New Scientist Artificial Intelligence day – Session Two; Embodiment Perspectives – Kerstin Dautenhahn

Kerstin Dautenhahn is Professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research interests include social learning, human-robot interaction and social robotics. She is the co-creator of KASPAR, a robot designed to help children with autism develop communication skills.
Making the third presentation at this event, Kerstin explained her background in biological cybernetics, and the ways that her work revolves around the interactions between humans and robots/AI, concerned particularly with systems that aim to help people.
She was concerned to be immediately clear: robots are not people.
Elaborating, she pointed out that each robot you encounter is a de novo creation, not only lacking a common biological heritage with humans – making them unavoidably alien, but without any necessary shared characteristics (either deep or apparent) with any other robot.
Further, now and for the foreseeable future (in her opinion), robots have no psychology – there is no ‘mind’ in there.
The term robot, then, is a moving target, without a firm definition (I was surprised that we weren’t reminded of the etymological origin of the word ‘robot’ in the Czech word for ‘slave’), so that any conversation about robots must be particularly clear as to terms. This, however, is difficult, because of two very strong human traits;

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New Scientist Artificial Intelligence day – Session One; the Mainstream – Simon Lucas

simonlucas

Simon Lucas is Professor of computer science at the University of Essex. His research is focused on the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning to games, evolutionary computation and pattern recognition.

This was the foundation-laying talk of this event, and it was excellent – a rapid-fire but followable overview of the history and principal themes of AI research and development, and more detail on the approach currently producing the results that have been making headlines – neural networks. There was nothing here that some general reading wouldn’t get you, but it was engagingly and thoroughly presented at speed.

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Security as an Overhead isn’t working

We’re building a medical app. Of course, Therapy-Smarter isn’t collecting deeply intimate data – just basic contact information, some physiotherapist’s notes, exercise prescriptions and exercise performance data – but nevertheless, medical data is medical data- it’s inherently sensitive, and any company that cares about its reputation needs to take data privacy – and thus data security – very seriously indeed.

HealthITbreaches

So, we’ve been thinking about it fairly hard – but not in a technical way; it’s a specialist domain and we assume that we will need to pay people who know what they are doing to advise us on best practice and  then get them to assess our implementation.

No, we’ve been thinking hard about security in terms of business culture, because it seems painfully clear that this is where security weaknesses really come from. That’s right – I’m saying that security weaknesses have much more to do with business culture than they have to do with engineering.

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Semantic Scholar trawls unread scientific papers

New Scientist reports (pay barrier, sorry) that the Seattle based Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) has launched a tool called Semantic Scholar, which aims to;

…read, digest and categorise findings from the estimated 2 million papers published each year.

The article goes on to say;

Up to half of these are never read by more than three people.

That’s right. One million scientific papers a year, read by only three people each. That’s some sort of sad exemplar for futility.

Fairphone 2 open sources its OS

Fairphone2 - credit: Fairphone
Fairphone2 - credit: Fairphone
Fairphone2 – credit: Fairphone

I have an FP1 Fairphone. Not the greatest ‘phone ever, but the outcome of an amazing project started by a small group of Dutch activists to develop and sell a smartphone with the best possible ethical and environmental credentials (avoiding conflict minerals, paying attention to worker’s conditions, supporting repairs and recycling, amid other concerns). The FP1 was fairly compromised, but established the outfit, and sold 60,000.

The FP2 is a significant advance, independently verified as the most ethical smartphone available. Most importantly for me, it is based on a chipset which is ‘open’ enough that alternative OS development is practical ( not the case for the FP1). This means that the ‘phone will likely have a longer practical life, with updates potentially available from a variety of sources.

Fairphone understand and support this, and the impulse to write this post is the announcement that Fairphone are going to open the Fairphone OS (an android fork) for community contributions, releasing a set of software tools to support this.

I haven’t got an FP2 yet (not buying a new ‘phone until you really, really need one is the sustainable way, folks, frustrating though it might be). So I’m hoping that, by the time I do, there will be a strong community behind Fairphone, giving me more and better options for using the hardware – which should itself be upgradeable, thanks to modular design.

Interested in Fairphone? Look here. For Computing magazine’s pre-production review, look here.

A better nation?

“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray

Inspiring idea … but what does a better nation look like? How does it work?

Read this.

In my post TechnoLiberation a few weeks ago, I rather vaguely proposed that the new political/economic paradigm would come up from underneath, that it would be predicated on enormous numbers of people using information technology to create new forms of interaction that worked for humans, that superseded the current models, rather than did battle with them.

Paul Mason’s new book, for which the article is a pre-publication taster menu, makes a much stronger, more detailed, and compelling case that the beginnings of this transformation are under way already – that the economics of information underpin all sorts of human initiatives, on a wide number of fronts, that offer tentative blueprints for ‘a better nation’ in the making.

A better nation – and one which people in technology can easily imagine that they are working in the early days of.