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Google’s Duplex Hints at a Dark Future for AI

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Earlier this week Google showed off the new Duplex feature of the Google Assistant. It was a stunning show, and possibly one of the first bit of software to clear the Turing Test. The stage demo showed the assistant calling a restaurant to make a reservation and seemingly avoiding detection of the restaurant workers. It was a truly impressive show, but TechCrunch notes that it’s disconcerting evidence that Google doesn’t have the serious ethical implications of AI in mind when they’re designing these systems.

“Google’s experiments do appear to have been designed to deceive,” Dr. Thomas King, a researcher at Oxford Internet Institute’s Digital Ethics Lab. “Because their main hypothesis was ‘can you distinguish this from a real person?’. In this case, it’s unclear why their hypothesis was about deception and not the user experience… You don’t necessarily need to deceive someone to give them a better user experience by sounding natural. And if they had instead tested the hypothesis ‘is this technology better than preceding versions or just as good as a human caller’ they would not have had to deceive people in the experiment.”

That may sound like a small issue, but there are serious ethical concerns with experiments, especially those done on or involving humans.

“Even if they don’t intend it to deceive you can say they’ve been negligent in not making sure it doesn’t deceive, Dr. King added. “I can’t say it’s definitely deceptive, but there should be some kind of mechanism there to let people know what it is they are speaking to… I’m at a university and if you’re going to do something which involves deception you have to really demonstrate there’s scientific value in doing this.”

At issue is the fact that knowing who and what you’re interacting with changes how we react. There is a myriad of small decisions we make based on those cues. Tone, for instance, can allow us to shift and better empathize with a human being. You may soften if you realize the person you’re speaking with is stressed or had a rough day.

“And if you start blurring the lines,” Dr. King said, “Then this can sew mistrust into all kinds of interactions — where we would become more suspicious as well as needlessly replacing people with meaningless agents.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that it was the pinnacle of all of Google’s recent work.

“It brings together all our investments over the years in natural language understanding, deep learning, text to speech,” Pichaei said. The calls, he said, were real, meaning that it’s unlikely that Google employees called ahead to give a heads up to the callees.

King also notes that humans come with biases about other humans, and robots could unintentionally reinforce some of them.

“If you were to use a robotic voice there would also be less of a risk that all of your voices that you’re synthesizing only represent a small minority of the population speaking in ‘BBC English’ and so, perhaps in a sense, using a robotic voice would even be less biased as well,” Dr. King said. “If it’s not obvious that it’s a robot voice there’s a risk that people come to expect that most of these phone calls are not genuine. Now experiments have shown that many people do interact with AI software that is conversational just as they would another person but at the same time there is also evidence showing that some people do the exact opposite — and they become a lot ruder. Sometimes even abusive towards conversational software. So if you’re constantly interacting with these bots you’re not going to be as polite, maybe, as you normally would, and that could potentially have effects for when you get a genuine caller that you do not know is real or not. Or even if you know they’re real perhaps the way you interact with people has changed a bit.”

These situations are delicate, but it’s important that even at these very early stages, we take AI ethics very, very seriously. As countless minds have before said, there are countless risks endemic to the creation of even pseudo-AI. And if we want to avoid the robot apocalypse, we best take those concepts seriously.

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Autonomous Sexbots Are the Future

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In a 2017 TEDx talk, University of London lecturer and writer Kate Devlin pointed out that “There are no actual sex robots in production yet—just dolls.”

What a difference a year makes.

Chinese robotics developer DS Doll is currently working on the world’s first autonomous sex robot.

According to Daily Star, the Dalian-based firm is 3D-printing component parts for its AI-powered humanoid. The advanced technology helps boost production speed and efficiency, allowing for the mass production of sexy cyborgs.

Able to move its eyes, mouth, head, shoulders, and arms, the first prototype is “almost complete,” DS Doll told the UK tabloid; engineers are putting the finishing touches on the mobile legs.

A slew of video clips shared via the company’s Twitter account highlight the unnamed android’s … talents: Watch her shake to life before fitfully stretching her arms and turning her silicone head.

Not exactly the smooth operator you’d hope to bed, the electronic skeleton is designed to mimic the human body. DS Doll uses 3D printing to develop and stamp out specific, uniform shapes. It can even scan full human bodies and prototype parts for replication.

The company constructs 400 custom models each month; its premium-range mannequins sell for around $5,000.

“We are still in the researching process,” DS Doll chief development officer Qiao Wu told the Daily Star.

“The full-body robot will have more physical expression to help with human communication,” he explained. “One day, we hope the robot can be used in etiquette, presentation, human companionship, front-desk services, and other areas.”

Sex dolls (because Devlin’s right—most of these devices are nothing more than life-sized hunks of plastic with no understanding of consent) have come a long way from the tacky, low-grade inflatable masturbation toys of yore.

They still have a long way to go, though.

The line between man and machine continues to blur. Which is why activists are calling for sex robot regulations. Learn everything you always wanted to know about sex robots (but were afraid to ask) and more here.

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SpaceX Signs First Private Passenger For Lunar Flight

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DIY a Desktop Arcade Cabinet With Retro Picade Kit

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This is the year of retro gaming: Classic titles are reappearing on modern consoles, and nostalgic appliances are reappearing as modern consoles.

So it’s no surprise that hobbyist electronic firm Pimoroni recently launched a redesigned version of its Raspberry Pi-powered mini arcade machine.

Unveiled in August, the build-it-yourself Picade features authentic controls, a high-res 4:3 display, and a “punchy speaker to hear those 8-bit game soundtracks at their best.”

The kit takes about two to three hours to build (according to the experts who created it). All you need is a Raspberry Pi, micro-SD card, power supply, and £150 ($198) to spare.

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The original Picade was introduced in 2012 as the UK’s first Kickstarter project, collecting more than £74,000 ($98,000) toward a £33,000 ($44,000) goal.

Six years later, Pimoroni has updated its “ultimate desktop retro arcade machine,” now more compact, with a better display, dedicated power button, and Picade X HAT “packed full of useful features.”

Fans may also notice splashier artwork and packaging. Each Picade comes with “a bunch of extra goodies,” like an enamel pin, sticker selection, poster, and assembly instructions.

In an effort to drum up interest in the new toy, Sheffield-based Pimoroni asked folks around the world to come up with a retro game concept that would suit the new Picade.

Entries from the UK, Europe, and US included hand-drawn posters, punny titles, and “screenshots.” Ultimately, the team behind Trolley Wars—a Supermarket Sweep-like game—won for its “simplicity and button-bashing of arcade favorites of old.”

New packaging for a new machine (via Pimoroni)

Everything old is new again, and arcade cabinets are no exception: British manufacturer STOA last year rolled out custom-built cupboards, each handcrafted from start to finish for one or two players.

In place of traditional cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, STOA uses modern LCD screens, with the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the Picade. Every device comes with a curated selection of games (Ms. Pac-Man, Street Fighter II, Paperboy, Mortal Kombat, Space Invaders, etc.), tailored to the client’s preference and design.

You can do anything with a Raspberry Pi and a little imagination: DIY a Spotify speaker, upcycle a karaoke machine, track foosball scores. Check out our recent Geek Pick, the Retroflag SUPERPi case for Nintendo lovers. And stay up to date on all things Raspberry Pi here.

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