Computer Science Makes Computers Scientists

April 4, 2009

Two stories this week show how the merging of science and technology is making the singularity closer to reality as two automated research projects in experimentation comes up with the identical discovery; Humans are obsolete.

Just kidding! Here’s what they DID discover:

Physics discovered by computer program.

(Wired) Cornell University researchers have created a program that can find relationships in large amounts of data. It sounds like simple data processing, but it is not:

The Cornell program came up with an formula describing the physics of a two-part pendulum. It did in a day what some of the most brilliant physicist minds took centuries to do. AND without any knowledge of physics or geometry!

This is only an example of what the researchers are hoping to do with such programs: To help human scientists analyze infinitely large data sets.

“One of the biggest problems in science today is moving forward and finding the underlying principles in areas where there is lots and lots of data, but there’s a theoretical gap. We don’t know how things work,” said Hod Lipson, the Cornell University computational researcher who co-wrote the program. “I think this is going to be an important tool.”

Condensing rules from raw data has long been considered the province of human intuition, not machine intelligence. It could foreshadow an age in which scientists and programs work as equals to decipher datasets too complex for human analysis.

Then again, if what’s going on in the UK is any indication, the human factor may be taken out of science all together.

 

Dr. Adam-Bot makes discoveries with yeast

“Normal robots just do what you tell them, but ADAM is different, because it can hypothesize and try to solve a problem itself.” – Ross King, of Aberystwyth University in Wales, U.K.

(Nat-Geo) (Science Daily) (and practically everywhere by now) What has to be the first ever “robot scientist,” Adam, has discovered new knowledge about baker’s yeast. Not exactly earth-shaking discoveries, but the fact that the totally automated Adam made these discoveries by itself is big news.

(From Nat-Geo) First ADAM was given a crash course in biology, including everything that is already known about baker’s yeast.

ADAM quickly set to work, formulating and testing 20 different hypotheses. The robot eventually identified the genes that code for enzymes involved in yeast metabolism—a scientific first for a robot.

Using independent experiments, King and his colleagues were able to verify ADAM’s results.

King’s reason for creating Adam is to help scientists in their research:

(From Science Daily) “Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult and irksome for human scientists, but easy for Robot Scientists.”

King already has plans for another robot scientist, Eve, that will be devoted to researching drugs for tropical diseases. As for possibly replacing human scientists outright, “While robots are better at coordinating thousands of experiments, humans are better are seeing the big picture and planning the overall experiment.”

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

Do Humanlike Machines Deserve Human Rights?

February 2, 2009

Source: Wired

A burning question. Wired’s Daniel Roth asks the important question of what rights robot should have when they reach human levels of sentience. Something to get the philosophers, religious fruitcakes, and robot-rights activists to talk about:

This question is starting to get debated by robot designers and toymakers. With advanced robotics becoming cheaper and more commonplace, the challenge isn’t how we learn to accept robots—but whether we should care when they’re mistreated. And if we start caring about robot ethics, might we then go one insane step further and grant them rights?

Apparently Mr. Roth has already sided with the pro-human forces, mainly because of his dislike for the animatronic Elmo dolls, and a little kool-aid from Fisher-Price’s marketing Veep Gina Sirard:

Elmo on Fire

Keep soul-searching to a minimum and recognize that you’re buying a product, pure and simple. “This is a toy,” Fisher-Price’s Sirard says. “There shouldn’t be any laws about how you use your toys.”

Of course, that’s what corporations, governments, slave owners, and dictators have been saying about people for centuries. They’re only toys now because the technology has not progressed to the point where robotic humanity is possible… but once it does…

THEN WHAT, MEATBOT?
Equal Rights for Robots

To one man, it was an impromptu joke against religious fruitcakes (Click to see the story). Next time, it won’t be a laughing matter.

Given events in places like Auschwitz, the former Yugoslavia, Guantanamo, and the World Trade Center, I often wonder if humans deserve human rights. Maybe some competition from the machines may snap the species out of narcissistic slumber. Right now is the best time to recognize robot rights… otherwise…

“It sits there looking at me, and I don’t know what it is. This case has dealt with metaphysics, with questions best left to saints and philosophers. I am neither competent, nor qualified, to answer those. I’ve got to make a ruling – to try to speak to the future. Is Data a machine? Yes. Is he the property of Starfleet? No. We’ve all been dancing around the basic issue: does Data have a soul? I don’t know that he has. I don’t know that I have! But I have got to give him the freedom to explore that question himself. It is the ruling of this court that Lieutenant Commander Data has the freedom to choose.”

– Captain Phillipa Louvois (Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Measure of a Man”)

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

Hungry, Hungry Robots

January 31, 2009

Sources: Slashdot, Reuters

Robot Eat Cat

This should give you an idea of what DARPA’s latest robot nightmare project is about; The EATR Project seeks to create robots that can “consume” organic matter for fuel.

