Tag Archives: military robots

AI x 2: the Amnesty International and Artificial Intelligence story

Amnesty International and artificial intelligence seem like an unexpected combination but it all makes sense when you read a June 13, 2018 article by Steven Melendez for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

If companies working on artificial intelligence don’t take steps to safeguard human rights, “nightmare scenarios” could unfold, warns Rasha Abdul Rahim, an arms control and artificial intelligence researcher at Amnesty International in a blog post. Those scenarios could involve armed, autonomous systems choosing military targets with little human oversight, or discrimination caused by biased algorithms, she warns.

Rahim pointed at recent reports of Google’s involvement in the Pentagon’s Project Maven, which involves harnessing AI image recognition technology to rapidly process photos taken by drones. Google recently unveiled new AI ethics policies and has said it won’t continue with the project once its current contract expires next year after high-profile employee dissent over the project. …

“Compliance with the laws of war requires human judgement [sic] –the ability to analyze the intentions behind actions and make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack,” Rahim writes. “Machines and algorithms cannot recreate these human skills, and nor can they negotiate, produce empathy, or respond to unpredictable situations. In light of these risks, Amnesty International and its partners in the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are calling for a total ban on the development, deployment, and use of fully autonomous weapon systems.”

Rasha Abdul Rahim’s June 14, 2018 posting (I’m putting the discrepancy in publication dates down to timezone differences) on the Amnesty International website (Note: Links have been removed),

Last week [June 7, 2018] Google released a set of principles to govern its development of AI technologies. They include a broad commitment not to design or deploy AI in weaponry, and come in the wake of the company’s announcement that it will not renew its existing contract for Project Maven, the US Department of Defense’s AI initiative, when it expires in 2019.

The fact that Google maintains its existing Project Maven contract for now raises an important question. Does Google consider that continuing to provide AI technology to the US government’s drone programme is in line with its new principles? Project Maven is a litmus test that allows us to see what Google’s new principles mean in practice.

As details of the US drone programme are shrouded in secrecy, it is unclear precisely what role Google plays in Project Maven. What we do know is that US drone programme, under successive administrations, has been beset by credible allegations of unlawful killings and civilian casualties. The cooperation of Google, in any capacity, is extremely troubling and could potentially implicate it in unlawful strikes.

As AI technology advances, the question of who will be held accountable for associated human rights abuses is becoming increasingly urgent. Machine learning, and AI more broadly, impact a range of human rights including privacy, freedom of expression and the right to life. It is partly in the hands of companies like Google to safeguard these rights in relation to their operations – for us and for future generations. If they don’t, some nightmare scenarios could unfold.

Warfare has already changed dramatically in recent years – a couple of decades ago the idea of remote controlled bomber planes would have seemed like science fiction. While the drones currently in use are still controlled by humans, China, France, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the UK and the US are all known to be developing military robots which are getting smaller and more autonomous.

For example, the UK is developing a number of autonomous systems, including the BAE [Systems] Taranis, an unmanned combat aircraft system which can fly in autonomous mode and automatically identify a target within a programmed area. Kalashnikov, the Russian arms manufacturer, is developing a fully automated, high-calibre gun that uses artificial neural networks to choose targets. The US Army Research Laboratory in Maryland, in collaboration with BAE Systems and several academic institutions, has been developing micro drones which weigh less than 30 grams, as well as pocket-sized robots that can hop or crawl.

Of course, it’s not just in conflict zones that AI is threatening human rights. Machine learning is already being used by governments in a wide range of contexts that directly impact people’s lives, including policing [emphasis mine], welfare systems, criminal justice and healthcare. Some US courts use algorithms to predict future behaviour of defendants and determine their sentence lengths accordingly. The potential for this approach to reinforce power structures, discrimination or inequalities is huge.

In july 2017, the Vancouver Police Department announced its use of predictive policing software, the first such jurisdiction in Canada to make use of the technology. My Nov. 23, 2017 posting featured the announcement.

The almost too aptly named Campaign to Stop Killer Robots can be found here. Their About Us page provides a brief history,

Formed by the following non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at a meeting in New York on 19 October 2012 and launched in London in April 2013, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is an international coalition working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons. See the Chronology charting our major actions and achievements to date.

Steering Committee

The Steering Committee is the campaign’s principal leadership and decision-making body. It is comprised of five international NGOs, a regional NGO network, and four national NGOs that work internationally:

Human Rights Watch
Article 36
Association for Aid and Relief Japan
International Committee for Robot Arms Control
Mines Action Canada
Nobel Women’s Initiative
PAX (formerly known as IKV Pax Christi)
Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs
Seguridad Humana en América Latina y el Caribe (SEHLAC)
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

For more information, see this Overview. A Terms of Reference is also available on request, detailing the committee’s selection process, mandate, decision-making, meetings and communication, and expected commitments.

