typically offer immediate, tangible benefits that, once you've put enough of them together, can indeed revolutionize daily life. Can you imagine living your life without a smartphone? A few years from now, you might goggle at the thought of managing your day without constant advice from Siri or "OK Google."

As for the risks, they'll tend to be diffuse, abstract and often difficult to ascertain even if you're paying attention - and most people won't. In a study released Wednesday, the Pew Research Center says about half of American adults have no confidence that they understand what's being done with their data, and about a third are discouraged by the amount of effort needed to get that understanding.

In short, convenience usually wins. Shiny new things are inherently attractive, and it takes a while for some of us to get uneasy about the extent to which we may be enabling our own surveillance.

Humans have made this bargain with technology for some time. When cameras were invented, legal scholars debated how far you can go snapping pictures of people in public. That's no longer an issue - although the camera on a drone in your backyard is.

Over time, manufacturers will get better at putting in safeguards, and consumers will get better at setting boundaries and taking charge.

For instance, this holiday season's Hello Barbie talking toy won't listen in until your kid presses its belt buckle. Though it does store conversations between kids and their dolls to improve speech-recognition technology, its maker says there's little personal information tied to those conversations - no first or last names, no ages, no gender.

"We don't need that information," said Martin Reddy, co-founder and chief technical officer of ToyTalk, which developed Hello Barbie with Mattel. "We don't want that information. It just makes it more difficult on our end."

Of course, kids might simply tell their toys personal details about themselves. ToyTalk employees who review such conversations to improve the technology are trained to immediately delete anything sensitive, but they aren't charged with actively monitoring stored discussions.

Step One in managing interactions with our newly smart digital companions comes down to simple attentiveness. Parents, for instance, can be actively involved in what their kids are doing - in this case, by taking the time to review and delete conversations from ToyTalk's website.

Step Two might be learning to say no. Many services ask for birth dates, phone numbers and even income levels just because they can - and few people resist. If enough people rise up, companies will stop. There's precedent: Enough people fed up with online ads have turned to ad blockers, such that websites are taking steps to make ads less annoying.

There will always be a trade-off, but the balance can always shift. - AP.


Presidential candidate claims technology to transform us into immortal cyborgs is within reach 

We could all soon witness a day when man and machine combine to make humans immortal. That’s the firm belief of Zoltan Istvan, a third-party presidential candidate who
wants to not only beat Trump at the polls, but also cheat death itself. ‘I’m hoping I will live indefinitely, that’s a major priority,' he told DailyMail.com

We could all soon witness a day when man and machine combine to make humans immortal.

That’s the firm belief of Zoltan Istvan, a third-party presidential candidate who wants to not only beat Trump at the polls, but also cheat death itself.

‘I’m hoping I will live indefinitely, that’s a major priority,’ the 42-year-old tells DailyMail.com. ‘Even if don’t, I would freeze myself or use some other type of mechanism.’

Istvan says one possibility is uploading parts of his personality to a machine so that future generations can reconstruct a realistic avatar that recreates his being.

‘What happens is you take a complete scan of the brain with incredible detail using technology that is already available to some extent,’ he said.

‘Then in 20 or 30 years when the technology arrives, we upload these detailed scans to a machine, which reconfigures the brain circuitry using sophisticated algorithms.’

If all goes well, it may be possible to have an uploaded consciousness that exactly resembles someone’s personality.

From this point, he says, people could transform themselves as an avatar and live in virtual reality.

By then, robotics would be so advanced that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell the difference between who is a real human and who is a machine.

‘In the next 20 years we're going to become cyborgs, we're going to become healthier, and probably a lot more interesting.’

This promise is at the heart of Istvan's presidential campaign, which he is running for the Transhumanist Party.

The movement describes a belief that technology has the power to achieve immortality and physical perfection.

Transhumanists believe we can do this through technologies such as mind uploading, cyborg body augmentation, and genetic manipulation.

While these technologies might sound far-fetched, various companies are already making huge strides in achieving transhumanist goals.

Istvan mentions Crispr gene editing, a controversial technique that was invented three years ago.

Unlike other gene-silencing tools, the Crispr system targets the genome's source material and permanently turns off genes at the DNA level.

It has the potential to treat several thousand inherited disorders such as Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis.

IS THE WORLD HEADING TOWARDS A POST-HUMAN FUTURE?

Artificial intelligence is progressing at a frightening pace leading humanity towards its ultimate destruction.

This is according to British theoretical astrophysicist, Sir Martin Rees, who believes we are facing an 'inorganic post-human era'.

By some estimates, he says, the process will begin in the next 25 years as robots begin to achieve intelligence rivalling that of humans.

Sir Martin, who is one of the world's most eminent astronomers, says that while Earth has existed for 45 million centuries, this century is special.

Over nearly all of Earth's history, threats have come from nature, but from now on, the worst dangers come from us – and specifically artificial intelligence.

He says that by any definition of 'thinking', the amount and intensity that's done by organic human-type brains will, in the far future, be swamped by the intelligence of AI.

'There are chemical and metabolic limits to the size and processing power of organic brains,' wrote Sir Rees, in an opinion piece for the Telegraph.

'Maybe humans are close to these limits already. But there are no such constraints on silicon-based computers.'


In a more far-fetched application, it could even give humans new features such as tails.

That may not be needed, however, if cyborg body augmentation delivers on its promises.

‘I believe within 10 years, a quadriplegic is going to be able to put on an exoskeleton suit, tie it to his skeleton, and run faster than the fastest sprinter on planet Earth,’ he says.

‘In the 20 year window, I'm almost positive that artificial intelligence will be here, that will be such a crisis and potential benefit of human kind.

‘People will electively start taking out one eyeball and putting in a robotic eye. It will allow us to see germs on each other and poisonous gases.’

Some of Istvan’s statements are shocking, and he says this is needed to grab people’s attention.

The California-native said he decided to become a Transhumanist while he was working as a journalist for National Geographic.

While travelling in Vietnam, he almost stood on a land mine. Luckily, his guide saved his life by throwing him to the ground.

‘That’s the moment I decided I would dedicate my life to preventing death for me and my loved ones,’ Istvan explained.

For the past few months, Istvan has been touring the country in a coffin-shaped bus as part of his campaign trail.

Istvan admits he doesn’t think he’ll win the presidency his own, but he is hoping to get Hilary Clinton’s attention and run as vice president – and perhaps raise the profile of transhumanism along the way.

‘When you think about yourself just bear in mind that we’re dealing with a universe that almost 14 billion years old.

‘We’re also dealing with the fact that there is probably 20 billion habitable planets out there. We’ve got to see ourselves in a very long form of evolution happening.

‘Just remember, we’re only now getting started as a species.’ - Daily Mail.





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