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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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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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Sprawling Robot Climbs Walls, Crawls Like a Turtle

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If James Bond were a robot, he’d be the Rising STAR.

An upgrade to David Zarrouk’s original sprawl-tuned autonomous robot (STAR), RSTAR has an added degree of freedom: its body can move separately from its legs.

It sounds crazy, I know; humans can’t separate their torso from their limbs without suffering long-term health issues. But this wee bot can do things people only dream of.

The latest in a series of sprawling robots from Zarrouk, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, RSTAR’s new functionality alters its center of mass, enabling advanced behaviors.

“Not only can the robot climb over larger obstacles without flipping over, but it can also climb vertically up closely spaced walls and ‘crawl’ through narrow gaps by adopting a legged walking gait,” according to a report by IEEE Spectrum.

See for yourself in Zarrouk’s video, which highlights RSTAR’s abilities (none of which are autonomous—yet).

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As director of Ben-Gurion’s Bioinspired and Medical Robotics Laboratory, Zarrouk has led the creation of several unique designs, including a single-motor steerable android and a multi-joined cyborg arm, powered by a traveling motor.

In May, he presented Rising STAR at the 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Brisbane.

“We were looking to increase the capabilities of STAR in overcoming obstacles by adding a simple mechanism with one motor,” Zarrouk wrote in an email to IEEE Spectrum. “We quickly converged to the concept of extending the distance between the wheels to the body.”

That so-called “sprawl” allows for the robot’s legs to be angled (adjustably) downward and outward from the body—a simple yet highly effective change.

Just two months after unveiling their next-gen machine, the team is already eyeing additional upgrades, including the use of machine learning algorithms to teach simple maneuvers.

In the future, Zarrouk hopes to put the STAR family of bots to work, performing search and rescue operations, “especially in unstructured environments such as collapsed buildings or flooded areas,” he said.

“We built RSTAR having in mind that it should be simple, reliable,” Zarrouk continued. “And that it should be able to overcome multiple commonly available obstacles without any external mechanical intervention.”

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This 21-Year-Old 3D Printed a Working Underwater Jetpack

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Most people leave college with a diploma and a dream. Archie O’Brien is not most people.

As a product design student at Loughborough University—and a self-proclaimed adrenalin junkie—O’Brien dreamt of flying weightlessly through water.

But, discouraged by the cost and capability of existing underwater jet drives, he took matters into his own hands.

Enter CUDA.

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The 3D-printed alternative is worn like a backpack, offering users a hands-free experience “of ultimate freedom, whether it be gliding through the converging tectonic plates in the crystal-clear waters of Iceland, or off the coast of Bora Bora, being accepted into a pod of wild dolphins,” according to O’Brien.

Inspired by a love for exploration and nature, the recent graduate buried himself in research, design, and construction, creating a predominantly 3D-printed prototype.

“I want this to be something so cool that you’re wearing it when you’re not even using it,” O’Brien told Digital Trends. “You feel like James Bond.”

CUDA is made of roughly 45 printed parts—including a hand-held trigger that controls speed—and can be assembled in fewer than 10 minutes. Rechargeable batteries promise quick replacement and continuous use in remote locations.

What began as a student project only a year ago is expected to go into production in 2019; possible future applications include water rescue, videography, and commercial use.

3D-printed CUDA is worn like a backpack (via 3D Hubs)

O’Brien hopes to sell his device for an as-yet-unconfirmed price of about $6,000.

“By this time next year, I’m planning on having the production model. I’ll be going around doing promo videos around the world,” he said, vying for sponsorships from GoPro and Red Bull.

“The idea is to be able to produce this one, get enough funding to reinvest it in the company, and try and make a much cheaper model,” Digital Trends reported. “That’s almost working it like Tesla did, with something that really grabs people’s attention, and then bringing that price down to something people can afford more.”

Oh, honey, you might not want to base your life goals on this guy

Already well on his way to becoming the Elon Musk of watersports propulsion, O’Brien is just getting started.

“I’ve got many more ideas I’m not working on at the moment, but I’ve got draft drawings [to] expand this brand,” he told Digital Trends. “I’ve got a very clear vision of where this can go. The plan is to be the market leader.”

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