For anyone who may be interested in joining Amnesty International, go here.

Water bears at Burning Man

Thanks to GrrlScientist at the Guardian science blogs (her Sept. 7, 2011 posting), I’ve come across this video where science visits another festival (I highlighted the *Guerilla* Science visit to the Glastonbury Music Festival in my July 12, 2011 posting). Here they mention an extraordinary form of life called a water bear (or scientifically, Tardigrades), which can survive in a cryogenic state to be revived years later. The longest time attempted, according to the Burning Man Micro Zoo video I’ve included below, is ten years.

Here’s the video, which is from the 2010 Burning Man festival,

For anyone who’s not familiar with Burning Man, it is a big festival that takes place in the Nevada Black Rock Desert every year in the high heat month of August. I believe the festival itself is one week long. They create a temporary community where art and creativity are used in place of money. After the festival is over, all trace of the community disappears until the next year. Here’s more from the About page of the Burning Man website,

There are no rules about how one must behave or express oneself at this event (save the rules that serve to protect the health, safety, and experience of the community at large); rather, it is up to each participant to decide how they will contribute and what they will give to this community. The event takes place on an ancient lakebed, known as the playa. By the time the event is completed and the volunteers leave, sometimes nearly a month after the event has ended, there will be no trace of the city that was, for a short time, the most populous town in the entire county. Art is an unavoidable part of this experience, and in fact, is such a part of the experience that Larry Harvey, founder of the Burning Man project, gives a theme to each year, to encourage a common bond to help tie each individual’s contribution together in a meaningful way. Participants are encouraged to find a way to help make the theme come alive, whether it is through a large-scale art installation, a theme camp, gifts brought to be given to other individuals, costumes, or any other medium that one comes up with.

The reporter in the video is from the Exploratorium, a San Francisco-based museum of science, art, and human perception.

For anyone who’s interested in more information about water bears, you can visit the wiseGEEK website here.

*’Guerrilla’ corrected to ‘Guerilla’ on Sept. 13, 2016.

nanoBIDS; military robots from prototype to working model; prosthetics, the wave of the future?

The Nanowerk website is expanding. From their news item,

Nanowerk, the leading information provider for all areas of nanotechnologies, today added to its nanotechnology information portal a new free service for buyers and vendors of micro- and nanotechnology equipment and services. The new application, called nanoBIDS, is now available on the Nanowerk website. nanoBIDS facilitates the public posting of Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for equipment and services from procurement departments in the micro- and nanotechnologies community. nanoBIDS is open to all research organizations and companies.

I checked out the nanoBIDS page and found RFP listings from UK, US (mostly), and Germany. The earliest are dated Jan.25, 2010 so this site is just over a week old and already has two pages.

The Big Dog robot (which I posted about briefly here) is in the news again. Kit Eaton (Fast Company) whose article last October first alerted me to this device now writes that the robot is being put into production. From the article (Robocalypse Alert: Defense Contract Awarded to Scary BigDog),

The contract’s been won by maker Boston Dynamics, which has just 30 months to turn the research prototype machines into a genuine load-toting, four-legged, semi-intelligent war robot–“first walk-out” of the newly-designated LS3 is scheduled in 2012.

LS3 stands for Legged Squad Support System, and that pretty much sums up what the device is all about: It’s a semi-autonomous assistant designed to follow soldiers and Marines across the battlefield, carrying up to 400 pounds of gear and enough fuel to keep it going for 24 hours over a march of 20 miles.

They have included a video of the prototype on a beach in Thailand and as Eaton notes, the robot is “disarmingly ‘cute'” and, to me, its legs look almost human-shaped, which leads me to my next bit.

I found another article on prosthetics this morning and it’s a very good one. Written by Paul Hochman for Fast Company, Bionic Legs, iLimbs, and Other Super-Human Prostheses delves further into the world where people may be willing to trade a healthy limb for a prosthetic. From the article,

There are many advantages to having your leg amputated.

Pedicure costs drop 50% overnight. A pair of socks lasts twice as long. But Hugh Herr, the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, goes a step further. “It’s actually unfair,” Herr says about amputees’ advantages over the able-bodied. “As tech advancements in prosthetics come along, amputees can exploit those improvements. They can get upgrades. A person with a natural body can’t.”

