Robots live among us. On a recent walk in a suburb south of Austin, I was startled to see someone mowing my lawn. Roughly the size and shape of a horseshoe crab, the dark gray instrument (A Husqvarna Automower) It rolled over the yard in eerie silence, leaving a perfect web of freshly cut grass. I was with my dad and my husband, who was pushing our infant son in his stroller. We stopped laughing at the little robot, but then I noticed my son was staring at the Husqvarna intently, and I felt a little anxious. What role will robots play in his life? According to one industry forecastNext year, nearly 49 million home robots will be sold worldwide. Not to mention the many other types of artificial intelligence, from autonomous driving cars And the Trucks to me Nursing assistants, which rolls over and enters our lives. Does anyone pause to consider the implications for a world increasingly involved with robots?
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say they are, and plan to do it in a somewhat provocative way: by releasing a pack of robotic dogs on campus, starting early next year. As part of a $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation, two robot dogs — customized versions of Boston Dynamics’ Spot and Unitree Robotics’ B1 — will roam the university’s sidewalks, interacting with passersby. as such announced UT Last week, robots will be giving out hand sanitizer and wipes, in part to see what help they might provide in the wake of pandemics and natural disasters in the future.
But the real purpose of this five-year social experiment is to find out how we can coexist peacefully with robots in public. Initially, only two mechanical tusks will come out, but eventually the project will include six, says lead investigator Luis Santis, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “Maybe people will love it, maybe people will hate it, and we want that criticism to happen,” Sentis says.
Initial Social media Reaction to the plan ranged from “No no no no” to “Kill it with fire”. Commenters were likely responding to both an illustration of the University of Texas press release’s frightening images of a robot dog sledding down the steps of a campus building and any number of fictional and real-life images of robot dogs — or quadrobots, as the researchers prefer to call them. . Robotic dogs hunted down a character in the terrifying year of 2017 black mirror episodeand newer viral video From a Chinese defense company it shows what appears to be a quadruped with a gun being shot down from who knows where by a drone.
Both companies whose UT robots will be used have vowed not to put weapons in their creations, but they still have to face this fact: Robotic dogs look scary. Spot, perhaps the most famous robot dog model, has neither a head nor a tail, so it lacks the reassuring body language of an actual dog. (In fact, you can watch real dogs on YouTube He reacts with obvious fear And the confusion To the odd robot attempts at play.) Because this type of robot is often shown to be inherently untrustworthy, its impressive ability to trot nimbly—while “navigating rough terrain” and “360-degree obstacle avoidance,” as Boston Dynamics puts it Marketing language – it only makes technology sound more threatening. The general perception is well summed up in the top commentary on 2019 YouTube video Where the Spot Released: “I can’t wait for a bunch of these to follow me through a post-apocalyptic urban hellscape!”
I have expressed these concerns to Sentis and two of his colleagues at the Living and working with robots project, and their response was basically this: Robots are inevitably going to be a bigger and bigger part of our lives, so we need to deal with our discomfort around them. Roboticists know that many of us feel uncomfortable with the technology they are building. Understanding more about these visualizations, and how they play out in the real world, is what the robotic dog experiment at UT is all about. “Twenty or thirty years from now, when we’ll have robots all around us, what should that future look like?” asks Joydeep Biswas, professor of computer science and project member. “How should robots adapt themselves to be more useful and less disruptive to humans?” He explains that the experiment arose out of a multidisciplinary effort at UT called Good Systems Projectwhich raises a more fundamental question: “How can we ensure that AI is beneficial — rather than harmful — to humanity?”
Sentis argues that this type of research may help urban planners avoid the mistakes they made with previous techniques. Draws an analogy with a car. In the 1950s, the construction of the Interstate Highway System led American cities to embrace automobile-centric expansion. As a result, many Americans live in places that prioritize cars over pedestrians, cyclists, or public transportation. And reversing sprawl is harder than building it in the first place, even if researchers now know that dense, walkable communities are safer and better for our physical and mental health. “We try to be on top,” Sintis says. “When cars were published at the beginning of the 20th century, if we had this kind of social studies, maybe cities would be very different today.”
