DARPA has visions of robotic cameras.

March 18, 2010

Source: Wired.


First came remote piloted drones. Then came walking robots. Next, robots with a vision… or just looks that kill.

From the iWitness news desk… The Pentagon’s famed mad scientist lab DARPA (a subsidiary of Cyberdyne Systems Corporation) announced earlier this week a project called “The Mind’s Eye” (PDF). The goal of the project is to implement the one facet of human capability that has been so far elusive: Visual Intelligence.

(Wired’s Katie Drummond) We’ve got the ability to take in our surrounding, interpret them and learn concepts that apply to them. We’re also masters of manipulation, courtesy of a little thing called imagination: toying around with made up scenes to solve problems or make decisions.

But, of course, our intellect and decision-making skills are often marred by emotion, fatigue or bias. Enter machines. DARPA wants cameras that can capture their surroundings, and then employ robust intellect and imagination to “reason over these learned interpretations.”


I see what you’re saying. As if seeing-eye robots weren’t enough for them, last month DARPA was reportedly developing a form of “universal translator” software that can translate Arabic languages to English with a high degree of accuracy and also have voice recognition. The resulting system may be more like an iPod or netbook, but Wired couldn’t help but use an obvious analogy:

(Wired’s Katie Drummond) What troops really need is a machine that can pick out voices from the noise, understand and translate all kinds of different languages, and then identify the voice from a hit list of “wanted speakers.” In other words, a real-life version of Star Wars protocol droid C3PO, fluent “in over 6 million forms of communication.”

Now, the Pentagon’s trying to fast-track a solution that could be a kind of proto-proto-prototype to our favorite gold fussbudget: a translation machine with 98 percent accuracy in 20 different languages.

Google already has something similar: Goog-411. Maybe if the two worked together…


Action news. There are cameras that can identify objects, or what they refer to as the “nouns.” DARPA wants the camera to add the “verb” to those “nouns” to better describe what is happening. For example, a current camera can identify a ball or a car or maybe Glen Beck. DARPA’s idea is to have cameras not only identify the items, but to report what those things are doing: The ball is rolling, a car crashed into a tree, or Glen Beck is talking through his ass. The idea is to make the cameras into observers, field operatives who spy on enemy positions and report on their status.

That, or they want their own photojournalists and reporters that they can control and won’t show bias against whatever war is being waged.

DARPA may already be behind the curve, as one such robot already exists. It reportedly works for a website called Cyberpunk Review… ;)

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Evolutionary Robotics: The Rise of the Darwinian Machines

February 5, 2010

Source: Public Library of Science PLoS Biology, via CNET Crave.

Evolutionary Robots

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) have published an essay by two Swiss researchers who are working with robots that “evolve” via darwinian methods. Pictured are a “prey” and “predator” robot used in the study.

Robots do evolve, and Chuck D. thanks them. Two Swiss researchers set out on what could be called an ambitious project: To show that robots can evolve like organic creatures… and piss off the creationists. While their work is considerably simpler than trying to evolve humans out of chimps, it does pave the way for better understanding organic evolution…

… and for a possible robot takeover of the world, or (if humanity is lucky enough) the emergence of the Borg.

You can check out the details from the PLoS site where you can download the PDF or XMS for leisurely reading offline. Caution: It is a scholarly work.


The results are in. In their experiments, the researchers used a “darwinian algorithm.”


This “algorithm” shows how the robots evolved during the various tasks they performed. Those tasks were navigation, homing, predation, brain and body morphology, and foraging (cooperation and altruism).

They found that, after a couple of hundred “generations” (loops of the algorithm), the bots were able to move through a maze without bumping into walls, adapt and change strategies for hunting and evasion, find their way “home,” and adapt to new bodies. They even found that, during the foraging exercises, the robots were able to cooperate in the task, and some even sacrificed personal gain for group gain.

These examples of experimental evolution with robots verify the power of evolution by mutation, recombination, and natural selection. In all cases, robots initially exhibited completely uncoordinated behaviour because their genomes had random values. However, a few hundreds of generations of random mutations and selective reproduction were sufficient to promote the evolution of efficient behaviours in a wide range of environmental conditions. The ability of robots to orientate, escape predators, and even cooperate is particularly remarkable given that they had deliberately simple genotypes directly mapped into the connection weights of neural networks comprising only a few dozen neurons.


It’s official… Humanity is SCREWED. Not quite yet…

As stated, it took these robots several hundred generations to do seemingly “simple” tasks. Humans have been at it for several thousand generations (and they still find ways of mucking things up). So it will be some time before we see a Cyberdyne series 800 model 101 walking down the street with an Uzi in each hand…

In the meantime, other scientists can use this new field of Evolutionary Robotics to further their studies…

and piss off the creationists.

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Will Machines Outsmart Humans?

July 28, 2009

Source: NY Times, original story by John Markoff.

NY Times reporter John Markoff expresses the concerns of some scientists who want to slow or stop research into robotic autonomy, fearing that loss of human control may lead to a “robot revolt.”


Cyberphobes, please.

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.

Earlier this year (in February) a group of scientists from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence met in California’s Asilomar Conference grounds to discuss possible impacts of human-level artificial intelligences, aka “The Singularity.” A report from the conference will be released later this year… we hope. The conference was about discussing certain issues that might arise due to the Singularity and loss of human control of cybernetic technologies. Topics included the possible effects of a “robotic takeover” leading to massive job loss, legal and ethical problems in dealing with human-like AIs, and maybe some plans in case a HAL, SHODAN, or Skynet should go online.


