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MIT Robot Steals Human Brains to Help It Balance

Based on every horror/sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen, squishing an actual fleshy human brain into a robot would make it unstoppable. And probably evil. Sooner or later, I’m sure someone is going try it for real. Until they do, what’s almost as good is letting a robot borrow an actual fleshy human brain to help it balance and complete tasks requiring sensing and dexterity. It’s like teleoperation, except the user’s brain and body are controlling the robot directly, from inside a haptic suit.

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Video Friday: Tesla’s Robot Tentacle, Subscale Aircraft, and Virtual Humans Getting Dressed

We spent most of this week arguing thinking about whether armed autonomous robots are a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t think we should ban killer robots, but lots of people think that it’s very clear that we should. There’s been an enormous debate in the comments of these articles, and on Twitter as well. Georgia Tech’s Ron Arkin weighed in this week, and we’ll have another expert perspective next week. We’re not expecting to reach a consensus here: there’s no easy (or even unambiguously correct) answer. What we’re trying to do, though, is to provide as many perspectives on the issue as possible to help you inform your own thinking. The ethics of robotics is something that we’re very interested in, and we’ll be returning to it in a variety of contexts over this year and next.

Still, that’s all some heavy, heavy stuff, you know? So let’s all just chill out with a bunch of robot videos.

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Children Beating Up Robot Inspires New Escape Maneuver System

A few years ago, the curious folks at the Radiolab show/podcast asked some kids to hold a Barbie doll, a live hamster, and a Furby robot upside down. Not surprisingly, the children were unfazed by the Barbie, holding it on its head for a long time. When it was the hamster’s turn, the kids were quick to release the squirming animal, for fear that they were hurting it (no surprise here either). The interesting part came when they held the Furby. The children said that, even though they knew it was just a toy, they worried that they were “hurting” the robot (which loudly protested being upside down), suggesting that they felt some empathy for the furry machine.

Now, a new study by a team of Japanese researchers shows that, in certain situations, children are actually horrible little brats may not be as empathetic towards robots as we’d previously thought, with gangs of unsupervised tykes repeatedly punching, kicking, and shaking a robot in a Japanese mall.

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Who Needs Real Friends When Robots Will Play Nintendo With You

For those of us who have no friends, we at least have video games. And thanks to artificial intelligence, the computer-controlled adversaries we play against are always getting better. Most games aren’t at the point where the AI can give a skilled human serious competition without having the playing field tilted in its direction, but that’s okay, because we still derive pleasure and satisfaction from beating them anyway.

What AI is missing is physical embodiment. You know, something that you can scream at when you lose and gloat over when you win. The little humanoid NAO fills that role nicely, and researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan have taught the robot to play Wii Tennis, with a Wiimote and all.

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Warfighting Robots Could Reduce Civilian Casualties, So Calling for a Ban Now Is Premature

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE. This article contains excerpts from “Lethal Autonomous Systems and the Plight of the Non-combatant,” published in AISB Quarterly, No. 137, July 2013.

I’ve been engaged in the debate over autonomous robotic military systems for almost 10 years. I am not averse to a ban, but I’m convinced we should continue researching this technology for the time being. One reason is that I believe such systems might be capable of reducing civilian casualties and property damage when compared to the performance of human warfighters. Thus, it is a contention that calling for an outright ban on this technology is premature, as some groups already are doing.

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Is Drone Racing Legal?

Star Wars fans will no doubt remember the pod-race scene from Episode I: The Phantom Menace, where the young Anakin Skywalker speeds through a barren landscape in a jet-propelled, levitating scooter, ultimately edging out the competition. Teenage thrill seekers are not yet able to dash through the air quite like that, but a similar adrenaline rush is now available to almost anyone through the new sport of drone racing, which typically involves radio-controlled quadcopters zooming around a predefined course low to the ground.

The buzzing contraptions are piloted by people with sharp reflexes through video goggles or some other means of obtaining a first-person view, a form of radio-control model flight that goes, naturally enough, by the acronym FPV. Multiple drone-racing leagues have sprung up in the United States, and this summer saw the first Drone Nationals (more properly, the 2015 Fat Shark U.S. National Drone Racing Championships), which took place at the California State Fair in Sacramento last month.

The attraction of drone racing is easy enough to understand. What puzzles me is how an organized sport could emerge in the face of what appears to be a legal prohibition on the whole activity.

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Why We Really Should Ban Autonomous Weapons: A Response

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

We welcome Evan Ackerman’s contribution to the discussion on a proposed ban on offensive autonomous weapons. This is a complex issue and there are interesting arguments on both sides that need to be weighed up carefully. This process is well under way, and several hundred position papers have been written in the last few years by think tanks, arms control experts, and nation states. His article, written as a response to an open letter signed by over 2500 AI and robotics researchers, makes four main points:

(1) Banning a weapons system is unlikely to succeed, so let’s not try.

(2) Banning the technology is not going to solve the problem if the problem is the willingness of humans to use technology for evil.

(3) The real question that we should be asking is this: Could autonomous armed robots perform more ethically than armed humans in combat?

(4) What we really need, then, is a way of making autonomous armed robots ethical.

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Video Friday: Talking Humanoids, Badminton Robots, and Boomerang Drone

The invasion of social robots continues. This week, Japanese robot maker Vstone and telecom company NTT announced plans to market little humanoids that can interact with people and also with devices around the house. In a press conference in Tokyo, the desktop-size robots, called CommU and Sota, held conversations with two lifelike female androids and, later, a male android. (Hmm, this last one, it’s possible that it was a real man, but we’re not sure.)

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Robots Reveal How Water Striders Jump on Water

Water striders are little insects that spend their existence skating around on the surface of lakes, ponds, and streams, relying on surface tension to keep them dry and happy. Watching them zip around is very cool, and its equally cool to think about the physics going on between the water and their toes to allow them to do what they do. Water striders are also able to jump, which substantially ups the difficulty on the whole not-sinking thing, since they have to somehow exert a substantial amount of force on the surface of the water without breaking through. How do they do it? South Korean researchers built a robotic water strider to find out.

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We Should Not Ban ‘Killer Robots,’ and Here’s Why

Yesterday, an open letter was presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, calling for a “ban on offensive autonomous weapons.” A bunch of people signed it, including “more than 1,000 experts and leading robotics researchers.” And I mean, of course they’d sign it, because who would seriously be for “killer robots?”

I am.

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:

Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
Jason Falconer
Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan

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