The BBC has again cancelled its Robot Wars TV show.
While the idea of making robots fight each other gladiator style is not one we love (we say please and thank you to our Alexa) the cancellation of any show which puts robots front and centre has to be lamented.
This is extremely sad news coming out of the USA.
A woman has been involved in an accident with a self driving vehicle and she has unfortunately passed away.
Robots are moving further into the workplace with the announcement of ‘Flippy’ the burger making machine arriving in restaurants in the USA.
Watch the BBC report here.
The Turing test is a concept which most people interested in computers and particularly AI have heard of. Named after genius Alan Turing of Bletchley Park fame (the type of fame which comes after your work is declassified many years later) who was finally posthumously pardoned for the non crime which scandalized his career.
Turing set the test for AI two decades before Bill Gates dropped out of college with the ambition to put a PC on every desktop.
The premise of Turing’s test is a simple one. Can a machine pass for human?
Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina turns the test into drama. His skill as a writer is evident when he explains the test in conversation between the two protagonists. The concept of the movie is one which touches on some of the fears of our age. How are those who oversee all of humanity’s internet searching using that data? Are they training AI to spot when a human lies, are they tracking an individual’s searches so they can build an AI body which matches those desires? There is also the underlying issue of once you have built a sentiment AI, is it your property? Should it be free?
Garland wrote the novel The Beach which became the excellent Danny Boyle movie, he also wrote the screenplay for another highly acclaimed Boyle movie 28 Days Later as well as penning Sunshine which Boyle also directed (as an aside, I thought the better tale would have been what happened on the first ship which failed in its mission rather than the second attempt).
The movie is well acted and Garland does get under the skin of his characters, including the AI – which in a movie about the Turing test is vital.
The special effects are at the standard you would expect, but this movie is really about the interaction of characters, human and AI.
(as a further aside Garland ends the film in a place where many would have started a film about AI. And perhaps that film in Garland’s hands would be interesting, but he has done a brave and intellectually challenging thing, making the Turing test into great drama.)
“It’ll murder me in my sleep,” is Frank’s (Frank Langella) first response to receiving a robot from his son in this light-hearted movie directed by Jake Schreier.
Set in the near future The Robot and Frank shows us a world where older people with memory problems can have a 24/7 companion, allowing their family who live far away to know there is some support on hand.
The film explores the parameters of this relationship and the robot tells Frank early on that he meeds a project. With initial attempts to bond being around planting a vegetable patch.
What actually gets them to bond is planning a burglary. Frank explains to the robot teaching it to pick locks is the hobby he needs.
The comparison of robot to human care is telling. Frank’s son and daughter live far away and when Madison (Liv Tyler) does visit, she doesn’t always want to do what Frank wants, while the robot has no other needs or agenda. Even the most giving human is not 100 pet cent altruistic.
There are some interesting insights into legal aspects of robots. And I don’t just mean it doesn’t come preprogrammed to not collude in criminal activity with the human it supports. But Frank cannot switch it off as its owner is his son Hunter (James Marsden) who has said he does not have user rights to do this. The machines memory can also be accessed by law enforcement, although I would assume a warrant was required, but this is not made clear – and the police seemed able to search Frank’s house on circumstancial evidence, with the victim of the crime present, with no mention of a judge considering the issue.
The movie touches on the politics of robots, notably when the machine asks if Madison is against robot labour.
One thing I thought robots who are used in health / social care settings should be programmed to request is a name. We wouldn’t give someone a pet and expect them not to name the animal. Susan Sarandon, the librarian in the film, has a work place robot she has named Mr Darcey. Part of the bonding with the support robot would be selecting a name.
Finding a project and keeping a routine are both vital for older people, particulary those with memory issues, any occupational therapist can tell you. But having someone on hand to help you keep to the project and routine will be priceless.
The film is not perfect, but it does raise a number of issues we will face in the near future in an accessible way.
The Robot and Frank can be purchased from Amazon:
A police force has become the first in the UK to have a dedicated drone unit in its battle against crime.
Devon and Cornwall Police along with the neighbouring Dorset force has launched the new unit in a bid to use innovative ideas to tackle the large, mostly rural, areas they cover. Full details here.
The launch follows a successful trial period. Chief Superintendent Jim Nye, Commander for the Alliance Operations Department, said: “This technology offers a highly cost-effective approach in supporting our officers on the ground in operational policing.
“Drones will aid officers as part of missing person searches; crime scene photography; responding to major road traffic collisions; coastal and woodland searches and to combat wildlife crime.
“Drones can even help police track and monitor suspects during a firearm or terrorist incident, as it will allow officers to gain vital information, quickly, safely, and allow us to respond effectively at the scene.”
This is another example of science fiction becoming science fact as way back in 1978 2000AD’s futuristic lawman Judge Dredd was using ‘spy in the sky’ hover cameras as part of fictional law and order.
Expect lots of police forces across the globe to take on board this method of using remote-controlled robots in their day-to-day policing.
Have you heard of Kuri? She is currently only available in the USA (I don’t live in that territory so can’t yet buy one).
Find out about her here.
She speaks only in beeps, or as I like to think of it, R2D2 speak.
If you have a Kuri please let us know what she is like in the comments – and if she is worth purchasing when she is available in the territory where I live.
During my flash briefing (thanks Alexa) this week I heard of an interesting new development amongst drone technology.
Demonstrating public opinion doesnt’t necessarily reflect the reality of robot development.
Google, or rather its parent company Alphabet, has sold off one of its robot development companies, Boston Dynamics to a Japanese tech conglomerate. Details here.
SoftBank is rumoured to have spent US$100m on the acquisition.
The question surrounding this must be who has made the better deal. Both companies are highly profitable forward thinking companies.
So has Google sold off a company with massive potential or has SoftBank purchased something which will never make a decent profit?
Or perhaps, neither of these things?
Probably Google has a company which doesn’t fit in with its strategy, it is going big on driver-less cars while Boston Dynamics, a spin off from MIT, makes robots which mimic animal movement.
SoftBank sells Pepper, a robot companion who lives in your home. Perhaps Softbank can enhance its product with the knowledge, hardware and quite possibly patents which come with taking this company from Google’s hands?
Outside of the seller and buyer, no one knows for sure what each sees in the deal. But it would be worth keeping an eye on what Pepper develops into in the next few years.