Sophia UN 2

Divergent perspectives on recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics were evident at a public lecture hosted last week (Feb 14, 2018) at the University of King’s College (Halifax). The keynote speaker, Stan Matwin, presented a nuanced, but largely optimistic view of where research in AI is heading, and the value that advances like “deep learning” promise for society. Following Dr. Matwin’s talk, Teresa Heffernan offered some critical commentary, emphasizing how deceptive claims were being used to promote initiatives in the industry, feeding on and reinforcing collective fantasies and delusional thoughts about, for example, the “aliveness” of robots.

Deep learning

“Deep learning” process

Dr. Matwin (Dalhousie University, Canada Research Chair in Visual Textual Analytics), summarized the history of AI and characterized advances in the field since the advent of “deep learning.” He explained how “classical” machine learning depended on human labour for the provision of “representations” and “examples” comprising the “knowledge” being imparted to the “artificial” system. In contrast, Dr. Matwin showed, the emerging field of “deep learning” requires human effort in the compilation of “examples” only; the machine “learns” what the examples represent by “finding non-linear relationships between” them. Moreover, according to Dr. Matwin, 2017 saw the development of a self-training chess playing program (AlphaZero) able to learn the game without humans supplying either “representations” or “examples.” Based on the powers exhibited by “deep learning” systems, Dr. Matwin predicted that significant social changes were on the horizon, such as white-collar job loss. Nonetheless he averred that the ubiquity of high-tech machines like smart phones was indicative of the inevitability of technological progress in general, and of the benefits of AI in particular.

Dr. Heffernan, professor of English at Saint Mary’s University and director of the Social Robot Futures Project, introduced her talk by showing a segment from the Tonight Show (Jimmy Fallon) in which the CEO of Hanson Robotics (David Hanson) affirmed that his robot “Sophia” was “basically alive.”

 

Dr. Heffernan then argued that “Sophia” was, in fact, merely a “chatbot” in a robotic body: it functions by reacting to a user’s statements, queries and expressions with prewritten scripts, and/or information gathered from the internet. The user’s spoken statements are transcribed into text that is then matched with automated replies. Dr. Heffernan presented some of the open source code used in programming Sophia’s chatbot capabilities. In sum, she argued with reference to CEO Hanson’s performance on the Tonight Show, that “what you are watching is a showman and an impressive spectacle.”

M-x doctor mode, an Eliza clone running in GNU Emacs (Wikipedia)

Dr. Heffernan explained how the scientist who invented the “chatbot” concept in the 1960s, Joseph Weisenbaum, had since become a critic of the industry. In a famous experiment, he programmed the chatbot “Eliza” with a dialogic model based in psychotherapy — giving rise to the so-called “DOCTOR” script. Weisenbaum noticed that although users fully understood how the DOCTOR-scripted chatbot worked, which was to respond with stock phrases or pick up on the last statement the subject made, they nevertheless divulged intimate personal details and attributed feelings to it. Regarding this phenomenon, Dr. Heffernan quoted Weisenbaum’s own reflections: “What I had not realized is that extremely short exposures to a relatively simple computer program could induce powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people.”  In a documentary called Plug and Pray Weizenbaum expressed his concern about the development of this technology given people’s susceptibility to being manipulated.

Nothwithstanding Weisenbaum’s public statements on these issues, according to Dr. Heffernan, contemporary “marketers of social robots like Sophia, which are now enhanced by faster computer processors and access to big data sets, encourage this delusional thinking instead of exposing it.”

Stan Matwin and Teresa Heffernan

Stan Matwin and Teresa Heffernan, Feb 14, 2018

You can watch Dr. Heffernan’s 15 minute talk, “Concerns About the Artificial Intelligence Industry,” below. More information about the “Automatons” lecture series at King’s College can be found here.

 

By Karen Asp (Feb 23, 2018)

Public lecture on Artificial Intelligence

Posted: February 12, 2018 by keasp1 in AI, Ethics, Events, Science

On Wednesday February 14th, Stan Matwin (Dalhousie University) will give a public lecture on the technical, ethical and philosophical issues associated with artificial intelligence (AI). His talk will be followed by a response from Teresa Heffernan (Saint Mary’s University).

Part of the “Automatons: From Ovid to AI” lecture series, this public event is scheduled for 7:00 pm, February 14th, at Alumni Hall, King’s College, Halifax.

Matwin 5

Video: Ancient Robots

Posted: February 8, 2018 by keasp1 in Education, History, Robots, Science, Technology
Tags: ,

Listen to Courtney Ann Roby, Associate Professor, Cornell University talking about the dreams of, and designs for, automata in ancient Greece, and how actual “ancient robots” were “programmed.” Dr Roby is the author of Technical Ekphrasis in Greek and Roman Science and Literature: The Written Machine between Alexandria and Rome (2016) and Hero of Alexandria (forthcoming). Her lecture was recorded at the University of King’s College, Halifax on January 25, 2018.

Ancient Automatons Lecture

Posted: January 22, 2018 by keasp1 in Education, Events, Fiction, Robots, Technology

Courtney Ann Roby, Associate Professor, Cornell University will give a talk on ancient automatons this Thursday (7:00 pm January 25th) at Alumni Hall, University of King’s College, Halifax. Dr. Roby is the author of Technical Ekphrasis in Greek and Roman Science and Literature: The Written Machine between Alexandria and Rome (2016) and Hero of Alexandria (forthcoming).

