Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Robots: Are we ready to share our lives with them?

Anne says: We’ve been exploring the hype around robots taking our jobs, trying to kill us and a range of other scaremongering perspectives. This week I was attracted to a couple of articles that actually accept the arrival of robots, but ask some thought provoking questions about how we will live and work alongside robots.

Let’s start in the workplace – an article in Wired magazine titled You Aren’t Ready for the Weirdness of Working With Robots opens with the comment that if we, people, find it hard enough interacting with each other, how on earth will we get along with robots?

Their answer? Preparation! I have visions of classroom sessions on Effective Communication Skills with Robots – or worse, an e-Learning course!!
The first problem is our predisposition to anthropomorphise objects we interact with regularly. (I admit to having names for my first few cars – they were cute and did deserve a name!). This creates an expectation that if a robot talks to us, then it can hold a conversation. So how they interact with us influences our expectations and interactions. One of the suggestions is we create R2-D2 beeps to avoid trying to have rational conversations.

However, if we’re to work alongside and even depend upon intelligent machines / robots we need to develop something between trust and rapport – yet, it’s just a machine, right? (Have you seen the movie She?) Another suggestion from a robot manufacturer is treat them like your grandparents: “get out of their way and help them if they get stuck.”

The article then shifts into the home and companion style robots, bringing with it all the associated emotional complications: “They may seem affectionate, but a robot can’t genuinely return your affection; its love is a calculation, not an emotion.”

Enter the second article published in The Conversation Super cute home robots are coming, but think twice before you trust them. This is about social domestic robots: “Designed to provide companionship and care, they recognise faces and voices of close family and friends, play games, tell jokes and continue to learn from each interaction.” The key issue is they’re cute!! (This has created a new field of research: cute studies!)

So what’s the problem? The problem is, they’re networked, connected, use cameras, voice controlled, have access to many of our devices and personal interactions and information. All this data is obviously a security concern and open to hacking. (Imagine your Furby going rogue, influencing your behaviours, encouraging you to buy items – there’s an endless list of impacts!).

The article is predominantly focused on the emotional impact and cuteness factor. However, I think the main ethical discussion should be focused on the collection of data and associated security implications – in particular to the use by children or the elderly who may be vulnerable to the companionship factors.

So – are we ready for robots to join our households and workplaces? Perhaps not yet, but let’s start figuring this out before we need to start intervention strategies and therapy sessions for people who have been abused by their robot!


Technology Could Allow Us to Bring the Dead Back to Life

Nat says: Mankind’s pursuit of technology has always hinted at a hidden quest for immortality – of creating ourselves as ‘God’. Technology not only allows us to live longer, but it also plays a key role in distorting our perceptions of reality, as is the case with the shared article in which a digital bereavement company wants to bring back the dead. This is not in a literal sense but, rather, as a simulation. As stated:

Two hundred years ago, most people didn’t have access to a picture of their dearly departed, and a few decades ago the same could be said for any film of a person. Yet, soon, simulations could be able to accurately imitate those who have died so that we can continue to interact with them as if they continued to live.

I find the whole concept both strange and revealing. As a society, we somewhat fear and stigmatize death, yet at the same time we mourn and yearn for the departed. By creating a simulation of someone we cared about, what would the feeling be? The simulation would have no existential awareness that it even exists, and it would only be able to imitate what the person did in their waking life. It would be like living with a ghost – a visualization of someone’s memory. Would you want to bring someone back from the dead in this manner?


Chef’s special: Fine dining, with a side of tech

Joel says: I read a great piece this week on the ways that technology is being used in the food & hospitality industry to provide better products and experiences for their customers. The piece contains a number of small case studies from various technology companies assisting food companies in improving aspects of their business.

The one I found most interesting was the piece on Vita Mojo, a London-based restaurant chain that specializes in providing highly personalized meals to diners, and DNAfit, a company that provides a full analysis of customer’s genetic makeup. Upon entering you can place your customisable order on on of their iPads, using sliders to determine exactly how much you want to include of each ingredient allows you to custom-design your lunch in the way you might do if you were cooking it yourself at home. The price of your lunch updates in real time so there are no nasty surprises at checkout.

Its collaboration with DNAFit takes personalization one step further. By analyzing a swab of saliva mailed to the restaurant ahead of time, much like with personal genomics and ancestry kit 23andme, DNAFit will cross-reference your genetic makeup against peer-reviewed studies (all conducted on humans) to tell you whether there’s a strong likelihood that you’re genetically predisposed to have any intolerances or specific dietary needs. They’ll allow you to attach your information to your profile, making repeat visits to any location easy as pie.

Author of the article Kate Collins explains her experience:

There’s broccoli, cubed polenta, kale salad, braised cabbage and salmon, all doused in a delicious hot sauce.

The only giveaway that this might not be an average lunch is the fish. There’s a lot of it — more than twice the amount you’d expect in a normal portion. The reason: I need double the amount of omega-3 as the average person.

The broccoli and kale are there to help my subpar detoxing skills. There are fewer carbs on the plate, because sadly for me, my body doesn’t need them.

Read the full article to discover how other food outlets are using Spotify startup ‘Soundtrack Your Brand’ to enhance the dining experience with sound and how other resturants are using data to make their food more ‘instagramable’ so it markets itself.


How to Fix Facebook? We Asked 9 Experts

“…the cloud over Facebook extends far beyond Russia. Critics say the company’s central role in modern communication has undermined the news business, split Americans into partisan echo chambers and ‘hijacked’ our minds…”

Emilio says: With more than 2 billion active monthly users, the social media behemoth that is Facebook undeniably yields tremendous power. In the wake of ongoing investigations in the US into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, the sinister power and influence of the social network has been thrown into even bigger spotlight.

If you could change Facebook (read: make it less powerful and influential, and more accountable), what would you do?

The New York Times posed this question to nine esteemed people in tech, the academe, politics and the media – and their responses could be summed up in these key points: transparency, trust, equality, users over advertisers’ interests, and public and social responsibility.

Some of the proposed ideas I would agree with include: giving users full control of their Facebook feeds (rather than be subjected to ‘algorithmically determined’ information); an option to go ‘Vintage Facebook’ with less of the reaction-based engagement features and just comment-based engagement; and strict identity verification for all users.

Personally, I would also like to see an ad-free version of my Facebook feed. Perhaps, a built-in timer for when you need to be reminded you had spent way too much time already and be prompted to log off. And Facebook sponsored posts blocker apps too.

But those might be wishing for the impossible!


We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads

What we need to fear most is not what artificial intelligence will do to us on its own, but how the people in power will use artificial intelligence to control us and to manipulate us in novel, sometimes hidden, subtle and unexpected ways.

Jakkii says: This TED Talk is by Techno-Sociologist Zeynep Tufecki, in which she discusses how the big tech companies of today are building the technologies that encourage – and enable – deep surveillance on all of us; that facilitate mobilisation or demobilisation of people in democracies; that encourage and promote extremism.

These are things that should concern us all. I don’t want to say anything more about my contribution this week – I just want you to watch it. And, I’d love to hear your thoughts – do you agree? And if so – what should we, collectively, be doing about it?



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