A Fish-inspired Robotic Swarm

A team from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has developed fish-inspired robots that can synchronize their movements like a real school of fish, without any external control. According to a SEAS press release, it is the first time scientists have demonstrated complex 3D collective behaviors with implicit coordination in underwater robots. “Robots are often deployed in areas that are inaccessible or dangerous to humans, areas where human intervention might not even be possible”, said Florian Berlinger, a PhD Candidate at SEAS and Wyss in an interview. “In these situations, it really benefits you to have a highly autonomous robot swarm that is self-sufficient.” (SEAS, 13 January 2021) The fish-inspired robotic swarm, dubbed Blueswarm, was created in the lab of Prof. Radhika Nagpal, an expert in self-organizing systems. There are several studies and prototypes in the field of robotic fishs, from CLEANINGFISH (School of Business FHNW) to an invention by Cornell University in New York.

Artificial Intelligence and its Siblings

Artificial intelligence (AI) has gained enormous importance in research and practice in the 21st century after decades of ups and downs. Machine ethics and machine consciousness (artificial consciousness) were able to bring their terms and methods to the public at the same time, where they were more or less well understood. Since 2018, a graphic has attempted to clarify the terms and relationships of artificial intelligence, machine ethics and machine consciousness. It is constantly evolving, making it more precise, but also more complex. A new version has been available since the beginning of 2021. In it, it is made even clearer that the three disciplines not only map certain capabilities (mostly of humans), but can also expand them.

A Mobile Charging Robot

Futurism.com reports that Volkswagen has unveiled a working prototype of a robot that can autonomously charge electric cars. “The Mobile Charging Robot is an adorable squat bot – which, when you get right down to it, is strikingly reminiscent of the R2-D2 droid from ‘Star Wars,’ bleeps and bloops included.” (Futurism.com, 28 December 2020) As a result, the service robot becomes a social robot. This may be a benefit for the video, but whether it is necessary in practice remains to be seen. The basic idea is that the robots move to cars that are parked in large residential complexes – and where there is not necessarily a human in the vicinity (and where therefore no social interaction is needed). But the concept is questionable in other respects as well. A mobile energy storage of this type seems to be inefficient: “basically, you’d have to charge the robot’s battery supply which it then uses to charge electric cars” (Futurism.com, 28 December 2020). Nevertheless, the idea should be pursued. Without a doubt, there are logistical advantages to having a robot drive to and charge cars – fewer charging stations are needed, and you can service two vehicles at once.

The Morality Menu Project

From 18 to 21 August 2020, the Robophilosophy conference took place. Due to the pandemic, participants could not meet in Aarhus as originally planned, but only in virtual space. Nevertheless, the conference was a complete success. At the end of the year, the conference proceedings were published by IOS Press, including the paper “The Morality Menu Project” by Oliver Bendel. From the abstract: “The discipline of machine ethics examines, designs and produces moral machines. The artificial morality is usually pre-programmed by a manufacturer or developer. However, another approach is the more flexible morality menu (MOME). With this, owners or users replicate their own moral preferences onto a machine. A team at the FHNW implemented a MOME for MOBO (a chatbot) in 2019/2020. In this article, the author introduces the idea of the MOME, presents the MOBO-MOME project and discusses advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. It turns out that a morality menu could be a valuable extension for certain moral machines.” The book can be ordered on the publisher’s website. An author’s copy is available here.

Proceedings on Social Robotics

The book “Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics” (eds. Marco Nørskov, Johanna Seibt, and Oliver Santiago Quick) was published in December 2020 by IOS Press. From the publisher’s information: “Robophilosophy conferences have been the world’s largest venues for humanities research in and on social robotics. The book at hand presents the proceedings of Robophilosophy Conference 2020: Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics, the fourth event in the international, biennial Robophilosophy Conference Series, which brought together close to 400 participants from 29 countries. The speakers of the conference, whose contributions are collected in this volume, were invited to offer concrete proposals for how the Humanities can help to shape a future where social robotics is guided by the goals of enhancing socio-cultural values rather than by utility alone. The book is divided into 3 parts; Abstracts of Plenaries, which contains 6 plenary sessions; Session Papers, with 44 papers under 8 thematic categories; and Workshops, containing 25 items on 5 selected topics.” (Website IOS Press) Contributors include Robert Sparrow, Alan Winfield, Aimee van Wynsberghe, John Danaher, Johanna Seibt, Marco Nørskov, Peter Remmers, John P. Sullins, and Oliver Bendel.

