Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Robots will suck, unless we do something about it

I just saw the new Jibo Commercial, and it really pisses me off. Several Science fiction nightmares are all coming to be, and we need to stop it now. Ever since advertising came to the World Wide Web, back in the 90's, technology has been going in the direction of being really awesome, but really annoying, too. Web ads were really annoying and still are for millions of Americans. The more technologically savvy people among us install ad blockers, change our web browsers, and get software to block ads, but it's a constant battle. No sooner do we foil the pop-up ads, than companies find new ways to annoy us with their in-your-face attempts to get us to buy their crap.

Since then, a few Movies and TV shows have shown us what the future probably will be like. In Minority Report, ads on billboards come out in 3D at you, and target you personally, because the computers are all linked, and everyone is collecting data on you, so they can invite you to go to the Gap and buy some more of their shitty clothes made by slave labor in 3rd world countries.

Both Futurama and Max Headroom hinted at advertising being inserted into dreams either via electronics worn on your body, or via signals that stimulate your brain.

Smart phone manufacturers are hitting on us now, with phones that have pre-installed apps that send personal data to marketers. Your phone is secretly collecting your web surfing habits, your purchases, and other things, so that companies collecting and selling that data can target you for personal advertising, some of which is on your phone.

But Robots will change everything. That cute little Jibo ad really pisses me off. It's awesome that a woman from MIT invented it, and is going to make a lot of money off of it, but she has to be my enemy because we all know what Jibo will do once you bring it home and plug it in.

Jibo requires a Wifi connection to the internet. This sounds innocuous, but it means that Jibo will send data back to it's manufacturers. Jibo talks to you, and has conversations. he doesn't just take orders from you. He asks you questions, and you give him answers. He has artificial intelligence, so he understands the context of most of what you say. We all know that he will collect that information and send it to marketers so that they can target advertising directed at you, or your family members. Imagine your kids listening to Jibo telling them a bedtime story (which is what you should be doing, you lame-assed excuse of a parent!). Suddenly, Jibo asks "Hey Jenny, if you liked that story, I know of some other similar stories that you might also like, all available for a small fee online. Ask your daddy if he'll buy them for you, and I'll read them to you!" Because Jibo takes your voice mails and answers your phone, you may come home to hear "Hey, Bob, your wife was talking to her friend about wanting a new car, because yours is a piece of shit with no power. I took the liberty of contacting several auto dealers and got quotes from them for a few models of car that both you and she were interested in."

Perhaps other things to consider are your robot as a spy, not just for a corporation, but for police. Suppose your little Robot pal knows that pot is illegal, and he rats you out to the cops. Suppose cops, who have the ability to tap your phones, want to tap into Jibo, and see what his cameras see. Suppose a horny nerd hacks into your Jibo, and uses the camera to look at you and your family nude? If a hacker can hack your webcam today (which is the case), who is to say that Jibo's camera can't be hacked in the same way?

Imagine when inexpensive robots are available that have arms and legs, and can walk and talk to people. Imagine your robot servant walking around with you doing errands, and making pitches for products while you go about your day. Now think about the control that the manufacturer may have over the robot. What if the robot knocked over a breakable item, or sabotaged an item, only to offer you several online quotes for replacements of the broken items? What if your robot was constantly looking out not for you -- but for the bottom line of it's manufacturer and it's affiliates who pay for advertising?

This is the future of robots, and you know it. It's exactly what manufacturers, with obsessed marketing departments, will make happen, and WE MUST FIGHT IT THE ONLY WAY WE CAN.

We need to get involved in an OPEN SOURCE robot program that will act as the antidote for this new age of monsters coming down the pike. We don't necessarily need to have a ground-up project that will create a truly personal robot free of influence from it's manufacturers and other marketers. We could have a basic robot operating system and motherboard, which could be designed to fit into one of several popular pre-existing robots. You buy the Apple, Toshiba, Honda, or Jibo-VII robot, rip out it's brain, and replace it with this open source one, which is specially designed to identify the robot it is in, and use the parts only in ways that you want it to. It's sort of like buying a cheap 4-cylendar engine car, then ripping out the engine, and with a special adapter kit, putting in an 8-cylendar engine. The manufacturers don't endorse this at all, but the companies that make the kits sell them, and groups of customers support them, and some even start conversion businesses.

We are at the verge of an era where hackers and budding roboticists, Artificial intelligence programmers and hobbyists, can prevent robots from sucking, and make them more like the DREAM of science fiction robots. You can build a Marvin, or a Robbie, or a Rosie, or a John Cleese Robot. Like the people who have made Linux more usable, open source robot makers can bring robots to the masses which don't bug you, or back-stab, or care if you're smoking something illegal.

So here are a few organizations for people interested in preventing robots of the future from sucking.

  • -- It is now 2010, and technology has advanced a long way since Good’s time. The notion of an intelligence explosion has become almost commonsensical in some circles, with pragmatic visionaries like Ray Kurzweil and Intel CTO Justin Rattner arguing that AIs with general intelligence beyond the human level can be expected by the 2040s. An increasing subset of professional AI researchers shares this optimism – see this recent survey of participants at the Artificial General Intelligence 2009 conference, or this recent interview with Noah Goodman of MIT. We at OpenCog share this optimistic outlook. We intend to be on the cusp of this intelligence explosion, poised to ride the possibilities of thought, and potentially far earlier than the 2040s.
  • Alchemy -- Alchemy is a software package providing a series of algorithms for statistical relational learning and probabilistic logic inference, based on the Markov logic representation. Alchemy allows you to easily develop a wide range of AI applications, including Collective classification, Link prediction, Entity resolution, Social network modeling, and Information extraction.
  • OpenAI -- The OpenAI Project takes an open source approach to creating tools for Artificial Intelligence development. The project's primary goal is to create configuration and communication standards for AI tools. Ultimately, we will produce a set of tools implementing these standards to enable the full potential of Artificial Intelligence to be expressed. We hope to be known as the OpenGL of Artificial Intelligence.
  • The Open Source Robotics Foundation -- Open Source Robotics Foundation, Inc. (OSRF) is an independent non-profit organization founded by members of the global robotics community. The mission of OSRF is to support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development.
  • The Rossum Project -- Building a robot isn't easy. Robotics presents a challenging intersection of hardware and software. It reaches across disciplines including: Mechanical Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Electronics, and Computer Programming. Better hardware has made the job less difficult, but the software hasn't followed suit. There is a serious lack of reliable, ready-to-use software components for the robot developer. The Rossum Project is an attempt to help.
  • The Robot Operating System -- The Robot Operating System (ROS) is a flexible framework for writing robot software. It is a collection of tools, libraries, and conventions that aim to simplify the task of creating complex and robust robot behavior across a wide variety of robotic platforms.
Part of this effort will involve nerds giving up dreams of getting stinking rich off of going corporate with their ideas. Lots of people will need to have a sort of altruistic mindset, eschewing the desire for big profits for the possibility of making a future that is full of wonder and optimism, as opposed to one of corporate greed. We know that roboticists will make robots that obey commands and perform tasks, which will make consumers not have to be programming wizards, but they will at least need to make a conscious effort to buy into the open source models, and they need to know why it's important. With enough people, we can create the robots that science fiction promised us 50 years ago.