Most of us have seen employees of Boston Dynamics kicking their robots, and many of us instinctively react with horror. More recently I’ve watched my own robots being petted, applauded for their achievements, and yes, even kicked.
Why do people react the way they do when mechanical creations are treated as if they were people, pets, or worse? There are some very interesting things to learn about ourselves when considering the treatment of robots as subhuman. But it’s equally interesting to consider the ramifications of treating them as human.
The Boston Dynamics Syndrome
Atlas being pushed
Spot being kicked
Shown here are two snapshots of Boston Dynamics robots taken from their videos about Spot and Atlas. Why do scenes like this create the empathic reactions they do? Two possible reasons come to mind. One is that the we anthropomorphize the human-shaped one, meaning we think of it as human. That’s easy to do since not only is it human-shaped but the video shows it carrying a box using human-like movements. The second snapshot perhaps evokes the strongest reactions in anyone who owns a dog, though its similarity to any four-legged animal will usually do.
Is it wrong for Boston Dynamics, or anyone else, to treat robots in this way? Being an electronic and mechanical wizard, you might have an emotional reaction and then catch yourself with the reminder that these machines aren’t conscious and don’t feel emotional pain. But it may be wrong for one very good reason.
Continue reading “Our Reactions To The Treatment Of Robots”
Some of the biggest names in technology have offered their help in rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. The newest name on the list? The X division of Alphabet, who want to help fill the huge communications gap using Project Loon, their high-altitude balloon network. It looks like X is going to get their wish, as they have just been granted license from the FCC to deploy LTE cell coverage to both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The plan is to launch 30 balloons that will act as a network of floating cell towers to radiate an LTE signal originating from the ground. This coverage would be a great boon to a devastated communications infrastructure, but it won’t be a cakewalk to implement. Some handsets of both major persuasions will require a temporary over-the-air update before they can use Project Loon’s network. For phones that can’t operate on Band 8, it won’t work at all. Even so, it’s a great start.
Now you would think that an emergency communications restoration plan like this would be met by all parties with open arms and a circle of pats on the back, but this solution requires a lot of cooperation. One of the major hurdles was to secure spectrum rights from some if not all of the incumbent wireless carriers. Miraculously, eight of them have agreed to hand over their bandwidth. Another issue is that the FCC license is only good for six months, although they would probably entertain an extension given the circumstances. Finally, the dual ownership of the Virgin Islands makes the situation even more complicated, as X must agree not to infringe upon the wireless coverage footprint of the British Virgin Islands.
Positive reinforcement is the process of getting someone to understand their actions result in a reward. Children get a sweet treat when they pick up all their toys and older ones might get some cash for mowing the lawn. From the perspective of the treat-giver, this is like turning treats into work. A Dutch startup wants to teach the crow population to pick up cigarette butts in exchange for bird treats.
The whole Corvidae family of birds is highly intelligent so it shouldn’t be a problem training them that they will get a reward for depositing something the Hominidae family regularly throw on the street where the birds live. This idea is in turn an evolution of the open-source Crow Box.
For some, leveraging the intelligence of animals is more appealing than programming drones which could do the same thing. A vision system mixed with a drone and a manipulator could fulfull the same function but animals are self-repairing and autonomous without our code. The irony of this project is that, although it’s probably fairly easy to train crows to recognize cigarette butts, the implementation hinges on having a vision system that can recognize the butts in order to properly train the crows in the first place.
If we had the time to train crows, it would definitely be to poop on cars that don’t signal for turns. Maybe some of these winged devices can be programmed to recognize lapses in traffic laws in exchange for some electrons.
Thank you, [jo_elektro], for the tip.