When humans shut down Robots

I found this demo quite creepy, but intriguing. It was a video created by a team at the Navy Research Lab in 2011 but is relevant today. A test to figure out how AI could be used to improve “sensor-based” activity between humans and robots.

It’s a plot twist with echoes of “2001 Space Odyssey” in which ‘HAL’ turns off the human life support system, and the human later returns the favor by shutting off the mainframe.

The human here shuts down the robots, Octavia and George – just in case the robot rebellion is pending! The robot uses what is called a ‘multi bio-metrics classifier’ for facial recognition. Maybe I’ve been reading too much of Isaac Asimov lately, so this is quite chilling.

‘Energy Impact’ challenge at First Global Robotics

The biggest international robotics event starts this week in Mexico City, and will run from the 16th to the 18th August. Sri Lanka’s team was featured on the home page of First Global this week.

This year’s theme for 2018 is “Energy Impact. This means the robots must work in collaboration, working in three teams (three random nations are picked for each round) to create environmentally friendly solutions in the contest environment.

The larger purpose is to let students from countries with different world views, understand what it takes to work together as alliances.

When I spoke to the team a few days ago they seemed very confident of the maneuvers and demands for this year’s challenge, involving fuel cubes, power lines, solar arrays, and wind turbines. It’s been months or preparation, though each match is just two and a half minutes long!

Inside the Classical Education model. Latin, robotics, and…podcasting

In our middle-school years at St. Peter’s College, Latin was a subject. We didn’t know why we had to study a ‘dead language’ or how it fit alongside biology and geometry. But it later transpired when the seeds of a classical language began to sprout. Our love for theater (whether it was Oliver Twist, or Hamlet), our appetite for reading, debating, linguistics, and history could be traced back to learning what seemed like tedious (read: boring) declensions and the likes.

This school year I joined a classical High School, and now see the internal architecture of a classical education. The three-part structure of ‘grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics’ is just the start. Music and the fine arts, science and athletics are key elements. And of course technology.

A few months ago in teaching communication to my college level students, we looked at how rhetoric mattered; the underpinning of public speaking, ‘Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.’ So I was delighted to see how my High School’s monthly themes are structured on classical Roman virtues such as Gravitas, Humanitas, and Comitas.

You’re probably wondering what does this do for learning, and students’ character? I can only say this. After a month of teaching with this model in place (teaching computers and tech, mind you!), students come to class eager and prepped to learn; respectful, inquisitive, thoughtful.  This week, looking at inventors and inventions we did thought experiments (a.k.a. Bell work) on social norms and expectations when Thomas Edison messed around with filaments and early audio. Next week they will see parallels with someone like Douglas Engelbart, the prolific Edison-like chap who gave us the mouse, among other things. They were philosophers in their own time, who embodied, and fit, the classical model.

At the end of the week two students approached me to sponsor clubs. One was a Robotics club, and the other was for Podcasting. I had to catch my breath – podcasting! What would 12-year olds want to do with podcasts? It comes down to the classical model which feeds the need for young people to engage in much, much more than Fortnite, or memes. If we only let them.

Team Lanka at Robotics Olympics in Mexico this week

Last July, our team went to to the kickoff  Robotics tournament in DC.

This year, the team’s expanded to include students from other schools in the country.

  • Students: Cong, Daniel, Felix, Hamza, Lasith, Navod, Sachin, Sherwin, and Syanthan.
  • Coaches: Shankar, Jekhan, Dilum, and Srimali

This is one impressive gathering of 170 nations. It is hosted by the ‘FIRST’ organization, which is the umbrella organization that holds 5 other robotics tournaments around the country, such as FIRST Lego League Jr., FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and FIRST Robotics for grades K-4, 4-8, 7 – 9, and 9-12 respectively.

I’ve worked with FIRST for the past 6 years, and met Dean Kamen, the founder, who’s one of the biggest STEM promoters I’ve ever known. He puts his money where his mouth is, a serial entrepreneur and educator who inspires youth across all ages. If you like to know how to get your school involved in robotics, or STEM, let me know.

 

Robotics Team to represent Sri Lanka in Mexico

If you’ve been following my robotics coverage here, I am happy to report on this year’s Team Sri Lanka, who will represent the country at the second Robotics Olympics. The event will be in August, in Mexico City.

I met with the team coaches in Colombo in mid June to find out how they have been progressing. They have been building the robot from the kit they received from First Global, under guidance of a engineer and IT teacher, Shankar. His expertise is in CAD design and he seems excited –though unfazed! — about his students who must build a robust competition-worthy robot.

At the time of writing they are working on a lift mechanism –a so-called ‘cantilever lift’ mechanism — that will allow the bot to move objects to the area that earns them maximum points.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what last years Robotics Team looked like.

Could robots cross the line?

There are four ‘Laws of robotics’ that are seldom discussed whenever the topic comes up. There were written by the late sci-fi author, Isaac Asimov. More like guide rails, these are practical laws.

With the rapid rise in automation, AI, and robotics from battlefield robots (developed by South Korea, the US, and who knows who else) and surgical bots, these issues are worth discussing. Why leave the issues of automation and robotics to academic and/or politicians?

In this month’s column in LMD, I discuss the pros and cons of robotics. You can read it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepping the launchpad – STEAM Night is today!

It’s as if the stars were lined up for this. The launchpads were being prepped in the space industry –and in education.

The race toward ‘Space Tourism’ which has been on for some time, hit a milestone, Sunday. Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, (which I’ve followed for some time now) launched a successful test flight yesterday, using dummy astronauts. Humans will soon follow.

Back here in Arizona, today is STEAM Night at Salt River Elementary School. The highlight of which will be  our ‘3-2-1 Lift-Off’ challenge

Can’t wait to see what kind of rocket entries we receive.

While some robots handle hernias, others could be invade countries. Are we crossing the line

I’m all for the use of surgical robots, or the emerging field of ‘drone journalism’ for data gathering, and even exoskeletons. But could others go too far?

Two types of robots worth considering this week:

Exhibit A: Robots in the battlefield. The Guardian reported that AI experts have called for a boycott of South Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The arms race for autonomous robots as machines of war is real. The US Military with Lockheed Martin has been developing autonomous armored vehicles.

Exhibit B: Then there’s the more benign use of a robot –in a coffee shop! The Da Vinci surgical robot (which I have written about) was used in a ‘demo’ of sorts in Kullman, Alabama, to give people a chance to see its capability in a friendly setting. This robot typically handles gall bladder and hernia procedures. (No fear, it’s not an autonomous bot.) Nice touch, humanizing this strange-looking refrigerator-sized 4-arm robot.

The point being, teaching robotics ought to come with a layer of ethics. It’s not enough to be develop breakthrough robots just because we can. There is such a thing as the 4 Laws of Robotics, as written up by Science Fiction writer, Isaac Asimov. They are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
  4. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

The fourth law was added later by Asimov. We may have begun crossing the line, and ignoring it.

Interestingly, the UN this week has addressing the pace of robotics, through the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreement, and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. Lots of semantics in the debate, with regard to ‘autonomous’ and ‘automated’ and what constitutes ‘human control’ of these devices.