The Turing test is a concept which most people interested in computers and particularly AI have heard of. Named after genius Alan Turing of Bletchley Park fame (the type of fame which comes after your work is declassified many years later) who was finally posthumously pardoned for the non crime which scandalized his career.
Turing set the test for AI two decades before Bill Gates dropped out of college with the ambition to put a PC on every desktop.
The premise of Turing’s test is a simple one. Can a machine pass for human?
Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina turns the test into drama. His skill as a writer is evident when he explains the test in conversation between the two protagonists. The concept of the movie is one which touches on some of the fears of our age. How are those who oversee all of humanity’s internet searching using that data? Are they training AI to spot when a human lies, are they tracking an individual’s searches so they can build an AI body which matches those desires? There is also the underlying issue of once you have built a sentiment AI, is it your property? Should it be free?
Garland wrote the novel The Beach which became the excellent Danny Boyle movie, he also wrote the screenplay for another highly acclaimed Boyle movie 28 Days Later as well as penning Sunshine which Boyle also directed (as an aside, I thought the better tale would have been what happened on the first ship which failed in its mission rather than the second attempt).
The movie is well acted and Garland does get under the skin of his characters, including the AI – which in a movie about the Turing test is vital.
The special effects are at the standard you would expect, but this movie is really about the interaction of characters, human and AI.
(as a further aside Garland ends the film in a place where many would have started a film about AI. And perhaps that film in Garland’s hands would be interesting, but he has done a brave and intellectually challenging thing, making the Turing test into great drama.)
“It’ll murder me in my sleep,” is Frank’s (Frank Langella) first response to receiving a robot from his son in this light-hearted movie directed by Jake Schreier.
Set in the near future The Robot and Frank shows us a world where older people with memory problems can have a 24/7 companion, allowing their family who live far away to know there is some support on hand.
The film explores the parameters of this relationship and the robot tells Frank early on that he meeds a project. With initial attempts to bond being around planting a vegetable patch.
What actually gets them to bond is planning a burglary. Frank explains to the robot teaching it to pick locks is the hobby he needs.
The comparison of robot to human care is telling. Frank’s son and daughter live far away and when Madison (Liv Tyler) does visit, she doesn’t always want to do what Frank wants, while the robot has no other needs or agenda. Even the most giving human is not 100 pet cent altruistic.
There are some interesting insights into legal aspects of robots. And I don’t just mean it doesn’t come preprogrammed to not collude in criminal activity with the human it supports. But Frank cannot switch it off as its owner is his son Hunter (James Marsden) who has said he does not have user rights to do this. The machines memory can also be accessed by law enforcement, although I would assume a warrant was required, but this is not made clear – and the police seemed able to search Frank’s house on circumstancial evidence, with the victim of the crime present, with no mention of a judge considering the issue.
The movie touches on the politics of robots, notably when the machine asks if Madison is against robot labour.
One thing I thought robots who are used in health / social care settings should be programmed to request is a name. We wouldn’t give someone a pet and expect them not to name the animal. Susan Sarandon, the librarian in the film, has a work place robot she has named Mr Darcey. Part of the bonding with the support robot would be selecting a name.
Finding a project and keeping a routine are both vital for older people, particulary those with memory issues, any occupational therapist can tell you. But having someone on hand to help you keep to the project and routine will be priceless.
The film is not perfect, but it does raise a number of issues we will face in the near future in an accessible way.
The Robot and Frank can be purchased from Amazon:
A police force has become the first in the UK to have a dedicated drone unit in its battle against crime.
Devon and Cornwall Police along with the neighbouring Dorset force has launched the new unit in a bid to use innovative ideas to tackle the large, mostly rural, areas they cover. Full details here.
The launch follows a successful trial period. Chief Superintendent Jim Nye, Commander for the Alliance Operations Department, said: “This technology offers a highly cost-effective approach in supporting our officers on the ground in operational policing.
“Drones will aid officers as part of missing person searches; crime scene photography; responding to major road traffic collisions; coastal and woodland searches and to combat wildlife crime.
“Drones can even help police track and monitor suspects during a firearm or terrorist incident, as it will allow officers to gain vital information, quickly, safely, and allow us to respond effectively at the scene.”
