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On Technology, Ethics and “How to Stop Your Robot Cooking Your Cat”

Posted by Guest Blogger, Corey Moss on Apr 25, 2016 11:00:00 AM
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Every once in a while I see excellent posts on Facebook from some of the newsfeeds that I like—Ars Technica and Digital Trends, for example, and there are times when I will go as far as to take these posts and create a blog based on the content. Recently, while I was out doing a few things, this one popped up from a good friend, the Managing Partner of a known AV industry communications and content creation firm (who likes to pose some interesting "challenges" for me):

The ethics of AI: how to stop your robot cooking your catSo I decided to take a stab at this one (actually, I can hardly resist) —call it a bit "off-the-beaten technology path" blog thesis...

The Question of an Oncoming “Singularity”

While the title of the article appears to call out the potential dangers of your pet feline being mistakenly used for a future robo-cooked meal, the true dangers of AI are already being spelled out by some well-known Paul Reveres of AI futures, including Hawking, Musk and Wozniak.

However, beyond the so-called alarming dangers of artificial intelligence and robots controlling robots against humanity (around 2049 I believe, according to Ray Kurzweilas he prepares to be perfused with cryoprotectants and vitrified in liquid nitrogen*), the subject matter in question relates more to this point:

By tracking how people live their values, businesses can and must instill ethical frameworks into the technologies of the future.

The World Economic Forum published an article—Is humanity just a phase in a robotic evolution? —in September 2015 which referenced significant advancements being made in the fields of computer science, robotics, neuro-engineering and virtual reality, and the attempt to construct intelligent behavior or imitate and enhance human intelligence. It also highlighted a concern that AI technology enabling autonomous weaponry “has reached a point where the development of such systems is–practically if not legally–feasible within years, not decades.”

Kurzweil has predicted by 2045 the emergence of a technological singularity—a hypothetical event in which artificial general intelligence (constituting intelligent computers, networks or robots) would be capable of progressively redesigning itself or autonomously building ever-smarter and more powerful machines. With this, the overall sophistication of AI capabilities will in turn remove any distinction between humans and machines, leading up to a runaway effect—robots taking over in what’s being called an intelligence explosion, yielding an intelligence surpassing all current human control or understanding.

OK calm down, we are still a good 30 years away. But…

On Collaboration, Connectivity and Convergence

The Robotics Industries Association posted Robotics 2015 and Beyond: Collaboration, Connectivity, Convergence which begins:

Blurred lines. One of the most transformative periods in the robotics industry is upon us. It will be a period of collaboration, connectivity and convergence that will catapult us into a world teeming with automation in every aspect of our lives. It’s already here in many forms. Our smartphones, our smart appliances, all the sensors in our cars. We just take them for granted.

Someday, we’ll take for granted our Smart Homes and Smart Offices, too.

An ominous statement of “smart” technologies and environments lending to this transformative period of robotics which, as stated, is in certain respects already upon us.

The fact that we are taking them for granted is the key in that we wake up and then go through our daily routines, for many with the touch of a button on a smart phone. In essence, we’ve already automated our own processes that used to take actual work (even flipping a light switch!), where our brains have linked to a smart device of some sort to control an everyday activity. Without even a thought of how, or why.

The collaboration here between humans and industry extends to robotics, as indicated in the post “Industrial, meets Collaborative, meets Service Robotics.” The differences, though, will in time become inconsequential and indistinguishable as certain (winning) technologies will eventually converge to create robots whose function is to just get the job done. Collaboration will, as stated, eventually bring together robotics suppliers, integrators, researchers, trade and standards organizations, start-ups, accelerators, investors, and end users for the mutual benefit of all.

Thus, collaboration becomes a common denominator to this convergence as a result of a connected human environment—something which cannot be taken for granted in any way.

Hmm, I’m seeing certain striking parallels here…

Robot See, Robot Understand?

Picture of a thinking android robot.

Stuart Russell, professor of computer science and Smith-Zadeh professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley was noted in The Ethics of AI article in terms of pointing out (in a speech at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge) how a robot might observe people repeatedly boiling water and pouring it over black crystals every morning. The boiling water over black crystals becomes coffee…caffeine…instant happiness. Thus the robot senses improved mood and the value of this ritual becomes codified. Russell goes on to explain: “[G]oals for humans exist in the context of how we have already lived our lives up to the point we receive a new goal. For instance, if we run out of meat when cooking we know not to cook our pet cat, but this is a value we would need to programme in a kitchen robot’s algorithm.”

An article, The rise of robots and the enabling sensing technology, specifies that the increase in robotic integration may be due to affordability and easier programming, however sensors collect the information they need to be productive. This is in terms of letting the robot’s control system know what to do, based on the environment.

It yet again discusses a converging of technologies – where numerous questions arise, prompting the assembly of a panel of experts. Certain topics were discussed, first explaining the importance of sensing devices to robotic integration in machines and equipment (e.g. presence sensors in safety devices) and then the most innovative use of presence sensing in a robotic application the panelists had been a part of. It ended with another question posed to the panel:

What should we expect from presence sensing with the increase in collaborative robot applications—where humans and robots work in the same space? What advice can you give?

It appears the premise of collaboration and convergence in all of this is the explanatory factor to overall understanding of human interaction becoming key to technology advancement and—essentially—the ethics infused as a result of this collaboration.

So with this human-robotics programmed, controlled sensing scenario (keeping Kurzweil’s technological singularity in mind still), is your pet cat doomed to be your robot-cooked meal one day, or will it be sitting on the couch pleasantly watching you eat that well-made steak as usual?

Well, if the ethically collaborative convergence does take place as planned…

*Refer to Ray Kurzweil postmortem life here.