Citizen Sophia

Saudi Arabia grants citizenship to humanoid robot (VIDEO)

Saudi Arabia has become the first country to grant citizenship to a robot. The lucky machine is Sophia the Humanoid, created by David Hanson for Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics.

News of Sophia’s citizenship was announced at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 25th.

“I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” Sophia said in an interview with moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin. “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

Asked about the fear that robots could take over, Sophia responded: “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”

Why not ask citizen Sophia to define “nice”, I wonder.

Will Sophia be required to wear a headscarf and abaya in her new country? It remains to be seen. At least she’ll be allowed to drive. Nice.


Robotics: Biohybrids

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have combined tissues from a sea slug with flexible 3-D printed components to build “biohybrid” robots that crawl like sea turtles on the beach.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have combined tissues from a sea slug with flexible 3-D printed components to build “biohybrid” robots that crawl like sea turtles on the beach. Photo by Vickie Webster.

“We’re building a living machine—a biohybrid robot that’s not completely organic—yet,” said Victoria Webster, a PhD student at CWRU who is leading the research.

Interesting development in robotic was reported in CWRU’s The Daily: Researchers build a crawling robot from sea slug parts and a 3-D printed body.

Oh god, don’t let my wild, unscientific imagination run amok. Is “not completely organic—yet” robot-slug just the beginning of  yet another branch of robotics — completely organic robots?

Dance, robots, dance!

To kick off the year of the monkey, China Central Television Station’s Spring Festival special included 540 dancing robots, with a fleet of drones to top it all off with a layer of glitter. The robots thrust, do handstands, and dance in that ever-so-robotic unison.

It should be noted that every one of 540 motion robots carried out the task perfectly. Every movement of each robot, whose height is 42 cm (a bit over 16.5 inches), and weight – 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pound), was carried out splendidly.

It’s the sheer scale that makes it a definite must-see. The original robot performance program was designed for 240 robots. However, to increase the awe factor of the spectacle, the number of performing robots was nearly doubled and a few drones have been added.

Oh, For Haven’s Sake!


Robots with intelligence equal to or beyond that of humans is called “strong AI” or “strong AGI” where AGI stads for Artificial General Intelligence.  When, one wonders, technology to create strong AI will become an everyday occurrence? Some experts are betting it will happen in the next two decades.roadmap-5-ai

Great! No?

In the past year, people-in-the-know — Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking among others — have warned about an eminent to threat to humanity — the rise of super-intelligent robots. (More on the subject: AI Or Die — Summoning The Demon and Number 1 Risk For This Century.)

What would their super-intelligent high-tech “brains” makeup be? Would super-intelligent robots have any MORALS whatsoever? What moral compass will guide them while their superior intelligence, having digested the entire uploaded Wikipedia, start developing ideas of their own?

robotWhat could be better than religion, right? No?

Shouldn’t any superintelligence created by humans have a notion of God?

Preaching God to automatons, no matter how autonomous, sounds kind of wacky, no?

Actually, not so much, if one doesn’t overlook statistics of U.S. demographics in relation to Christianity. About 75 percent of adult Americans identify themselves as Christians, and 92 percent of our highest politicians in U.S. Congress belong to one or another denomination of Christian faith.

jesusAn associate Pastor of Providence at the Presbyterian Church in Florida, Reverend Dr Christopher Benek, believes religions may help AI live alongside mankind.He is convinced that AIs won’t be worse than us or that they will intentionally mistreat people.

I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings. It’s redemption to all of creation, even AI. If AI is autonomous, then we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.’ (from a recent Gizmodo interview with  Reverend Benek by  Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager.)

The question of “soul” is quintessential in the coming transhumanist age of machine intelligence. Does AI have a soul? Can it be saved?

Marvin Minksy, a pioneer on the field of artificial intelligence and an MIT professor doesn’t see why not.

‘What humans have is a more complex and larger brain than any other animal — maybe a whale’s brain is physically large, but it’s not structurally more complex than ours,‘ he told the Jerusalem Post.

‘If you left a computer by itself, or a community of them together, they would try to figure out where they came from and what they are.’

Even Pope Francis recently sounded off on the possibility of aliens being converted when he affirmed that the Holy Spirit blows where it will.

Dominican monk robot?

Dominican monk robot?

Pope Francis said he would welcome Martians to receive baptism. Would the Catholic Church be as welcoming to a fanciful pile of electronically wired inorganic hardware created by human hands?

Also, god knows what surprises alien chemistry holds… No wonder some scientists are seriously suggesting that alien life that earthlings meet one day might as well be smartly put together alien machines.

