Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Girl in orange shirt standing near house robot

Is the World Running Out of Humans? Are Robots the Answer?

But then why have we “run out of human beings,” as some claim?

So some claim: The pandemic and the U.S. labor shortage are starting to change the conversation about robotics and automation from threat to opportunity — from putting jobs at risk to filling critical gaps in the workforce. “The biggest shift that has happened from 2018 to now is that we’ve literally run out of human beings to do the things that we need to do,” said roboticist Siddhartha “Sidd” Srinivasa, a professor at the University of Washington’s Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering in Seattle who founded Carnegie Mellon University’s Personal Robotics Lab during his 18-year tenure in Pittsburgh. That shift is giving a new spark to robotics engineers and entrepreneurs who have long aspired to change the world…

A humanoid robot with a shopping trolley is shopping at a grocery store. Future concept with robotics and artificial intelligence. 3D rendering.

Engineering Mag Editor Dislikes Androids That Make People “Feel”

That’s not really the job of a robot, says Evan Ackerman, who“hugs robots” himself

Evan Ackerman, a senior editor at the prominent engineering mag IEEE Spectrum, thinks — even though he “hugs robots” — that we don’t really need androids in daily life. Ackerman, who has a degree in Martian geology, focuses on “Nicola,” an android under development at Riken, a research institute in Japan, modeled on a boy and intended to ““to promote natural interactions with both adults and children.” So far, it is only a head. The reason that this research was necessary is because androids can be tricky to read at times, especially when making expressions associated with negative emotions, which are more difficult to distinguish. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m so skeptical that androids are the best…

First cell, origin of life

Will AI Chemistry Robots Finally Discover the Origin of Life?

Chemist Lee Cronin’s hopes for a breakthrough by getting robots to motor through millions of chemical combinations, looking for self-replicating systems

How did molecules form self-replicating systems? This is a harder problem than we sometimes think because it’s not obvious why molecules should seek to develop into complex organisms that can self-replicate. Science journalist Katharine Sanderson notes that University of Glasgow chemist Lee Cronin is using robots to test the “billions of ways” it could have happened: He and his team have set up machines that combine a selection of simple substances – acids, inorganic minerals, carbon-based molecules – to react randomly. The outcome is analysed and then an algorithm helps the robot choose how to proceed. In this way, the robot can hunt through vast swathes of chemical space to see if any self-replicating systems emerge. Cronin thinks this automated…

Centipede is a poisonous animal with many legs that can bite and release poison to enemies.

A Robotic Centipede Is Not Just a Toy

It may be useful in agriculture because it replicates natural centipede skills at navigating rough ground or water

Georgia Tech biological physicist Daniel Goldman recently told a virtual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology that he hopes to build a centipede robot. A robot that riffed off the centipede, a carnivorous land-dwelling arthropod with a long body and many jointed legs, would look a little bit like this: What would it be good for? Well, intense study by Goldman and his colleagues showed that centipedes have ways of overcoming obstacles that make them especially useful for agricultural tasks like planting, picking, and weeding, where they must constantly adapt to the landscape (land or water), which is something a lot of machines have difficulty with: Here’s one of their papers on the topic. Another approach, pioneered…

Young disabled man playing on piano electronic synthesizer with artificial prosthetic hand in music shop

What If a Prosthetic Limb Could Feel Like the Real Thing?

No, this isn’t some Uncanny Valley; the human nervous system responds to electrical signals from machines

A NOVA special premiering February 23, looks at a remarkable new development in prostheses that “allows prosthetic legs to move and feel like the real thing.” Here’s the trailer: Follow the dramatic personal journey of Hugh Herr, a biophysicist working to create brain-controlled robotic limbs. At age 17, Herr’s legs were amputated after a climbing accident. Frustrated by the crude prosthetic limbs he was given, Herr set out to remedy their design, leading him to a career as an inventor of innovative prosthetic devices. Now, Herr is teaming up with an injured climber and a surgeon at a leading Boston hospital to test a new approach to surgical amputation that allows prosthetic limbs to move and feel like the real…


