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AI Experts Stand Up to Lethal Autonomous Weapons

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More than 2,500 AI researchers have vowed to steer clear of lethal autonomous weapons.

Google DeepMind and resident robot pessimist Elon Musk are among the organizations and individuals who pledged to neither participate in nor support the manufacture of artificially intelligent armaments.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to play an increasing role in military systems,” according to the letter published by the Future of Life Institute. “There is an urgent opportunity and necessity for citizens, policymakers, and leaders to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable uses of AI.”

The pledge comes less than a year after the Institute released a short film, appropriately titled “Slaughterbots,” as part of its Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Designed to resemble actual events, the video highlights a future (or, more likely, a present) in which palm-sized drones can take out a single human with “surgical precision.”

A world where weapons, not people, make the decisions, and a $25 million order gets you enough killer bots to take out half a city—”the bad half,” of course.

“We would really like to ensure that the overall impact of the technology is positive and not leading to a terrible arms race, or a dystopian future with robots flying around killing everybody,” signatory Anthony Aguirre, a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, told CNN.

The threat, however, isn’t limited to walking, talking androids. A recent report from Undark revealed the everyday dangers of cyber weaponry—high-tech howitzers that have been in service for decades.

“In this light, we, the undersigned, agree that the decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine,” according to the pledge.

“There is a moral component to this position, that we should not allow machines to make life-taking decisions for which others—or nobody—will be culpable,” it said. “There is also a powerful pragmatic argument: Lethal autonomous weapons, selecting and engaging targets without human intervention, would be dangerously destabilizing for every country and individual.”

AI researchers agree that lethal autonomous weapons could become “powerful instruments of violence and oppression, especially when linked to surveillance and data systems.”

While most folks still carry physical firearms, some advanced armies are dropping cyber cannons, which can cause damage well beyond battle zones.

The Stuxnet virus, for example, emerged in 2010 as a cyber weapon jointly developed by U.S. and Israeli officials in an effort to shut down the develop of Iran’s nuclear program.

To combat future risks, pledge participants are calling on government officials to “create a future with strong international norms, regulations, and laws against lethal autonomous weapons.”

Independent of this promise, 26 countries in the United Nations have explicitly endorsed the call for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, Holy See, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

For more, check out Geek’s lineup of 11 real-life sci-fi weapons that are the future of war.

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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Taps Performance Capture Tech to Elevate Effects

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Alita: Battle Angel is a thrilling mix of powerful cyborgs, post-apocalyptic cities, and gory fights. The sci-fi movie’s action sequences are courtesy of an advanced innovation: performance capture technology.

The futuristic flick, which hits theaters on Feb. 14, follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), an abandoned cyborg who becomes a fierce warrior to fight corrupt forces. This plot would be hard to accomplish with basic animation, however, performance capture technology enabled the movie’s team to generate lifelike special effects, PCMag reported.

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“This is the tech we’ve been developing. In an earlier test shoot, for [a movie that never got made, based on the novel] Brother Termite, when aliens were arriving, we had an actor perform with an umbrella rig around his head—12 cameras—everywhere,” Jon Landau, the producer of the film, told PCMag. “We saw a future where we would use that facial performance capture to drive performance rather than animating it.”

To make this digital vision possible, Alita: Battle Angel’s team partnered with Weta Digital, a visual effects company based in New Zealand. Unlike other animation systems, this performance capture technology doesn’t interfere with actors’ performances.

Rosa Salazar as Alita in ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (Photo Credit: PCMag)

“The giant system [we have today], when it loses a data point, it’s still able to solve for the skeleton and what the muscles do,” Landau added. “[In our partnership with] Weta Digital … we’re now [able] to create Salazar’s performance from the inside, driving the performance from a muscle base—not putting a mask on the actor through animation—to make sure we are living up to the performance that Salazar is giving us.”

According to Weta Digital, performance capture technology notes details of an actor’s face performance, analyzes how their muscles move, and then maps these motions onto a virtual character. (For example, see Salazar above with dots on her face during the filming process.) What makes this technology cool is that it provides animated figures with human-like reactions, so directors can keep a good shooting flow without stopping to map every facial movement.

“I’m pretty technically proficient and I usually do my own visual effects supervisor role, but now I get to geek out with [Weta Digital],” Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel’s director, told PCMag. “We can take it to another level having them and their knowledge.”

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General Motors Starts Taking Orders for Its First Electric Bike

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General Motors is reimagining future transportation with its first ARĪV electric bike brand.

In November 2018, General Motors held a global crowdfunding campaign for its new eBike brand. After fans submitted potential names, General Motors decided to call the brand ARĪV, which is pronounced like “arrive.”

The brand includes two connected eBikes: the Meld compact eBike and the Merge folding eBike, which will each retail between $3,106 and $3,782 in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. General Motors, which is taking preorders for the eBikes now via BikeExchange.com, said it will start shipping orders in a few months.

General Motors didn’t provide too many details on the eBikes, however, it said that the eBikes’ motors can reach speeds up to 15.5 mph and contain four levels of pedal-assisted power. There are also key safety features, including a rechargeable front, rear LED lights, and oversized break rotors. Plus, the eBikes’ batteries can be charged in approximately 3.5 hours and receive up to 40 miles of ride time on a single charge.

ARĪV Merge Electric Bike (Photo Credit: General Motors)

Connectivity is another key feature for both eBikes: They can connect to an app that provides users with key riding metrics, including distance, motor assist level, remaining battery level, and speed. Each eBike comes with a Quad Lock mount as well, so users can safely secure a smartphone to the handlebars during rides. General Motors also said it’s working on additional app features, including, “a mode that will use a proprietary algorithm to help riders arrive at their destination sweat-free.”

General Motors did not disclose if its new eBikes will be available in the U.S. and other countries, however, more details on specs and pricing are available on Bike Exchange’s website.

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NYC Author Ditches Smartphone for a Year to Enter $100,000 Vitaminwater Contest

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A New York-based millennial is giving up her smartphone for a year to try to win $100,000 from Vitaminwater.

In December, Vitaminwater introduced its phone-free challenge on Instagram and Twitter, which asked the social media community if they would ditch their smartphones for 12 months in exchange for the ultimate reward: $100,000 in cash.

On Friday, Vitaminwater, which sorted through more than 100,000 entries submitted on Instagram and Twitter, named its chosen candidate: Elana Mugdan, a 30-year-old filmmaker and young adult fantasy writer who lives in the New York City area, CNBC reported. Mugdan, who submitted an informercial-style video on Twitter, impressed judges with her humorous perspective on smartphone addiction.

Mugdan will trade her iPhone 5S for a throwback cellular device from Vitaminwater: A Kyocera flip phone without modern smartphone amenities like social media apps, direct messaging, and photo editing. For the next year, she won’t be allowed to use any smartphones or tablets, however, she can use desktop computers and laptops.

If she wins the challenge, Mugdan plans to donate some of her funds to charities and financially support her writing career. With the challenge, she aims to show other millennials that it’s possible to enjoy living in the moment without having a smartphone.

“I have this fantastic once a lifetime opportunity. You know you only get one chance, right?” Mugdan told CNBC. “So I want to use it for something good — I want to make a difference, make an impact, and get people talking about important things.”

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