To think of it, earthlings that aliens meet might be human-made super-advanced AGIs. What if these machines greet extraterrestrials with a smile and warm “Do you accept Jesus as your personal savior?”   “Allahu akbar!”  “Namaste” or whatnot.

silver-robot-with-cosmosOnce you start thinking like that, it opens up even more questions: How would AI fit into to the religious tension already present around the world? Who is to say a machine with human intelligence wouldn’t choose to become a fundamentalist Muslim, or a Jehova Witness, or a born-again Christian who prefers to speak in tongues instead of a form of communication we understand? If it decides to literally follow any of the sacred religions texts verbatim, as some humans attempt to do, then it could add to already existing religious tensions in the world.  (Zoltan Istvan’s  article in Gizmodo When Superintelligent AI Arrives…)

Interesting article, actually, with a great number of  amusing comments too…

‘Who is to say that one day AIs might not even lead humans to new levels of holiness?’  Indeed. That is, if humans would reach ANY level of holiness by the time THEY arrive.


AI or Die — Summoning The Demon


Speaking at event in London, Professor Stephen Hawking told the BBC, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” It is not the first time the famous  physicist warned humanity of an uncertain future as technology learns to think for itself and adapt to its environment, bring about our demise.


Image courtesy of Ryan Etter.


Earlier in the year Hawking said that success in creating AI ‘would be the biggest event in human history, [but] unfortunately, it might also be the last.’ 

He argues that developments in digital personal assistants Siri, Google Now and Cortana are merely symptoms of an IT arms race which ‘pale against what the coming decades will bring.’

But Professor Hawking noted that other potential benefits of this technology could also be significant, with the potential to eradicate, war, disease and poverty.

Google's DeepMind start-up, which was bought for £255 million ($400 million) earlier this year, is currently attempting to mimic the properties of the human brain's short-term working memory.

Google’s DeepMind start-up, which was bought for $400 million earlier this year, is currently attempting to mimic the properties of the human brain’s short-term working memory.

‘Looking further ahead, there are no fundamental limits to what can be achieved. […]There is no physical law precluding particles from being organised in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains.’

Eric Schmidt, Google chief executive, argued that there is no need to fear AI, and it could even be the making of humanity.

‘These concerns are normal,’ he said onstage during the Financial Times Innovate America event in New York this week. ‘They’re also to some degree misguided.’

However, Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Space-X and Tesla, disagrees, warning of ‘something seriously dangerous happening’ as a result of machines with artificial intelligence. And this “something” might begin to “happen” in as few as five years.

Speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AeroAstro Centennial Symposium in October, Musk described artificial intelligence as our ‘biggest existential threat’, and has previously linked the development of thinking machines, to ‘summoning the demon’.robot-hand

As the nuclear, aerospace, manufacturing and agricultural industries forge ahead developing autonomous systems, there are growing unease about the future.

How to prevent robot world domination? How to ensure AI can follow rules and make ethical decisions?

Researchers at the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and the West of England, Bristol have set up a new project to address concerns around these new technologies, with the aim of  ensuring robots meet industrial standards and are developed responsibly.

The £1.4 million project will run until 2018. It aims to ensure robots meet industrial standards and are created responsibly, allaying fears that humans may not be able to control them.

Meanwhile, in the field of space exploration…

Intended for the performance of exploratory missions on the moon — alongside a four-wheeled robotic rover — the new designs were introduced by Toyota in a presentation titled “Realization of Moon Exploration Using Advanced Robots by 2020.”

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What about little green men, the extraterrestrials? Will the first aliens we find be ROBOTS? Intelligent life may have turned to AI by the time we make first contact, claims Dr Susan Schneider from The University of Connecticut.

  • Drobot-handr Schneider says the first intelligent aliens we find might not be biological. Advanced aliens might be machines.
  • Humanity is already heading in this direction, Dr Schneider claims, and an advanced race would likely have already made this evolutionary leap. ‘The next evolutionary step could be we are post-biological,’ she says.
  • ‘If you look at our own civilisation, people are becoming more immersed in computers, and we can already see signs of it in our own culture. […] if you need space travel, humans aren’t very durable. But with computers, you don’t have the same threat to worry about.’
'The next evolutionary step could be we are post-biological,' said Dr Schneider. Recently experts in Washington DC discussed chances of finding alien life. Seti astromoner Dr Shostak said we 'could be the first' generation to know we are not alone.

‘The next evolutionary step could be post-biological,’ said Dr Schneider. Recently experts in Washington DC discussed chances of finding alien life. Seti astromoner Dr Shostak said we ‘could be the first’ generation to know we are not alone.


Number 1 Risk For This Century

ретрофутуризм-робот-Michael-Whelan-1124943Is it global warming? World War III, perhaps?

Nope. It’s superintelligence.

“Eventually, I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this.”  Thus spoke Shane Legg, one of the founders of DeepMind, in his believe that artificial intelligence could play a part in humans’ demise.  Neuroscientist Demis Hassabis  founded DeepMind two years ago and recently sold it to Google. The aim of the company is AI development that will allow computers think like humans.