Abstract: Hero of Alexandria, known for his works on topics from theoretical mechanics to catapult design, describes his theatrical automata as the culmination of mechanics. This lecture will introduce these automata and the mechanisms that drove them, consider what it means to think of “programming” in terms of concrete materials rather than as abstractions of bits and bytes, and trace the cultural value of Hero’s automata from the Roman world to the Renaissance.

heffernan-poster-3-1-e1516029997438.jpgNews headlines, government reports, scientific journals, and museums often use fiction to frame discussions of the robotics and artificial intelligence industry, implying a direct trajectory between the fiction and the science. Yet when it comes to real-world policies, the literary imagination is marginalized in discussions of a technological future with the oft-voiced argument that we need to keep the “fiction” out of science. There are all sorts of ways in which fiction and art more generally are mobilized in the service of the robotics/AI industry in order to prove the “creativity” and autonomy of artificial intelligence; what gets shut down, however, is the critical potential of art. Resisting the tendency to read science as fiction coming true, Teresa Heffernan will consider the very different ways science and fiction imagine robots, artificial intelligence, and technological futures.

When/Where: 7:00 PM, January 17 at Alumni Hall, University of King’s College, Halifax.

Information: www.ukings.ca/automatons

 

AutomatonsSeriesPoster-668x1024Starting January 10th, 2018, the University of King’s College, Halifax, is hosting an exciting public lecture series, Automatons! From Ovid to AI, on the culture, science and politics of robots and AI. The series begins with a screening of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic film, Metropolis, with live musical accompaniment by the Upstream Music Association. Talks will be given by international scholars and authors such as Stephanie Dick (Of Models and Machines), Despina Kakoudaki (Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema and the Cultural Work of Artificial People), and Courtney Ann Roby (The Written Machine between Alexandria and Rome). Renowned physicist and commentator Noel Sharkey is scheduled to debate the issue of “fully autonomous weapons systems” with Dalhousie University philosophy professor Duncan MacIntoshTeresa Heffernan, Saint Mary’s University English professor and director of the Social Robot Futures project, will open the series with an introductory lecture on robot imaginaries past and future.

The schedule of talks and events is presented below. More information on each talk can be found at Automatons! From Ovid to AI.

All lectures start at 7 p.m. and take place in Alumni Hall, University of King’s College, Halifax, except for the March 21 and March 28 events.


January 10: Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 film, Metropolis, with live electroacoustic music, opens the Public Lecture Series. Venue: Alumni Hall

With musical accompaniment by the Upstream Music Association, the screening explores the intersection between electronics and improvisation, automation and real-time inspiration, featuring some of our finest cinematic improvisors: Amy Brandon on guitar and electronics, Steven Naylor on keyboard and electronics, Lukas Pearse on bass and electronics, and Brandon Auger on synthesizer.

January 17: Imagining Automatons

Teresa Heffernan of Saint Mary’s University and Director of the “Social Robots Futures” project, delivers the opening lecture on the past and future of robots. Venue: Alumni Hall

January 25: Ancient Automatons

Courtney Ann Roby, Cornell University, and author of The Written Machine between Alexandria and Rome (2016). Venue: Alumni Hall

February 14: Panel discussion on “Big Data and Autonomous Vehicles”

With Brian Flemming, Senior Fellow with the Van Horne Institute, Calgary, and Stan Matwin, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair, Dalhousie University. Venue: Alumni Hall

February 28: Imagined Puppet Life

Dawn Brandes, University of King’s College and Halifax Humanities. Venue: Alumni Hall

March 7: Asian Robots & Orientalism

Simon Kow, University of King’s College. Venue: Alumni Hall

March 21: War in the Age of Intelligent Machines

Renowned physicist and commentator Noel Sharkey debates Duncan MacIntosh, Dalhousie University, on the role of autonomous weapons. Venue: Scotiabank Auditorium, Saint Mary’s University

March 28: Frankenstein

A special performance and lecture marking the 200th anniversary of the Mary Shelley classic

With Despina Kakoudaki, American University of Washington, and author of Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema and the Cultural Work of Artificial People. Venue: Fountain School of Performing Arts, Dalhousie University

April 4: Living Artificially

With King’s alumna and University of Pennsylvania professor, Stephanie Dick. Author of Of Models and Machines

The 2018 Lecture Series is made possible with assistance from the University of King’s College (Contemporary Studies Program, Early Modern Studies Program and History of Science and Technology Program), Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University.

 

Saint Mary’s University English prof Teresa Heffernan teamed up with Paul Abela of the Department of Philosophy, Acadia University, to argue for the “con” side in a policy debate last month on the implications of AI and robots for the future of society. While the pro v. con structure was simplistic, it generated a dynamic conversation on “grounds for optimism” compared to “concerns about what the future will bring.”

Dr. Heffernan argued that, “the massive industry and military investment driving this technology has already rendered a ‘con’ position irrelevant. There is no stopping it. All we can hope for is some sane regulation, more transparency, more education, less hype, and more voices in what’s been largely an unregulated field.” Acknowledging the optimism that characterized the early days of the internet, she outlined a range of negative impacts and risks indicative of the complex problems and disappointments of the new reality of social media and the “4th industrial revolution”. She concluded with the injunction that, “we cannot look to technology to solve our problems. We don’t need more engineers attempting to manufacture life for profit, we need more humans thinking creatively about how to share this planet with other complex lifeforms on which we all depend.”

The debate was hosted by Acadia University, with Ian Wilks (Acadia) serving as moderator. The “pro” side was represented by Danny Silver, Jodrey School of Computer Science, Director, Acadia Institute for Data Analytics, Acadia University, and Stan Matwin, Faculty of Computer Science, and Director of Big Data Analytics at Dalhousie University. Congratulations to Acadia University for hosting this fine event.