A Lego Toy That Solves Mazes May Bring New Hope to Amputees

Organic materials that enable computer chips to work like neurons could improve the usability of prostheses

A Lego toy robot with an organic brain, programmed to solve mazes, promises better prostheses: In the winter of 1997 Carver Mead lectured on an unusual topic for a computer scientist: the nervous systems of animals, such as the humble fly. Mead, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology, described his earlier idea for an electronic problem-solving system inspired by nerve cells, a technique he had dubbed “neuromorphic” computing. A quarter-century later, researchers have designed a carbon-based neuromorphic computing device—essentially an organic robot brain—that can learn to navigate a maze. Saugat Bolakhe, “Lego Robot with an Organic ‘Brain’ Learns to Navigate a Maze” at Scientific American (January 28, 2022) The difference between a regular materials-only computer chip made of…

3d rendering of an android robot cyborg woman humanoid - side view and  isolated in an empty background

Watch a Robot Try To Replicate Human Emotions

We wouldn’t know there was such a thing as human emotions if this were our only source

A robot by BilTek trying to replicate human emotions The reactions have been pretty much what we might expect: The clip, posted by EHA News, shows the head of the robot, which has been designed to look so life-like that its eyes, mouth and facial expressions are detailed enough to be able to mimic human expressions. One Twitter user commented that the robot was showing ‘The UK emotions of being absolutely off ya bonk’. Simon Catling, “Scientists Create Robot Trying To Replicate Human Emotions And Everyone’s Saying The Same Thing” at UNILAD (January 14, 2022) Catling notes that a video of another, much creepier, robot by Engineered Arts surfaced last month: The robot in question – called the Ameca –…

Aggressiver Schwarzer Roboter

Sci-Fi Saturday Special: The Journey of the Nauts

The astronaut discovers a planet run by robots that think humans are lying if we say there is no Creator because, after all, we created them

(A short story by Jonathan Witt) Let’s see. How to start? As I surfaced from cryo, I was reminded of the old Christmas poem. “A cold coming we had of it,” one of the Magi begins, and I was thinking, the fellow doesn’t know the meaning of cold. Try halfway to absolute zero across seventeen light years of interstellar space. Granted, the cryo made the journey feel like an overnighter, but don’t imagine some trillionaire spa sleepover. Imagine yourself liquored up on bad moonshine, stuffed in a sack full of dry ice, knocked unconscious, tumbled about for an hour, quick-thawed, flushed of blue antifreeze, pumped full of dehydrated/rehydrated blood, and then shocked awake. That’s the cold coming we had of…

Shaved male nape and a lot of usb cables connected to it. Concept of dependence in thinking and information

Enforce the Law With No Bias? Use Robots! Oops, Wait…

The 2008 remake of the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, explores the concept

Since we’ve been reviewing the Matrix movies, I thought I would review another sci-fi film starring Keanu Reeves, The Day the Earth Stood Still, (2008) which was a remake of a film of the same name that came out in 1951. However, as I was watching this train wreck, even by remake standards, I thought I ought to watch the original for a little extra context. What I saw compelled me to write this review. Here’s a trailer for the original, which gives some sense of the period: Now the new version: The movie opens with a spaceship landing and the alien, Klaatu, and his robot, Gort, stepping out of the ship. Klaatu is shot and Gort destroys a few…

baited mousetrap

Can a Robot Be Programmed To Detect a Trap?

A team led by a Harvey Mudd professor programmed some digital gophers to spot possible traps while seeking food — and some without that ability

One issue in robotics is enabling the robot to detect danger. That’s harder than it might seem; it involves evaluating uncertainties. In their open access paper, a Harvey Mudd College research group describes the situation in dramatic terms by asking readers to picture a dilemma: Imagine a wealthy individual has announced they have hidden a large sum of money in an abandoned mine. You feel particularly adventurous and visit the mine in search of treasure. Approaching one of the mine’s many entrances, your excitement plummets as you notice the hazardous conditions. The precarious wooden floor planks separating you from a 50-foot drop are worn and rotted. Trails of crumbling rock intermittently fall from the roof and walls, indicating a potential…