I came across both a milder version of this sentiment and a more targeted version (able-bodied athletes worried about double amputee Oscar Pistorius’ bid to run in the Olympics rather than the Paralympics) when I wrote my four part series on human enhancement (July 22, 23, 24 & 27, 2009).

The Hochman article also goes on to discuss some of the aesthetic considerations (which I discussed in the same posting where I mentioned the BigDog robots). What Hochman does particularly well is bringing all this information together and explaining how the lure of big money (profit) is stimulating market development,

Not surprisingly, the money is following the market. MIT’s Herr cofounded a company called iWalk, which has received $10 million in venture financing to develop the PowerFoot One — what the company calls the “world’s first actively powered prosthetic ankle and foot.” Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently gave Brown University’s Center for Restorative and Regenerative Medicine a $7 million round of funding, on top of the $7.2 million it provided in 2004. And the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) has funded Manchester, New Hampshire-based DEKA Research, which is developing the Luke, a powered prosthetic arm (named after Luke Skywalker, whose hand is hacked off by his father, Darth Vader).

This influx of R&D cash, combined with breakthroughs in materials science and processor speed, has had a striking visual and social result: an emblem of hurt and loss has become a paradigm of the sleek, modern, and powerful. Which is why Michael Bailey, a 24-year-old student in Duluth, Georgia, is looking forward to the day when he can amputate the last two fingers on his left hand.

“I don’t think I would have said this if it had never happened,” says Bailey, referring to the accident that tore off his pinkie, ring, and middle fingers. “But I told Touch Bionics I’d cut the rest of my hand off if I could make all five of my fingers robotic.”

This kind of thinking is influencing surgery such that patients are asking to have more of their bodies removed.

The article is lengthy (by internet standards) and worthwhile as it contains nuggets such as this,

But Bailey is most surprised by his own reaction. “When I’m wearing it, I do feel different: I feel stronger. As weird as that sounds, having a piece of machinery incorporated into your body, as a part of you, well, it makes you feel above human. It’s a very powerful thing.”

So the prosthetic makes him “feel above human,” interesting, eh? It leads to the next question (and a grand and philosophical one it is), what does it mean to be human? At least lately, I tend to explore that question by reading fiction.

I have been intrigued by Catherine Asaro‘s Skolian Empire series of books. The series features human beings (mostly soldiers) who have something she calls ‘biomech’  in their bodies to make them smarter, stronger, and faster. She also populates worlds with people who’ve had (thousands of years before) extensive genetic manipulation so they can better adapt to their new homeworlds. Her characters represent different opinions about the ‘biomech’ which is surgically implanted usually in adulthood and voluntarily. Asaro is a physicist who writes ‘hard’ science fiction laced with romance. She handles a great many thorny social questions in the context of this Skolian Empire that she has created where the technologies (nano, genetic engineering, etc.)  that we are exploring are a daily reality.

Happy T Day! Robots; Nano-enabled prosthetics; ISEA 2009 aesthetics and prosthetics; Global TV (national edition): part 2

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone as Canada celebrates.

Since I have mentioned military robots in the not too distant past, this recent headline Two Military Robots That Rival the Creepiest Sci-Fi Creatures for Kit Eaton’s Fast Company article caught my eye. One of the robots, Big Dog (and its companion prototype Small Dog), utilizes artificial intelligence to navigate terrain and assist soldiers in the field. The larger one can carry heavy loads while the smaller one could be used for reconnaissance. The other robot is a cyborg beetle. Electrodes have been implanted so the beetle’s flight patterns can be controlled. There are two videos, one for each robot. It is a very disconcerting experience watching the beetle being flown by someone standing in front of a set of controls.

Keeping with the theme of planting electrodes, I found something on Azonano about a bio- adaptive prosthetic hand. Funded by the European Union as a nanotechnology project, here’s more from the news item,

What is unique about the sophisticated prototype artificial hand developed by the SMARTHAND partners is that not only does it replicate the movements of a real hand, but it also gives the user sensations of touch and feeling. The researchers said the hand has 4 electric motors and 40 sensors that are activated when pressed against an object. These sensors stimulate the arm’s nerves to activate a part in the brain that enables patients to feel the objects.

Led by Sweden’s Lund University, the researchers continue to work on the sensory feedback system within the robotic hand. The hurdle they need to cross is to make the cables and electric motors smaller. Nanotechnology could help the team iron out any problems. Specifically, they would implant a tiny processing unit, a power source and a trans-skin communication method into the user of the hand to optimise functionality.