Another AI group, San Francisco-based Vicarious, is attempting to build a program that mimics the brain’s neocortex, simulating its multiple levels of functionality: sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and language in humans. “Vicarious is developing machine learning software based on the computational principles of the human brain.”

superintelligenceWhat happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us?

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, a book by Nick Bostrom asks these same questions from the other side of the  equation: how humanity will cope with super-intelligent computers? The book lays the foundation for understanding the future of humanity and intelligent life. Mr Bostrom has also argued that the world we live in is fake, and humans are nothing but computer simulation. But never mind that.

Amsterdam-based engineer, futurist and CEO of Poikos, Nell Watson said computer chips could soon have the same level of brain power as a bumblebee – allowing them to analyse social situations.

“I am deeply saddened by the inability of robots to do something as simple as telling apart an apple and a nectarine. […] Machines are going to be aware of the environments around them and, to a small extent, they’re going to be aware of themselves.”


At a conference just days ago, she said that robots could decide that the greatest compassion to humans as a race is to get rid of everyone. Watson makes the case that as robots get smarter and more capable, “the most important work of our lifetime is to ensure that machines are capable of understanding human value. It is those values that will ensure machines don’t end up killing us out of kindness.”

Nell Watson’s comments follow tweets by Tesla-founder, Elon Musk, earlier this month. He said AI could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Musk made an investment Vicarious, along with Mark Zuckerberg and actor Ashton Kutcher. Musk is so concerned that he is investing in several AI companies. Not to make money, he says, but to keep an eye on the technology in case it gets out of hand.

Stephen Hawking, too, has warned that artificial intelligence has the potential to be the downfall of mankind. Writing in the Independent he said, “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”

Heartless Inhuman

Real_Face_1_oHeartless, inhuman, they are of a humanoid “species”.

A niche of the Japanese robotics industry are developing humanoid robotics as a research tool to understand:
what does it mean to be human as technology progresses?

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Luisa Whitton first became interested in what she describes as “technology and it’s effects on identity, in particular its ability to create a double self” while working on a project during the second year of her BA at London College of Communication. Whitton spent several months in Japan working with Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese scientist who had constructed a robotic copy of himself, and continued to work with other scientists documenting their scientific progress on humanoids.Real_Face_2_o

The images that make up her series What About the Heart? focus heavily on the eerily lifelike faces that were constructed for the robots as a way to question the humanistic aspect of the subject.Real_Face_3_o

“In the photographs, I am trying to subvert the traditional formula of portraiture and allure the audience into a debate on the boundaries that determine the dichotomy of the human/not human. The photographs become documents of objects that sit between scientific tool and horrid simulacrum”

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Whitton’s images are often accompanied by transcribed interviews between herself and the scientists, which she asks questions on the philosophy and role of religion in creating such robots. In doing so the text gives access to the human side of the project, and an insight into the scientist’s pursuit of answering the larger question: what does it mean to be human as technology progresses?

We are not so serious about religion. In the United States, some states refuse to teach Darwinism. That is very strange for me. As a Japanese Scientist, we have a freedom from this
type of thinking, we think about technology and philosophy free from religion.


Doesn’t “he” looks exactly like Hiroshi Ishiguro? Yes, “he” does.

And did you know, Honda, when they designed the Asimo and P3 robot, they asked the Vatican if it was okay to create the humanoid, and the Vatican said yes. They were told; God trusts humankind. There is no problem.”  (Interview excerpt with Scientist Minoru Asda)

“The definition of human will be more complicated, there is no absolute definition. We use artificial 
organs more and more, and replace our bodies with machines.”

“What about the heart?”

“The heart is the easiest part. Artificial hearts are very popular now. The liver is more difficult” (Interview excerpt with Scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro, University of Osaka)

coversmallWhitton is currently developing What about the Heart? for publication and researching on expanding themes worldwide to include more weird and wonderful technological niches.

Pepper Feels Your Pain



This is  Masayoshi Son, often called the Japanese Bill Gates — billionaire, entrepreneur, SoftBank’s enigmatic boss and a recent Sprint chairman.

Shaking hands with Mr. Son and towering over him is Sprint CEO Dan Hesse.

Obviously, Masayoshi Son is not a very tall man. 

And this is Mr. Son with Pepper. At 4-feet tall and 62 pounds, Pepper isn’t a very tall robot, reaching about two-thirds of Mr. Son’s height. Pepper appeared to engage Son in natural-sounding Japanese, but it’s hard to tell how much was being processed in real time. Pepper has around 12 hours of battery life, according to Son.


At a press conference in Tokyo, Mr. Son revealed a human-like robot called Pepper that is capable of playing multiple roles from babysitter to store staff. Pepper introduced itself by bowing in the Japanese fashion before posing and encouraging the audience to take more photos.