The problem is that no one yet knows what kinds of planning decisions we should be making for a robot-filled future. Researchers at the University of Texas are interested in body language and social norms — for example, how a robot should behave when sharing an elevator with a human. How much personal space should a bot give a person in this scenario? How should you respond if someone shares it in a conversation? “Maybe the robot person will ask, ‘Hey, did you see the new construction at Speedway?'” Sentis says. “And then the robot might be able to say something interesting and have a small conversation.”
Sentis also stresses that safety is a top priority. Humans will always accompany the robots when they are in public, and the lab team will have headphones that provide a bird’s-eye view of the robot. Sentis says the lab can stop the bots at any time. Consent and privacy, two concerns of skeptics Raised on Twitter, are also serious considerations. The design of the experiment should conform to the same Strict ethical guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration to regulate all human studies, and anyone would be able to opt out. If a bystander seemed uncomfortable interacting with a robot or said, “No thanks,” the researchers would steer him away and remove that data from the study, Biswas says.
For those who were creeped out by the advent of robot dogs, researchers are working on that, too. They plan to customize the Spot and B1 models to make them less intimidating. “The robots will have a tail, and the tail will wag,” Sintis says, laughing. The researchers haven’t confirmed other details yet, but the robots could also sport a Longhorn logo or cute pairs of puppy ears. Either way, the goal is to make the creatures look friendlier, a little bit like dreamer, a humanoid robot that Sentis and his team have given a curious face and an elegant burnt orange hairstyle. Tentative plans also call for robot dogs to play fetch with passersby. UT has some experience with robot games; she’s (very cute and non-threatening) Android soccer team He won two RoboCup World Championships.
Playing fetch with a dog may seem simple, but for a roboticist, it’s a task of gigantic proportions. Teaching a robot to throw a ball requires hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of careful programming and trial and error. Perhaps for this reason, roboticists tend to be cynical when asked about it black mirror– Sporadic scenarios of a robot rebellion. “We are so far away from having autonomous robots that even thinking about that is beyond science fiction for us,” says Biswas. “I don’t have to worry about robots taking over because I’m pretty sure that will never happen in my life, my next life, or even several generations to come.”
Perhaps this answer is not surprising. Robotics scientists are technical experts, after all. It is not their job to consider philosophical questions. It may reassure you, then, that the Live and Work with Robotics team of thirteen includes scientists who do. On the list are not only faculty members in engineering and computer science, but also a professor of English, an architect, two librarians, and two experts in communication studies.
One of the latter is Kerry Stephens, who directs the Institute for Technology and Information Policy in Utah. “I think the most exciting thing about our project is that we hope to offer more ethical and safety-conscious ways for robots and people to work together,” Stephens says. Like Sentis, she compares the robots to another technological innovation. “We need to make sure we don’t make the mistakes we made with scooters,” Stevens says, describing the dockless electric vehicles that have been cluttering the sidewalks, resulted in injuriesAnd the Complaints paid In Dallas, Austin and other cities. “People left them in the middle of wheelchair ramps and, in my opinion, it was absolutely horrible, and the consequences of releasing them too quickly.” Food delivery robots Which actually rolls up and down the streets of Austin isn’t much better, in Stevens’ view. “Those just got posted,” she says. “Nobody necessarily studied them first.”
Stevens admits she was surprised by the National Science Foundation’s funding of the University of Texas grant: “We thought our proposal was a little off.” Nothing like this has been done before. She says the vast majority of research on robotics has been done in controlled laboratory conditions, rather than on public sidewalks. “It will be a lot more to navigate in a real-world environment — the data will be much more useful. We’ve done what we can in the lab, and this is the next step before the technology gets released everywhere.”
In other words: like it or not, the bots are coming. The question is whether we will be ready for them.
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