The Singularity Time Table. Depending on who you ask, the Singularity will appear definitely before 2050, and possibly as soon as 2020. Even so, that may be latter than we think, as scientist say that they can create a working human brain in 10 years. More recently, Chinese scientist have reportedly been able to grow mice from skin. It shouldn’t be too hard to think of human clones before long, and the possibilities of the Singularity. But just as another meeting at Asilomar dealt with genetics in the mid-70s, this conference deals with cybernetics. Specifically, how to proceed with AI research that will benefit humanity and eliminate the possibilities of a HAL/SHODAN/Skynet.

The A.A.A.I. report will try to assess the possibility of “the loss of human control of computer-based intelligences.” It will also grapple, Dr. Horvitz said, with socioeconomic, legal and ethical issues, as well as probable changes in human-computer relationships. How would it be, for example, to relate to a machine that is as intelligent as your spouse?

Dr. Horvitz said the panel was looking for ways to guide research so that technology improved society rather than moved it toward a technological catastrophe. Some research might, for instance, be conducted in a high-security laboratory.

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

That’s Impossible: Real Terminators

July 19, 2009

Source: History.com, plus a few other locales.

Robots that think, move like humans and fight our wars–Real Terminators–may now be possible. At leading universities and covert government labs, robots are now being developed in man’s image; cyborgs with superhuman strength, machines that may eventually be able to make decisions, even kill on their own. But will these very robots designed to protect us ultimately turn on their masters?


Rise of the Robots. When I first heard about this episode of That’s Impossible while watching Ice Road Truckers, I just had to watch to see where we were with military robotics… and where we may be headed. Real Terminators is second episode of the That’s Impossible series, which includes other topics like invisibility, immortality, and “weather warfare.” I managed to catch the Tuesday (July 14) night premiere of Real Terminators, while they repeated the episode early Wednesday morning. History won’t rebroadcast Real Terminators until Saturday, July 25 @ 3pm, so make certain to have your TiVos programmed to record it if you can’t watch it on time, or there’s always the Torrent route.

Real Terminators shows how robot combat has evolved to its near-current state, and what other robot technologies and breakthroughs can affect what the battlefield mechs will be like. Hint: It won’t be like BattleBots or Robot Wars.


Goliath Tracked Mine

You might think that this is a scale model of a WWI-era tank, but this little bugger is the father of all battlefield robots. Click the image to see the Wikipedia article about it.

Humble beginnings. Battlefield robots actually got their start in WWII, thanks to Nazi Germany. They used a remote controlled tank-bot called the Goliath tracked mine, which was driven to its target and detonated. It was considered a failure due to the control cables being easily cut or damaged and the vehicle itself being too lightly armored, but the Goliath has since become something of an inspiration to future war-bots… though it would take some sixty years after the first tracked mines were produced before battlefield robots would begin to emerge with the SWORDS robots. But robots were already in the air, thanks to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.


The Next Big Step is to get the drones out of the sky and back on the ground, but without the tank treads or wheels being used today. Drones need their legs, and the Big Dog shows why:

Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog robot is intended to be a pack-animal, but some can’t stop thinking about weaponizing it.

Already, Boston Dynamics is developing a two-legged robot, the PETMAN, to better navigate human environments.


Organic components. DARPA is not looking at just a mechanized future for the military. They intend to keep a human element to the machines through the use of robotic exoskeletons:


Other pieces of the puzzle. In order to make terminators possible, one major breakthrough must happen: Artificial Intelligence. Future robots will need highly-developed (almost human-like) AI to do seemingly simple things like identify targets and allies, use strategies, and know when to fall back for repairs and recharging/refueling. Also, robots will need to show “instincts” like gauging a person’s emotional state to recognize when s/he might attack. Those “instincts” may come courtesy of a brain scanner. This will allow a robot to decide if they should kill on its own, without some human operator needing to pull a trigger.

But there’s more being considered. Robots will need to recharge or refuel. That may be alleviated by the EATR project, which will allow robots to consume organic matter for energy. Also, repair and construction/replication of robots, where nanaotechnology is being considered to fill these needs.


Now consider what can happen with all the pieces in place. A robot soldier, hundreds of time stronger than a human, with an appetite for organics and programmed to kill, and able to repair itself.


Now imagine a whole army of these robots…

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, TV Episodes, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Robot online @ Facebook and looking for friends

May 7, 2009

Source: BBC News, UAE University IRML Site.

Ibn Sina

Meet Ibn Sina (on the left) on his Facebook page.


Friend invitation extended to John Connor. Depending on how you feel about robots, this is either a major step forward or a sign of the apocalypse. A month-long experiment is going to be run on Facebook where a robot, complete with a profile, will be used to see if humans are willing to make friends with the machine. The experiment is being run by Nikolaos Mavridis and the United Arab Emirates University’s Interactive Robots and Media Laboratory (IRML), which explains the bot’s name and appearance. Details can be found on the IRML website and a paper is available (PDF) from arXiv.org.


Technical difficulties. Of course, to make friends with Ibn, you need to be registered with Facebook, then find the right Ibn Sina to befriend. I’ve made an attempt to register to see if this is for real, but something is fubar with their registration system. Maybe others are trying to make friends with the robot as well. I’ll keep trying and let you know if it ends well, or if we give birth to Skynet.

Stay Tuned…

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, Cyberpunked living, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.