It’s a fascinating read which brought to mind an ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Arts) 2009 presentation by Dr. Lanfranco Aceti (professor at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey). Titled The Aesthetic Beauty of the Artificial: When Prosthetic Bodies Become an Art Expression of Empowering Design Technologies, the presentation was a revelation. Dr. Aceti’s research yielded a rather surprising insight from a doctor in London, England who specializes in prosthetics. According to the doctor, women want limbs that most closely resemble their original but men (under 50 years old usually) want limbs that are metallic and/or look high tech. Lanfranco suggested that the men have been influenced by movies. Take for example, Wolverine (Wikipedia entry here) where the hero’s skeleton has been reinforced with metal and he can make his claws (now covered with metal) protrude from his arms at will. You can view Lanfranco’s site here or a simple biography about him here.

A few months back I posted about  prosthetics and design student projects and I’m starting to sense a trend emerging from these bits and pieces of information. There is the repair aspect to prosthetics but there is also an increasing interest not just in the aesthetics but in the notion of improving on the original. At its most extreme, I can imagine people wanting to remove perfectly healthy limbs and organs to get an improved version.

I got a chance to see part 2 of Global TV’s (broadcast in Canada) nanotechnology series, Small Wonders. As I’ve noticed that my link for part 1 of the series is no longer useful I am providing a link to part 2 which will land you on the search page. If you don’t see part 2 listed, go to the mutimedia tab which is just above the search results and where you can find part 1 and I assume, at some point, part 2.

As I hoped, they focused on nanotechnology projects in the materials field in part 2 of the series. They noted that nanotechnology-based materials in sports equipment and clothing are already available in the market place. An interview with Dr. Robert Wolkow at the National Institute of Nanotechnology and at the Physics Dept. at the University of Alberta, featured a discussion about replacing silicon chips with more efficient materials built at the molecular level.

Military robots, the latest models; Quantum computing at Univ of Toronto; Cultural Cognition Project at Yale; Carla Bruni and Stephen Hawking

There was an industry trade show of military robots  this week which caught my eye since I’ve been mentioning robots, military and otherwise, in my postings lately. Apparently military enthusiasm for robots continues unabated.  From the media release on Physorg.com,

“I think we’re at the beginning of an unmanned revolution,” Gary Kessler, who oversees unmanned aviation programs for the US Navy and Marines, told AFP.

“We’re spending billions of dollars on unmanned systems.”

There’s more,

In 2003, the US military had almost no robots in its arsenal but now has 7,000 unmanned aircraft and at least 10,000 ground vehicles.

The US Air Force, which initially resisted the idea of pilotless planes, said it trains more operators for unmanned aircraft than pilots for its fighter jets and bombers.

Interestingly, iRobot which sells robot vacuum cleaners (Roomba) to consumers also sells a “Wall-E lookalike robot” which searches enemy terrain and buildings to find and dismantle explosives.

This all reminds me of an article on BBC News (Call for debate on killer robots) which I posted about here when I was looking at the possibility (courtesy of an article by Jamais Cascio) of systems that are both unmanned and without operators, i.e. autonomous, intelligent systems/robots.

The University of Toronto (Canada) is hosting a conference on quantum information and control. From the media release on Azonano,

Quantum Information is a revolutionary approach to computing and communication which exploits the phenomena of quantum mechanics – the fundamental theory of nature at is most basic, sub-atomic level – to vastly enhance the capabilities of today’s computers and internet communication.

The conference is being held from August 24 – 27, 2009.

In yesterday’s posting about Andrew Maynard’s review of a book on science illiteracy I mentioned that I had a hesitation about one of the recommendations he made for further reading. Specifically, I have some reservations about the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School’s work on nanotechnology. To be absolutely fair, I’ve read only an earlier version of a paper (then titled) Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation.

I did try to read the latest version and the other papers on nanotechnology produced by the group but they’re behind paywalls (click on Download paper if you like but I just tested them and not one was accessible). So, I’m working off the copy that I could freely download at the time.

First, they are using the word cultural in a fashion that many of us are unfamiliar with. Culture in this paper is used in the context of risk perception and the specific theoretical underpinning comes from anthropologist, Mary Douglas. From the paper I downloaded,

Drawing heavily on the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas, one conception of the cultural cognition of risk divides cultural outlooks along two cross-cutting dimensions. The first, “hierarchy-egalitarianism” characterizes the relative preferences of persons for a society in which resources, opportunities, privileges and duties are distributed along fixed and differentiated (of gender, race, religion, and class, for example) versus one in which those goods are distributed without regard to such differences. The other, “individualism-communitarianism,” characterizes the relative preference of persons for a society in which individuals secure the conditions for their own flourishing without collective interference versus one in which the collective is charged with securing its members’ basic needs and in which individual interests are subordinated to collective ones.