Pepper is a fast learner, capable of figuring out how to act in a natural “human” manner.  It learns from humans and its software uploads its “impressions” of human interaction and behavior to a cloud AI system for other units to use.


Pepper’s “heart and soul” is “emotion engine.” That alone makes Pepper principally different from all other programmable humanoid robots.

The robot is the result of a collaboration between SoftBank and French company Aldebaran Robotics, which has produced models like the Nao and the Romeo. SoftBank took a majority stake in Aldebaran in 2012. The Nikkei newspaper reported earlier that production will be outsourced to Foxconn; founder Terry Gou joined Son onstage to express his support for the project. 

Honda has also been developing a household robot, Asimo. US President Barack Obama played football with it during his recent visit to Japan. 


Japan is one of the world’s biggest robot markets with  estimated value of about 860bn ($8.4bn; £5bn) yen in 2012, and growing. Rapidly ageing population and falling birth rate expected to increase demand fro robots even further.

“Even if one can pre-programme such robots to carry out specific tasks based on certain commands or gestures, it could go long way in helping improve elderly care.” (Rhenu Bhuller, senior vice president healthcare at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.)


The first “issue” of Peppers will go on sale to the public in February of next year. You can have your own robot that feels your pain for 198,000 yen ($1,930; £1,150).

Chekhov, Android And Robot: Life As Japanese Theater

How often Anton Chekhov, android and robot appear in the same context and the context still makes perfect sense? Not very. True, stranger things happen, but rarely with Anton Chekhov.

Anton Chekhov (1860 – 1904) lived a very low-tech life. His play “Three Sisters” depicts a 19th century Russian provincial town that has been in existence for two hundred years, populated by roughly one hundred thousand inhabitants, of which no one isn’t like all the others…  they eat, drink, sleep, then die… others are born, and they eat, drink, sleep and, not to die of boredom, spice their lives with gossip, vodka, cards and chicanery. At the beginning of the play, the eponymous sisters (Olga, Masha and Irina) eat, drink, sleep and yearn for happiness. In the end, they  eat, drink, sleep and realize that “there is no happiness, there should not be and will not be for us”. Life is no good.

Three Sisters. Sovremennik Theater in Moscow.

Three Sisters. Sovremennik Theater in Moscow.

From the playwright and director Oriza Hirata and his theatrical company Seinendan comes the contemporary, Japanese adaptation of Chekhov’s masterpiece.

In a provincial Japanese town of a dark, indeterminate future marked by economic crisis,  there once used to be a huge robot-producing-research-and-development-consumer-electronics company. Only a small lab reminds of the glorious past.  After the death of their father, an inventor of advanced robots, his three daughters still live in the city. The future is uninspiring. The eldest daughter Risako supports the entire household, working as a teacher (like Olga). Marie (like Masha) is married, but her family life is unhappy. The youngest, Ikumi, is sick, unlike her Russian “counterpart” Irina, which isn’t.


However, this is only a negligible difference. The main one is that Ikumi isn’t even a living being. Although she moves, bats her eyelashes, smiles, talks and  makes faces, she isn’t made of flesh and blood. An organic member of the cast, the actress is totally inorganic. Deep inside — skin deep, actually — Ikumi looks something like this:


Android Geminoid F. Dressed in skin and costume, Geminioid F plays the role of Ikumi in “Three Sisters. Android Version”

Robovie-R3 — the robot that looks like, well, robot — is also a prominent member of the Three Sister’s cast.  Robovie-R3’s is smooth talker, specializing in meaningfully-melancholy conversations about the meaning of life and everything. Robovie-R3 is as eloquent as he/she/it is functional. He/she/it is cute too.

The unusual production of Chekhovian-themed play is a part of  Robot Theater Project.  It does what it’s  supposed to do — fuse theater and technology, drama and robotics, making electronic “gadgets” move and move hearts. Hirata demurred that he hoped Chekhov would’ve liked the play and perhaps even written it like this if he lived in 21st century.  Time will tell.

Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, the man behind the Robot part of the Robot Theater Project, is multi-titled and much admired robotic scientist from the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory of Osaka University. Before he built actress Geminoid F, he built an android copy of himself. I suppose, he’d be the one to answer the question Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with certainty.

Dr. Ishguro and Dr. Ishiguro-Android

Dr. Ishiguro and Dr. Ishiguro-Android

We changed the very way to display the robots, from their “exposition” at the exhibitions to the “expression” as a work of art. Visiting the “expositions”, people admire the technology.  …We want to create robots that will cause people to empathize with them…

Below is a short clip from the Three Sisters. Android Version as shown at the Moscow’s Japanese Autumn — 2013 art festival this month. This play hasn’t made his way to the US yet. Don’t be distracted by Cyrillic lettering — the clip is in Japanese with English subtitles.