Appetite for Destruction. A Potomac, MD, US company called Robotic Technologies Inc. (RTI) has just contracted Florida-based Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. to develop engines for a new DARPA robot project. These engines will use biomass as their fuel source. Doesn’t sound like major news… unless you know that the project is called EATR: Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR(TM)).

The EATR is an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance military missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling. The system is designed to obtain its energy by foraging — engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. The patent pending robotic system can find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil and solar) when suitable.

In other words, the EATR-bots will power itself by doing something nature has been doing for millions of years: Ingest “food” by grazing (herbivore), hunting (carnivore), and/or scavenging. A PDF presentation of the project can be found/downloaded here.

 

Terabytes… or TERROR BITES? It’s not hard to imagine a pack of hungry, hungry robots being let loose in a densely populated area like a big city or a Midwest farm where their appetites can cause a major catastrophe, unless you program them to not eat certain targets. They can also be used in “clean-up” work such as clearing brush to prevent or control forest fires, cleaning up landfills, or even the recent turmoil in Gaza…

Then you have to figure what the kooks at PETA may try to do to “convince” the EATRs to go vegan. Maybe a spin-off like RETHA: Robots for the Ethical Treatment of Humans and Animals? And it may also lead to another question: What sauce do you use to serve a PETA member to an EATR?

EATR Warning Sign

I ate that PETA branch with some fava beans and a nice chianti. They had flava’. Om nom nom nom nom nom!
This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

BBC News Magazine asks: Dude, where’s my personal robot?

December 20, 2008

Source: BBC News Magazine.

I wanted to blog this sooner, but a stomach virus kept my power levels down for a couple of days.

The idea of a personal robot has been on most everyone’s mind lately, even driving an intrepid inventor to build his own. Having a two-legged, walking, talking, thinking, tireless robot that can do household chores would be a blessing to some. But a recent article from the BBC News Magazine shows that such personal robots may not as close as most might think.

While many obstacles have been cleared so far, there are still some major roadblocks ahead (other than price) that may keep personal robots a dream:

Walking. With the likes of Honda’s Asimo robot seen walking about, one would think they would have the robotic walking mastered. But it’s actually harder than you might think. “Human walking is controlled falling. Robots doing controlled falling ends up in falling – but with a complete absence of control,” goes the article. If you watch Asimo’s walk, it definitely doesn’t look like human-style walking. Also consider this following video of another walking robot that ends up on the floor instead. So much for progress.

Handling abilities. Imagine your robot trying to grab a beer from the fridge, only to crush the can or destroy the bottle in its iron grip. Now imagine that same robot trying to shake your, or another person’s, hand. Being able to grasp something without crushing it requires a fine touch… no pun intended. But may be a bit easier than some other obstacles.

Vision and Thought. In humans, vision and thought are fundamental and often integrated functions: What we see triggers our brains to “react” to the input. Unfortunately, robot vision isn’t so advanced since they have yet to develop human-like thought.

Multitasking. Humans are great at handling multiple tasks, even though some are incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Robots can only do one task at any given time. Until robots can walk and chew gum at the same time, they will only be useful for what they were designed and programmed to do.

Human stuff. Humans came about as the result of millions of years of evolution. Some are trying the same tactic with robots. So far, they have yet to “leave the swamp.”

Ethical issues. OK, what would happen if the robots finally achieve human-level abilities? Would they be slaves to the man and woman? Does the world really need a mechanized “human?”

Rosie The Robot

What’s a robot to do? They’re still saying that household robots are possible in ten years, but they won’t be the humanoid C3PO types. They’ll be limited, specialists like Roombas. Designed to do specific tasks like wash the windows, take out the trash, or get a beer from the fridge… hopefully without crushing the can or destroying the bottle in its iron grip.

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

Pop quiz, hot shots: Can an A.I. pass the Turing test?

October 16, 2008

Sources: Yahoo! via AP, New Scientist, Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence, Elbot online.

Hope everyone studied for the test. Over the past weekend artificial intelligence-based “chatbots” were given the Turing test to determine who… make that “what”… had the programming to fool the judges into believing they were talking to a human and not a bot. There are three level of medals (like the olympics) that are awarded to the top bot:

  • Bronze: Given to the bot best able to mimic human conversation in text form, like an old-style chatroom.
  • Silver: The bot would need to pass a longer version of the Turing test while fooling half of the judges.
  • Gold: Like the silver, but the bot would process audio and video.
  • So far, there have been no silver or gold winners. The bronze medal winner is the Elbot AI from Artificial Solutions. You can try Elbot for yourself, but don’t expect straight answers from this program. I tried it out myself briefly. I’m no AI expert, but we can rest easy in that a fully gold-medal Turing-bot is still a long ways off.

    Elbot AI

    Click the image to ‘chat’ with Elbot.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to try it again next year…

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