Canadian AI company uses humans to mentor robots


The one on the left is the CEO of the company

❝ A secretive Canadian startup called Kindred AI is teaching robots how to perform difficult dexterous tasks at superhuman speeds by pairing them with human “pilots” wearing virtual-reality headsets and holding motion-tracking controllers.

The technology offers a fascinating glimpse of how humans might work in synchronization with machines in the future, and it shows how tapping into human capabilities might amplify the capabilities of automated systems. For all the worry over robots and artificial intelligence eliminating jobs, there are plenty of things that machines still cannot do. The company demonstrated the hardware to MIT Technology Review last week, and says it plans to launch a product aimed at retailers in the coming months. The long-term ambitions are far grander. Kindred hopes that this human-assisted learning will foster a fundamentally new and more powerful kind of artificial intelligence…

❝ Kindred’s system uses several machine-learning algorithms, and tries to predict whether one of these would provide the desired outcome, such as grasping an item. If none seems to offer a high probability of success, it calls for human assistance. Most importantly, the algorithms learn from the actions of a human controller. To achieve this, the company uses a form of reinforcement learning, an approach that involves experimentation and strengthening behavior that leads to a particular goal…One person can also operate several robots at once…

❝ …The technical challenges involved with learning through human tele-operation are not insignificant. Sangbae Kim, an associate professor at MIT who is working on tele-operated humanoid robots, says mapping human control to machine action is incredibly complicated. “The first challenge is tracking human motion by attaching rigid links to the human skin. This is extremely difficult because we are endoskeleton animals,” Kim says. “A bigger challenge is to really understand all the details of decision-making steps in humans, most of which happen subconsciously.”

❝ “Our goal is to deconstruct cognition,” Geordie Rose, cofounder and the CEO of Kindred says. “All living entities follow certain patterns of behavior and action. We’re trying to build machines that have the same kind of principles.”

Sooner or later, all this interesting stuff will come together in some sectors of the world’s economy – and a significant number of humans will be declared redundant. The good news is that pretty much every educated industrial society already has a diminishing population. Independent, self-conscious women with easy access to birth control are taking care of that.

Won’t make the transition period any easier for middle-age not-so-well-educated guys.

How does it feel to live in Turkey right now?


Ozan Köse/AFP/Getty

❝ Turkey, once held up as an exemplar of secular democracy in the Muslim world, is now the world’s biggest prison for journalists. Since he came to power in 2014, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slowly tightened his grip on freedom of expression, choking his critics.

❝ Editors of national newspapers now face life sentences for working “against the state”. People have been arrested for Facebook posts criticising the government and last week over 4,400 public servants were sacked in an act branded by critics as a witchhunt targeting the political opposition.

❝ Meanwhile Erdoğan has maintained cordial diplomatic relations with global leaders including Donald Trump, Theresa May and Vladimir Putin, and hopes to extend his constitutional powers with a referendum on 16 April.

This short GUARDIAN article ends with a question needing to be directed at a nation getting ready to decide on the transition from autocratic leadership to fascist control. The editors elicit comments from residents of Turkey about how life has been changing. And includes special methods to guarantee anonymity. Which I recommend to our readers in Turkey.

Something to think about, eh?

People who help you die better

❝ Thirty years ago a young anaesthetist, newly appointed as head of department at Calicut Medical College Hospital in the Indian state of Kerala, encountered a case that would change his life.

❝ A college professor aged 42 with cancer of the tongue had been referred to him by an oncologist. The man was in severe pain and the anaesthetist, Dr. M R Rajagopal, was asked if he could help. He injected the mandibular nerve in the jaw in a procedure known as a nerve block and told the patient to return in 24 hours. Next day, the pain had almost completely gone and Dr. Raj, as he is known, was pleased with his work.

“He asked me when he should come back. I told him there was no need to come back, unless the pain returned. I thought he would be happy I had cured the pain. Instead, he went home and killed himself that night.”

❝ It turned out that the oncologist had avoided explaining to the college professor that his cancer was terminal. Instead he had said he was referring him for further treatment.

“It was only when I told him there was no need to come back that he realised his cancer was incurable. He went home and told his family it was all over.”…

❝ …His patient’s suicide showed him that treating the pain was not enough…“I realised that thinking about nerve blocks was too narrow. Pain is just the visible part of the iceberg of suffering. What is ignored is the part below the surface — feelings of hopelessness and despair, worries about money, about children. That is what palliative care is about. That man gave up his life to help me understand it.”

RTFA. Please. I worked in a small way with those who brought the hospice concept to the United States. Palliative care should be a right for every human being. That’s not so easy in a nation whose government considers healthcare a privilege – and treats it as such.

Click the link. Read this tale.