New stuff in robots and AI. Dec 16 edition.

Videos (& other entertainments)

Bloomberg did a good bit on Reach Robotics’ amazing looking MekaMon system: augmented reality robot battles, in your living room. I’m sold.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Biomedical Engineering published a report in Nature demonstrating a novel EEG brain computer interface controlling a robot arm.

UBTECH produced a cute little series about their Alpha 1 and Meebot going to entertain at a Man City game.

TED-Ed does a pretty good job introducing the wide world of affective computing.

The Verge went on a field trip to Huaqiangbei Market in Shenzhen. It’s pretty clear that this is the beating heart of global technology. Robots will come to life here first.

Real life use cases for robots and AI aren’t always flashy. They’re more often boring, routine, unskilled, high-risk/low-reward, like towing cars around an auto plant parking lot. Nice one Nissan.

Here is ArtiMinds’ contribution to the venerable robot Christmas video genre.

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

The IEEE is developing a guide for ethically designing AI. The draft guide is available for review, and they’re soliciting feedback through March 17, 2017. The goal is to clarify and produce guidelines around collection of personal data, machine autonomy, and other legal/economic issues. This is a very, very good thing. They’ve avoided the hypey talk about AI megalomania and focussed on the real problems that accumulate around centralized information and control in algorithmic environments. Smart. Here are some comments from around the web.

An Amazon Prime Air drone delivered popcorn to a guy in England.

It was big news, but not everyone is convinced that airborne delivery is the most efficient way to get people popcornIt seems better suited to high-value, time constrained deliveries — primarily medicine and tissue. My guess is that’s Amazon’s plan, and this is just the splashy sales pitch.

We got an answer to the question of the week — what will Google/Alphabetcall their self-driving car unit, since Drive is already taken? We have an answer — um — Waymo. Name-aside, I’m excited to see what they have planned. Even if, though the particulars remain a mystery, it looks like it won’t be the long-teased steering-wheel free car of the future.

Magic Leap got pummelled after a report from The Information (paywall) suggested that they had oversold their technology. And, troublingly, that work Weta did on a demo video wasn’t just game graphics, it simulated the AR itself. The video was faked, leading Recode to lump them in with Theranos as “fake tech”. Ouch. Still, several of their other videos specifically claim to be SFX free. The Weta video didn’t. And it doesn’t seem fair to equate having trouble resolving a technology (Magic Leap) with just up and lying (Theranos). Rony Abovitz’s end of year blog post came out after The Information’s story without addressing it directly. For now, though, world’s hopes for AR rest with the HoloLens (Which is real. And works. And which people think is pretty awesome.) and Apple’s rumoured AR/VR/smart glass project.

A robot hand got a soft touch by combining optical waveguides, 3D printing, and soft robotics. Robert Shepherd’s Organic Robotics Lab at Cornell developed the approach, which was published in Science Robotics.

Uber launched self driving cars in San Fransisco on Wednesday morning.Yay!

On Wednesday afternoon, California ordered them to stopand start over by applying through the usual channels. Oomph. There was also a little red light incident that didn’t help Uber’s PR case. Uber says human drivers were in control of the offending vehicles, but we’re left with the nagging question of how other drivers will react when they believe a vehicle is driving itself. It is increasingly obvious that self-driving cars are going to cause regulators a lot of headaches.

Rumour has it that ex-Google X self driving car lead (he gave a great TED talk last year) is starting up his own self-driving car company. We count a lot of players in the AI for self-driving car space — WaymoUberDrive.aiComma.ainutonomyblackberry (via qnx),, and now IBM+BMW. I wonder how many of them can survive. It seems likely that self-driving cars will be dominated by 1 or 2 AI service providers, bundled into OEM hardware, competing with proprietary systems from big car makers. At least until we enter the brave new world of 100% on-demand transport in the late 2030s.

GM announced they’re expanding self-driving vehicle tests to Detroit, and will be building their test vehicles there.

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

Riva-Melissa Tez warned against uncritical hype in AI. Case study: RocketAI, a “Temporally Recurrent Optimal Learning” (TROL…see what they did there?) startup “launched” at NIPS. It was 100% fake, and a perfectly calibrated AI cred shibolleth. People who knew, knew. Everyone else looked stupid. But it highlights a real problem. Many non-insiders are baffled/awed/excited by developments in AI — and therefore prone to BS of all kinds. Investors, users, and the public need to be educated about real developments, not wowed by exaggerated claims.

CMU’s Stephanie Rosenthal wrote a post clearly articulating the need for human language communication and trust between robots and people. Roboticists tend to be comfortable auditing log files to understand system behaviour. Most other people, to put it mildly, are not. But, if robots are going to play a larger role in our lives, “most other people” need to be able to communicate with them effortlessly, in real time. Otherwise, we won’t feel secure using them. Transparency, clarity, and ease of use are fundamental. Robots need nuanced design that is both human centred and system centred. Human/system centred design?

Intel Capital’s Ramamurthy Sivakumar paints a nice picture of the introduction of robots. He argues that SaviokeFetchFellow, and Starshipare clear signals that the proliferation of cheap sensors and processors, and better machine learning is finally opening previously robot-free industries -service, retail, delivery - and will eventually lead to a general purpose robot.

Steven Levy wrote a great post-mortem on the Pebble failure. Summary— good people worked hard and did something exciting, but got overwhelmed by a fickle market.

There were some interesting arguements about why we need to ban/prevent killer robots — 1) in robot v. human fights, the robot will win, 2) a little software tweak can make a robot change sides. I agree. But why stop at killer robots? I’d include killer airplanes, killer missiles, killer guns, killer bombs, killer landmines, killer tanks, killer boats, etc., in the list of killer things worth eliminating.

Edward Snowden and Jack Dorsey had a chat on periscopewhere Snowden made a case for control of data being a central question/problem from here on in. That question, along with the risk of manipulation and hacking of AI algorithmssecurity obligations, and the risks built into trusting algorithms to make decisions, are getting more pressing by the day. Maybe it’s finally time to get serious about a New Deal on Data.

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

New York ETF shop Global X launched a robot themed ETF — the catchily named Global X Robotics & Artificial INtelligence Thematic ETF. It joins a handful of others: IndxxRobo Global ETFs, and Pictet.


Remembering Boston Dynamics’ 2015 festive greetings. Note: teams of robodeer should be harnessed and lined.