This looks like a very politicized approach. Roughly speaking, you have the Horatio Alger/anybody can become president of the US success myth laced with Henry David Thoreau and his self-sufficient utopia cast against collective action (American Revolution, “power to the people”) and communism.

The authors found that people tended to shape their views about technology according to their values and the authors worried in their conclusion that nanotechnology could be the subject of intransigent attitudes on all sides. From the paper,

Nanotechnology, on this view, could go the route of nuclear power and other controversial technologies, becoming a focal point of culturally infused political conflict.

For my taste there’s just too much agenda underlying this work. Again, from the paper,

Those in a position to educate the public–from government officials to scientists to members of industry–must also intelligently frame that information in ways that make it possible for persons of diverse cultural orientation to reconcile it with their values.

Note that there is no hint that the discussion could go both ways and there’s the implication that if the information is framed “intelligently” that there will be acceptance.

If you can get your hands on the material, it is an interesting and useful read but proceed with caution.

As it’s Friday, I want to finish off with something a little lighter. Raincoaster has two amusing postings, one about Stephen Hawking and the debate on US health care reform. The other posting features a video of Carla Bruni, Mme Sarkozy and wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, singing. (She’s pretty good.) Have a nice weekend!

ETA (Aug.14, 2009 at 12 pm PST) I forgot to mention that the article concludes that how much you learn about nanotechnology (i.e. your scientific literacy) does not markedly affect your perception of the risks. From the paper,

One might suppose that as members of the public learn more about nanotechnology their assessment of its risk and benefits should converge. Our results suggest that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 2

Mary King’s project on Robots and AI, the one I mentioned yesterday, was written in 2007 so there have been some changes since then but her focus is largely cultural and that doesn’t change so quickly. The bird’s eye view she provides of the situation in Japan and other parts of Asia contrasts with the information and ideas that are common currency in North America and, I suspect, Europe too. (As for other geographic regions, I don’t venture any comments as I’m not sufficiently familiar with the thinking in those regions.)  Take for example this,

South Korea, meanwhile, has not only announced that by 2010 it expects to have robo-cops patrolling the streets alongside its police force and army, but that its “Robot Ethics Charter” will take effect later this year. The charter includes Asimov-like laws for the robots, as well as guidelines to protect robots from abuse by humans. South Korea is concerned that some people will become addicted to robots, may want to marry their android or will use robots for illegal activities. The charter demands full human control over the robots, an idea that is likely to be popular with Japanese too. But a number of organizations and individuals in the West are bound to criticize laws that do not grant equal “human” rights to robots.

Mary goes on to cite some of the work on roboethics and robo-rights being done in the West and gives a brief discussion of some of the more apocalyptic possibilities. I think the latest incarnation of Battlestar Galactica anchored its mythology in many of the “Western” fears associated with the arrival of intelligent robots. She also mentions this,

Beyond robots becoming more ubiquitous in our lives, a vanguard of Western scientists asserts that humans will merge with the machine. Brooks says “… it is clear that robotic technology will merge with biotechnology in the first half of this century,” and he therefore concludes that “the distinction between us and robots is going to disappear.

Leading proponents of Strong AI state that humans will transcend biology and evolve to a higher level by merging with robot technology. Ray Kurzweil, a renowned inventor, transhumanist and the author of several books on “spiritual machines,” claims that immortality lies within the grasp of many of us alive today.

The concept of transhumanism does not accord well with the Japanese perspective,

Japan’s fondness for humanoid robots highlights the high regard Japanese share for the role of humans within nature. Humans are viewed as not being above nature, but a part of it.

This reminds me of the discussion taking place on the topic of synthetic biology (blog posting here) where the synthetic biologists are going to reconfigure the human genome to make it better. According to Denise Caruso (executive director of the Hybrid Vigor Institute), many of the synthetic biologists have backgrounds in IT not biology. I highly recommend Mary’s essay. It’s a longish read (5000 words) but well worth it for the insights it provides.

In Canada, we are experiencing robotic surveillance at the border with the US. The CBC reported in June that the US was launching a drone plane in the Great Lakes region of the border. It was the 2nd drone, the 1st being deplored over the Manitoba border and there is talk that a drone will be used on the BC border in the future. For details, go here. More tomorrow.