Tag: artificial intelligence

The Future of LOVOT: Between Models of Emotion and Experiments in Affect in Japan

Aya is anxiously waiting for a future in which humans coexist with robots. She didn’t think this was possible in her lifetime, but when she learned about LOVOT, a 43 cm-tall furry robot on wheels designed specifically to seek out and offer affection, she was elated to discover that the future she had imagined was within reach. She urged me to take hold of it—LOVOT, that is. We were chatting at a recent Talk Session for LOVOT fans and a few of the creatures were spinning around a table as we talked. Its wheels folded into its body, and with animated LED eyes it looked up at me and blinked. I picked it up and Aya poked its nose, eliciting something like an irritated giggle from the robot, whose name I learned was Cherry. Aya stroked Cherry’s belly and its eyes blinked a few times and then slowly closed. “It fell asleep! How cute (kawaii)!” Aya exclaimed. Although Aya claimed to be uninterested in robots, technology, or anything in the IT world in general, she was immediately and, as she describes, inexplicably moved by LOVOT. It’s just an emotion (kanjō), she reflected. “You know about lonely people (kodoku na hito) in Japan, right?” Aya asked. “I think that everyone needs to feel affection (aichaku), and everyone enjoys this feeling we can get from cute things. It fulfills your heart (kokoro o mitasu). But not everyone can get this feeling… I think that in the future maybe one or two people out of ten might simply have relationships with things like LOVOT. It’s not really any different from the kind of affection one gets from a dog or cat, or even another person. And it’s their choice! This is a really interesting future!” (read more...)

Listening to/with Technology: Meditation Apps as the New Voice of Mental Health

Shortly after giving birth to her son, Jessica[1] began to experience a health problem that she describes simply as “pain everywhere.” About one month after we initially met at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, California, she elaborated on her symptoms: “Joint pain, muscle pain, stabbing pain, stinging pain, burning pain, tingling, numbness…chest pains, palpitations, dizzy spells, headaches. I feel like I’m going to have a seizure, or brain fog, fatigue.” (read more...)

Deep Thunder: The Rise of Big Meteorology

Today has been predicted 26 billion times. The same could be said for tomorrow and the foreseeable days to follow. This prodigious divination is the work of just one entity—IBM’s The Weather Company. These 26 billion daily forecasts of IBM likely represent only a small fraction of the models and projections to which any particular day is subjected (the financial and military sectors are equally ambitious prognosticators). Backed by IBM’s computational juggernaut, The Weather Company is burning through terabytes at a brow-furrowing velocity in its effort to fit the world into a forecast. (Listen Now...)

The Dawn of Digital Therapeutics

A techno-optimistic attitude tells us we’re living at an inflexion point where care practices are being transformed by technology. Monitoring and attending to health and well-being are no longer activities bound within physical spaces like hospitals and clinics; these activities have extended to the basic functions of smart phones. A new labor force has emerged for this digitized health transformation utilizing open source engineering platforms, structuring work into two-week Agile design sprints, and leveraging professionals from traditional healthcare settings. In many ways, the practices of these workers appear synonymous to those of other start-up companies across industry spaces. Throughout ethnographic fieldwork over the last year, I have explored the evolution of this phenomenon within an emergent area of the digital health sphere: Digital therapeutics. (read more...)

Dumbwaiters and Smartphones: The Responsibility of Intelligence

“I don’t have to drink alone,” she paused for comedic effect, “now that I have Alexa.” Thus was the punchline of a story told by a widowed octogenarian at a recent wedding. Alexa is a mass-produced personality that can play music, suggest items for purchase, monitor consumption and health habits, or, like any good friend, just listen. While all these tasks could be performed in silence with various algorithmic appliances, Alexa and her cousins from Google and Apple are imbued with a perceived autonomy directly stemming from their capacity for vocalization. Speech, it seems, beckons the liberation of abiotic materials from their machinic programming. (read more...)

Gods, AIs, and Mormon Transhumanism

I’d like to start this post by juxtaposing two scenes. The first one is set about two years ago, and occurred on the third floor of the Provo, Utah Convention Center. The scene was very similar to the one found in any academic conference—down to the dais, the rows of chairs, and a screen designed for projecting PowerPoint slides. We were between presentations, and as often happens during moments such as these, I was spending the interstitial moments catching up with acquaintances I mostly know from on-line interactions. In the case at hand, the person I was talking to is in his late twenties or early thirties, someone who had recently left his position in the United States Marines; in fact, he had left the military so recently that he still had the short haircut associated with service. On his arm, he also had a tattoo of an electromagnetic equation. He is holding one hand out in front of my face as we talk. In normal conversations, a gesture like that would be rude, but this was not a normal conversation. This is because he was describing how, at very close distances, he can feel the presence of electricity with his hands. He had gained this ability through intervening in his physical body—biohacking—which I will return to shortly. (read more...)

A Feeling for Robotic Skin

“I hate it when her eyes flick open. This one, her eyeballs sometimes go in different directions and it looks creepy.” Catherine reached over, gently pulling the doll’s eyelids down with one extended finger. The doll, Nova, was petite, shorter than Catherine and I, and had jet black hair and brown skin. She had been clothed in a white unitard suit. Nova was flanked by other dolls of various heights and skin tones, to her right a white-skinned brunette, also a “petite” model, and across from her, a life-size replica of the porn actor Asa Akira. Henry, a newer model, stood beside Nova. He had been dressed in what might be described as office-kink-lite, a white button-down shirt and black slacks, along with black fingernail paint and a leather wrist cuff. His skull was cracked open to reveal the circuitry inside. Henry, Nova, Asa’s doll, and the others were standing propped in the display lobby of a sex doll manufacturer’s headquarters in southern California. I visited the headquarters in the spring of 2018 to meet the dolls and their makers. Catherine, the company’s media liaison, generously offered me a tour of the display showroom and production site. (read more...)

Killer Robots: Algorithmic Warfare and Techno-Ethics

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth post in our Law in Computation series. War is an experiment in catastrophe; yet, policymakers today believe chance can be tamed and ‘ethical war’ waged by simply increasing battlefield technology, systematically removing human error/bias. How does an increasingly artificially intelligent battlefield reshape our capacity to think ethically in warfare (Schwartz, 2016)? Traditional ethics of war bases the justness of how one fights in war on the two principles of jus in bello (justice in fighting war) ethics: discrimination and proportionality, weighted against military necessity. Although how these categories apply in various wars has always been contested, the core assumption is that these categories are designed to be an ethics of practical judgment (see Brown, 2010) for decision-makers to weigh potentially grave consequences of civilian casualties against overall war aims. However, the algorithmic construction of terrorists has radically shifted the idea of who qualifies as a combatant in warfare. What then are the ethical implications for researchers and practitioners for a computational ethics of war? (read more...)