Welcome to the AI Opera

Blob Opera is an AI experiment by David Li in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture. According to the website, it pays tribute to and explores the original musical instrument, namely the voice. “We developed a machine learning model trained on the voices of four opera singers in order to create an engaging experiment for everyone, regardless of musical skills. Tenor, Christian Joel, bass Frederick Tong, mezzo‑soprano Joanna Gamble and soprano Olivia Doutney recorded 16 hours of singing. In the experiment you don’t hear their voices, but the machine learning model’s understanding of what opera singing sounds like, based on what it learnt from them.” (Blop Opera) You can drag the blobs up and down to change pitch – or forwards and backwards for different vowel sounds. It is not only pleasurable to hear the blobs, but also to see them. While singing, they look around and open and close their mouths. Even their tongues can be seen again and again.

Cozmo is Almost Back

One year ago, The Robot Report reported that Anki’s little robots might be making a comeback. Digital Dream Labs in Pittsburgh acquired the patents, trademarks, and domain. The start-up company “is planning to revive and manufacture more units of each product in the following order: Overdrive, Cozmo, Vector” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Digital Dream Labs founder H. Jacob Hanchar told The Robot Report “the goal is to have all three products available for purchase for Christmas 2020” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Now it seems that pre-orders of Cozmo 2.0 are possible: “Cozmo is a fun, educational toy robot that you can be used to teach children the basics of coding. Whether he is performing tricks, exploring his environment or teaching coding, Cozmo is always full of personality. Pre-order your new Cozmo today for delivery as early as May 15th.” (Website Digital Dream Labs) Cozmo and his friends belong to the best social robots that the industry has ever produced. What is special about Cozmo is the many emotions it can show (but of course doesn’t have). It also has face recognition and a night vision device. More information at www.digitaldreamlabs.com.

A Digital Supermodel

Cameron-James Wilson, 31, founded an agency for digital models in London in 2019, The Diigitals. He is the creator of the digital supermodel Shudu. “Since baffling the fashion and modeling world at large, he’s added virtuals Galaxia, Brenn, Dagny, Koffi, Margot, and Zhi to the Gram family.” (Virtual Humans, 4 May 2020) Galaxia is an alien model and has long, pointed ears and a long neck. Koffi is a male virtual influencer with a muscle-rich body, which he likes to show in sparse clothing. Shudu is the most famous avatar of the agency. At this year’s digital fashion shows in Paris and Milan, a number of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) models and avatars presented the new looks. Shudu was not there, which the creator explains in a SPIEGEL interview by the fact that it is still difficult to animate her to move like a real person. At the end Barbara Markert asks him what Shudu means to him. He answers: “It may sound crazy, but I feel a responsibility for this woman and the community she represents.” (SPIEGEL, 9 December 2020, own translation)

Young Girls could Kill Autonomous Driving

On behalf of Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, M. Hashem Birahjakli investigated possible attacks on self-driving cars as part of his final thesis in 2020. The supervisor was Safak Korkut. In the chapter “Attacking Scenarios on Sensors” the student divided into invasive attacks and non-invasive attacks. In the section on invasive attacks he dealt with different sensors and examined possible attacks based on scenarios: vision-based cameras (chewing gum, lipstick, and nail polish; spraying paint; transparent colored foil; concave lenses), radar (chaff, countermeasure), lidar (mirror and reflective objects; dust; face powder), inertial measuring unit (magnet), and sonar (carrot and stick; duct tape). In the section on non-invasive attacks he dealt with fake traffic signs, invisible or fake obstacles, and roadside attacks. The results of the work suggest that every 14-year-old girl could disable a self-driving car. So far, hacking has been seen as the greatest threat to autonomous driving. But while not everyone can hack, almost everyone carries chewing gum or lipstick. The automotive industry should consider this threat seriously.

Evolutionary Machine Ethics

Luís Moniz Pereira is one of the best known and most active machine ethicists in the world. Together with his colleague The Anh Han he wrote the article “Evolutionary Machine Ethics” for the “Handbuch Maschinenethik” (“Handbook Machine Ethics”). Editor is Oliver Bendel (Zurich, Switzerland). From the abstract: “Machine ethics is a sprouting interdisciplinary field of enquiry arising from the need of imbuing autonomous agents with some capacity for moral decision-making. Its overall results are not only important for equipping agents with a capacity for moral judgment, but also for helping better understand morality, through the creation and testing of computational models of ethics theories. Computer models have become well defined, eminently observable in their dynamics, and can be transformed incrementally in expeditious ways. We address, in work reported and surveyed here, the emergence and evolution of cooperation in the collective realm. We discuss how our own research with Evolutionary Game Theory (EGT) modelling and experimentation leads to important insights for machine ethics, such as the design of moral machines, multi-agent systems, and contractual algorithms, plus their potential application in human settings too.” (Abstract) Springer VS published the “Handbuch Maschinenethik” in October 2019.  Since then it has been downloaded thousands of times.