A critical take on Pepper’s Parliament Question Time (UK)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/103886629_mediaitem103886628.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Perhaps this Editor should have been less credulous. Somewhere, this Editor failed to notice a mention in the press she picked up that Pepper’s Question Time before the Commons select committee on education had been fully prearranged and scripted. (Thank you and a Big Tip of The Hat to reader Alistair Appleby for pointing that out.) It made Pepper’s appearance a little less than All That Sensational–more like a pre-recording delivered by an automaton prompted through a Middlesex University student’s smartphone.

Mr. Appleby provided a link to a Wired UK article that bears close reading. It sharply critiques not only the presentation, but also the trivialization of what the select committee was really examining, which was the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” of large-scale automation and its disruptive effects on the work of the all-too-near future.

Wired‘s reporter Gian Volpicelli sat in the front row and acidulously observed that Pepper’s appearance was a PR stunt that detracted from the substantive (I think) conversation that preceded it.

“For one hour before Pepper’s triumphal entrance, three experts from UCL, Nesta and Siemens engaged just in that kind of nuanced, data-based, academic conversation with the Committee’s MPs. They studiously tackled issue after unresolved issue, from AI bias, to education reform, to pure epistemology. “What is knowledge? Why should we believe something?,” asked UCL professor Rose Luckin at one point. “What a wonderful philosophical discourse,” committee member William Wragg MP would remark – under the austere blue gaze of Maggie Thatcher’s portrait. “

It does sound like the usual academic drift-off into La La Land, making it a discussion on Big Issues That Make Your Head Hurt because they have a thousand possible outcomes out of H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley, but what is remarkable is that neither BBC News nor the Guardian saw fit to mention the experts’ testimony.

Mr. Volpicelli rightly labels Pepper’s appearance a media stunt that gained all the attention versus a real discussion about the societal effect of future robots. Will it be the Pepper-future of cute machines that can perform few tasks and are non-threatening? Will it be the Atlas-future, the one projected by Boston Dynamics’ humanoid athlete-robot that does parkour and skillfully leaps large boxes, funded by DARPA to be a search and rescue robot? Will the future belong to the weirdly humanoid Frubber-skinned Sophia, who fell into the ‘uncanny valley’ at CES last January [TTA 23 Jan] — the same CES where Pepper ‘fainted’ to a non-working slump (schlump?) More than likely, it will be the robotic arm that flips and bags the fast-food burger that is more of the immediate future–and displacing low-wage workers–than any of the above. We need to have a very serious chat about Pepper’s pointless parliamentary pantomime 

Your robot update for Tuesday

Catching up on our robot friends (?), we have a potpourri of developments which concentrate on either improving health or advancing robotic capabilities:

The ASSAM (Assistants for Safe Mobility) project is not about tea, but assisting older adults with everyday mobility and facilitating autonomy centering on physical mobility assistance for declining walking capabilities, but encouraging physical exercise; cognitive assistance for declining visual and mental capabilities by obstacle recognition and avoidance, and orientation and navigational aid. ASSAM upgrades existing DME (durable medical equipment) via sensor and computing hardware/software packages. It is coordinated by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), and receives funding from the EU’s Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme and the national ministries of Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. ASSAM website, YouTube video  Hat tip to the German Center for Research and Innovation

A robot scientist may make ‘orphan drugs’ an obsolete term. Eve, a robot scientist (more…)

DARPA Robotics Challenge field competition

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Mettle-and-Metal.jpg” thumb_width=”175″ /]This weekend (20-21 Dec) in far-south (and warm) Homestead Raceway, Florida the outdoor ‘field’ round of the DARPA Robotics Challenge [TTA 2 July, 22 June] will take place. Robots will win on their performance in disaster response situations–both man-made and natural. Robots will be measured on eight tasks to measure 1) performance in ‘human’ environments, especially degraded ones; 2) ability to use human tools from small to large and 3) usable by those skilled in disaster response who aren’t robotics experts. From the article, the observers will be ‘watching paint dry’ as robots currently perform at the level of a one-year-old, at best moving rather slowly as 30 minutes is allowed for each task, at worst falling a lot. But it’s understood that this establishes a Robot Baseline. Wonder if the researchers and brass will be taking bets on Chiron, Kaist, Valkerie, SCHAFT, THOR, and Robosimian. Final will be in 2014. Mettle and Metal (Armed With Science) Attendance is free and public–and also livestreamed. Information at the Robotics Challenge website.

Making robotics news is Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics, designer of one of the competitors, Atlas.  Atlas’ well-publicized stable mates largely mimic animals–BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat, Sand Flea–along with Atlas’ older human-form brother, PETMAN. NBC News wonders what Google’s intense and somewhat covert interest in robotics (nary a peep heard lately from past purchases Meka and Redwood Robotics) really means, but hasn’t answers. Why does search giant want to be ‘BigDog’ of automation?