New stuff in robots and AI. Feb 7 edition

Our collection of robot and AI news, chatter, and entertaining videos. №7.


Chatter (the week’s news and PR, with notes)

Mercedes is teaming with Uber. Mercedes will build and operate the fleet of self-driving cars. Uber will managing the front end, which allows it to maintain a low capital model. It’s not clear what Mercedes get out of the deal. (Link. Link.) It’s worth noting that Mercedes’s autonomous cars are not best in class. (Link.)

A CMU AI system beat top rated human poker players in an epic tournament (120, 000 hands). This is notable because poker, unlike chess and go, is an incomplete information and misinformation game. To win, you have to bluff and spot bluffs. You have to model your opponent. That’s tough. (Link. Link.Link. Link. Link.)

The Future of Life Institute’s Beneficial AI conference resulted in the release of the Asilomar AI Principles (Link.), a set of guidelines and, well, principles, for the ethical development of AI technologies. I’m normally skeptical of the obsession with AI ethics. It strikes me as a bit grandiose and aloof from the very real benefits and risks associated. However, this set of principles is (mostly) reassuringly modest and focused on real world objectives. (Link.)

Starting in May, an wave gliding tsunami sentinel robot will patrol the seas in a 3 month test. (Link.)

More on EPFL’s robot building builder (in-situ constructor). (Link. Link.)


Deepthoughts (musings and commentary on the state of the art)

John Markoff makes a clear and cogent argument why we shouldn’t worry about robots taking our jobs in this interview with Kara Swisher. (Link.)

Similarly, Alan Bundy argues that the hype and worry around a superintelligent singularity is “based on an oversimplified and false understanding of intelligence” in Smart Machines Are Not a Threat to Humanity (Link.)

New York Times reminds us that always-on cloud AI systems are great vectors for hacking, hijacking, and surveillance. Careful out there kids. (Link.)

Andra Keay had a smart assessment of why being a woman is a benefit in robotics. (Link.)

Robotics legend Rodney Brooks has a new blog. His first post was on self driving cars. (Link.)

Also, good interview with Gill Pratt in Spectrum. (Link.)

Yves Behar has new principles of designing for AI. (Link.) Also a good piece in Verge about future of interaction. (Link.) As well as some thoughts in Wired about why it is hard to design human-ish robots. (Link.) In a nod to the tricky nature of emotional/affective awareness, MIT is making a wearable that does sentiment/emotion analysis on voice conversations. (Link.)

The TERESA project also focusses on the subtle social dimensions of robotics and AI. (Link.)

Part of the problem with deploying AI and robots as decision-making agents is that they tend to inherit the biases of their creators and trainers. The last year has seen several high profile examples. Microsoft’s Tay experiment was explicitly hijacked by trolls exploiting it’s training algorithm. Propublica exposed the biases of software based recidivism ‘predictors’. (Link.)And Google’s image tagger was famously racist on launch. Making AI more diverse.(Link.)

Amazing Wired article on the roboticists building war bots in Iraq. (Link.)

Most chatbots are the “Interactive Voice Response” of the 2010s — aka inhuman hellscapes whose sole purpose is to reduce customer service cost-centres. Occasionally they’re well designed and functional. (Link.)

IBM announces their 5 in 5 innovations that will change lives in 5 years. (Link.)

Connecting up the robots predicted to be a big tech trend in 2017. (Link.)


Data (info on filings, acquisitions, usage, uptake…)

The Chan-Zuckerberg initiative bought Toronto’s Meta, a platform for discovering research. (Link.)

Frank Tobe’s summary of deals in January. (Link.)

$250M for the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute in Pittsburgh. (Link.)

RBC, U of A and Richard Sutton open machine learning lab in Edmonton. (Link.)

Microsoft bought Waterloo’s Maluuba. (Link.)

Robot ETFs are growing fast. (Link.)


Products (new hardware, software, and services)

H&R Block goes ahead and admits that computers do taxes better than they do (ok, they’re “using” IBM Watson to find deductions). Side note — you’ve known this was true since you bought that copy to TurboTax at Staples in 2001. Side note 2 — it takes one of history’s most sophisticated and powerful machines (Watson) to do a personal tax return? Something is wrong with that. (Link.)

I am so pumped for Piaggio’s Gita. (Link.) This thing looks delightful. (Link.Link. Link.)

Line-us —a neat little sketching robot that’s on KickStarter. (Link.)

Segway’s ‘mobility robot platform’ is going mass. (Link.)

Exoskeletons are cool. Soft exoskeletons are cooler. (Link.)

A soft robot that pumps your heart so you don’t have to. (Link. Link. Link.)

More drone deliveries, this time in our back yard. (Link.)

Flying cars are something people are talking about semi-seriously now. (Link. Link.) But only semi-seriously, because they’re still a terrible idea.

Cyborg dragonfly spies are a thing now. (Link.)

Self-driving cars are getting better. Much better. (Link.)


Videos (& other entertainments)

Boston Dynamics made a new robot. Everyone, including Marc Raibert, says it’s “nightmare-inducing”. I don’t see it. Looks pretty neat to me. (Link.)

Robots grabbing vegetables might not sound exciting, but…

Fast hydrogel robots catch fish. Details on MIT News (link).

ELVIA, the Alexa powered Elvis robot/nightmare.