This is another example of science fiction becoming science fact as way back in 1978 2000AD’s futuristic lawman Judge Dredd was using ‘spy in the sky’ hover cameras as part of fictional law and order.
Expect lots of police forces across the globe to take on board this method of using remote-controlled robots in their day-to-day policing.
Have you heard of Kuri? She is currently only available in the USA (I don’t live in that territory so can’t yet buy one).
Find out about her here.
She speaks only in beeps, or as I like to think of it, R2D2 speak.
If you have a Kuri please let us know what she is like in the comments – and if she is worth purchasing when she is available in the territory where I live.
During my flash briefing (thanks Alexa) this week I heard of an interesting new development amongst drone technology.
Demonstrating public opinion doesnt’t necessarily reflect the reality of robot development.
Google, or rather its parent company Alphabet, has sold off one of its robot development companies, Boston Dynamics to a Japanese tech conglomerate. Details here.
SoftBank is rumoured to have spent US$100m on the acquisition.
The question surrounding this must be who has made the better deal. Both companies are highly profitable forward thinking companies.
So has Google sold off a company with massive potential or has SoftBank purchased something which will never make a decent profit?
Or perhaps, neither of these things?
Probably Google has a company which doesn’t fit in with its strategy, it is going big on driver-less cars while Boston Dynamics, a spin off from MIT, makes robots which mimic animal movement.
SoftBank sells Pepper, a robot companion who lives in your home. Perhaps Softbank can enhance its product with the knowledge, hardware and quite possibly patents which come with taking this company from Google’s hands?
Outside of the seller and buyer, no one knows for sure what each sees in the deal. But it would be worth keeping an eye on what Pepper develops into in the next few years.
The changes major technological developments bring are as unpredictable as they are widespread.
Cars, computers, cell phones and the steam engine are examples of world changing advances.
Robots as a whole will change everything in ways we cannot even conceive yet.
One of the areas we are starting to get an idea about though is self-driving cars. There was an interesting article here about this recently which was based on a paper published by intel here.
The article asks if you or your business has a self-driving car strategy. This is an important question for all of us to consider.
What happens when we don’t have to control the vehicle? The seats in the vehicle will no longer need to face the direction of travel, with line of sight for the driver in as many directions as possible. We can sit facing each other and we can work during our commute. We can play games with the family on long journeys. We can have our after work beer on the way home (will drinking while driving become commonplace?).
If, as is suggested vehicle ownership drops and the cars we move around in become merely taxis, then the vehicle wi-fi becomes our gateway to the world – think how your coffee shop allows you to access its wi-fi.
If the cars are taxis, then on longer journeys we will seek food and drink so the machines become vending machines too.
But, if we look at vehicle ownership currently, this is lower generally in big urban areas where parking space is at a premium and the economics of public transport makes good service achievable.
In less densely populated areas public transport provides less good service and car ownership is higher. One can assume this pattern will be replicated by shared self-driving cars in the near future.
One of the UKs biggest retailers has trialled robot grocery deliveries to homes in central London.
Tesco announced the successful trial earlier this week. The company is now reviewing the trial before deciding what its next move will be.
This follows Amazon’s drone delivery trials where items can be delivered by air.
This is clearly another step towards automisation in the retail sector and while the range is low and the number of items which can be delivered currently small, it is reasonable to assume both of these factors will expand in time.
But, the key question for the sector is will robots completely replace delivery people?
Hard to say for sure at this point. Technology is a capital cost and if this cost and any maintenance / repair during the life of the machine are cheaper than the wages a human would receive, then the economic driver for replacing the human element is there.
But it is worth noting while Tesco has had self service checkouts in most of its stores for several years, it has not replaced all its human operated checkouts with these self service facilities.
Self service checkouts in supermarkets tend to be used for small amounts of items rather than the bigger shops.
While this development of robot delivery alone is not the start of delivery people being replaced altogether, it is another indicator of a wider trend towards automisation in the work place.
In the early 1970s Bill Gates had a vision of a computer in every home and Microsoft was born.
That vision is already the past. Now there is a computer in every pocket, disguised as a cell phone.
The next stage of computer development is upon us, with robots of one form or another starting to appear in homes across the planet.
This site aims to bring comment and news about this developing area – and some product reviews too.
If you have any ideas for something we should cover or would like to guest blog, contact us at email@example.com