Teaching Robots to Imagine

Can robots be taught to imagine? Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence group is doing just that –– developing computer versions of what many consider humanity’s quintessential trait. The software world long has pursued sentient consciousness as its holy grail. But until now, it’s only been found in science fiction movies like A.I., Ex Machina, and Transcendence. DeepMind engineers say they have cracked the code by combining two kinds of machine-learning. The first is linear, which is nothing new, with the computer applying a predefined algorithm over-and-over till it finds answers and then remembering them. In the second more radical approach, the computer tries many algorithms to find which work best, and then changes the very way it approaches problems. Combining the purely linear with a more systemic approach, DeepMind’s “Imagination-Augmented Agent” mimics intuitive learning in a way prior software hasn’t. It’s not exactlythe same as human imagination, but it comes closer than ever before to what neuroscientists say the brain does.

While robotic imagination may be improving, human thought isn’t faring as well. Most people feel uncreative and without inspiration, as discussed in earlier chapters. Corporations say innovation is withering as well. Novelist Ursula Le Guin recently observed that, “In America today imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work.”[i]Beyond the abandonment of a creative genre or two, American society also is undergoing a wholesale commodification of imagination itself. Disney is most famous for this, its “Imagineering” (imagination + engineering) brand one of the most viciously protected anywhere. But hundreds of companies evoke imagination to conjure an aura of specialness ––seen in promotions like Bombay Safire’s “Infused with Imagination,” GE’s “Imagination at Work,” Electrolux’s “Power to Capture Imagination,” Lego’s “Imagine,” Microsoft’s “Imagine Academy,” Nestle’s “Feed your Imagination,” Samsung’s “Imagine,” and Sony’s “Made of Imagination.” Continue reading “Teaching Robots to Imagine”

Invasion of the killer robots

imgres-3It’s no secret that lots of killing is begin done today, not directly by people, but by machines such as remotely controlled drone aircraft.

A new global campaign to persuade nations to ban “killer robots” before they reach the production stage is to be launched in the UK by a group of academics, pressure groups and Nobel peace prize laureates, reports today’s edition of The Guardian.

“Robot warfare and autonomous weapons, the next step from unmanned drones, are already being worked on by scientists and will be available within the decade, said Dr Noel Sharkey, a leading robotics and artificial intelligence expert and professor at Sheffield University. He believes that development of the weapons is taking place in an effectively unregulated environment, with little attention being paid to moral implications and international law. Continue reading “Invasion of the killer robots”

Robots stole my life

“The robots are coming! Word is they want your job, your life and probably your little dog, too.” This is how a piece by Catherine Rampell begins in yesterday’s New York Times. This is hardly a new worry, as the piece continues to discuss:

“Robots have once again gripped the nation’s imagination, stoking fears of displaced jobs and perhaps even a displaced human race. An alarmist segment on “60 Minutes’ was only the most vivid of a recent series of pieces in respected magazines and newsoutlets warning about widespread worker displacement.Professors at Cambridge University and a co-founder of Skype

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are creating a newCenter for the Study of Existential Risk, which would research a ‘Terminator’-like scenario in which supercomputers rise up and destroy their human overlords, presumably plotting the whole caper in zeros and ones.

“In New York alone, there are four plays running this month with themes of cybernetics run amok. One is a revival of ‘R.U.R.,’ a 1920 Czech play that was the granddaddy of the cybernetic revolt genre and that originated the current meaning of the word “robot.” Continue reading “Robots stole my life”

Navy odor-sniffing robots

Aircraft carrier crews are likely to get rather pungent as they perform the hard tasks of assembling, loading and hauling the massive weaponry that gives the U.S. Navy its edge, says todays edition of DangerRoom.

“To make their lives easier, the Navy’s exploring the idea of developing a ‘robotic semiautonomous swarm on a ship’that can actually smell its way to weapons prep, thanks to an artificial pheromone. Conceptually, the project is somewhat similar to existing warehouse robots, which use optical navigation systems that recognize markings on floors and walls.Unknown-1 Except this research concept is a bit smellier. The Navy wants its defense-industry partners to “identify [a] chemical capable of meeting environmental and health requirements” which can act as a pheromone. Continue reading “Navy odor-sniffing robots”