Japan roboticists predict rise of the machines

This photo taken on June 16, 2019 shows an assistant (L) for robotician Hiroshi Ishiguro "talking" with a robot at the research centre in Osaka. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 September 2019

Japan roboticists predict rise of the machines

  • Robots of the future could look and act just like humans and even become their friends
  • Scientists believe service robots will one day help us with household chores

SEIKA, Japan: Set in 2019, cult 80s movie “Blade Runner” envisaged a neon-stained landscape of bionic “replicants” genetically engineered to look just like humans.

So far that has failed to materialize, but at a secretive research institute in western Japan, wild-haired roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro is fine-tuning technology that could blur the line between man and machine.

Highly intelligent, self-aware and helpful around the house — the robots of the future could look and act just like humans and even become their friends, Ishiguro and his team predict.

“I don’t know when a ‘Blade Runner’ future will happen, but I believe it will,” the Osaka University professor told AFP.
“Every year we’re developing new technology — like deep learning, which has improved the performance of pattern recognition,” he added.

“Now we’re focusing on intention and desire, and if we implement them into robots whether they become more human-like.”
Robots are already widely used in Japan — from cooking noodles to helping patients with physiotherapy.

Marketed as the world’s first “cyborg-type” robot, HAL (hybrid assistive limb) — developed by Tsukuba University and Japanese company Cyberdyne — is helping people in wheelchairs walk again using sensors connected to the unit’s control system.

Scientists believe service robots will one day help us with household chores, from taking out the garbage to making the perfect slice of toast.

Stockbrokers in Japan and around the world are already deploying AI bots to forecast stock market trends and science fiction’s rapid advance toward science fact owes much to the likes of Ishiguro.

He previously created an android copy of himself — using complex moving parts, electronics, silicone skin and his own hair — that he sends on business trips in his place.

But Ishiguro believes recent breakthroughs in robotics and artificial intelligence will accelerate the synthesis of man and machine.
“As a scientist, I hope to develop self-conscious robots like you see in ‘Blade Runner’ to help me understand what it is to be human,” he said. “That’s my motivation.”

The point at which that line between humans and machines converges has long been a source of anxiety for some, as depicted in popular culture.

In “Blade Runner,” Harrison Ford plays a police officer who tracks down and kills replicants that have escaped and are living among the population in Los Angeles.

The “Terminator” series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger centers on a self-aware computer network which initiates a nuclear holocaust and, through autonomous military machines, wages war against human survivors.

“I can’t understand why Hollywood wants to destroy robots,” shrugged Ishiguro, who in 2007 was named one of the top 100 living geniuses by global consultants firm Synectics.

“Look at Japanese cartoons and animations — robots are always friendly. We have a totally different cultural background,” noted the professor.

It’s not just Hollywood that has concerns over AI. Tesla’s Elon Musk has called for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionize warfare and create new “weapons of terror” that target innocent people.

But Ishiguro insists there is no inherent danger in machines becoming self-aware or surpassing human intelligence.

“We don’t need to fear AI or robots, the risk is controllable,” he said. “My basic idea is that there is no difference between humans and robots.”

The ultimate goal, according to Ishiguro’s colleague Takashi Minato, is “to bring robots into society as human companions — it’s possible for robots to become our friends.”

But will they look like us, as Ishiguro believes, and how comfortable will we feel surrounded by autonomous humanoids?
Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori suggested in 1970 that the more robots resemble people, the creepier we find them — a phenomenon he called the “uncanny valley.”

Ishiguro’s first attempt at creating an android clone was based on his daughter and its “jerky movements” reduced her to tears.
He has since perfected the template, including a creation he claimed was the world’s first news-reading android and a robot priest at a Kyoto temple unveiled earlier this year.

Minato shares his boss’s visionary ideas.“Hopefully remote-control technology will develop to allow our alter egos to lead regular lives,” he said.

“Like in the movie ‘Surrogates’ — that would make life more convenient,” he added, referencing the sci-fi Bruce Willis hit in which people cocooned at home experience lives through robotic avatars.

While he won’t put a date on a real-life “Blade Runner” future, Ishiguro claims the rise of the machines has already begun.

“Already computers are more powerful than humans in some cases,” he said. “Technology is just another means of evolution. We are changing the definition of what it is to be human.”


India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

Updated 15 October 2019

India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

  • Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate
  • Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones

SRINAGAR: Text messaging services were blocked in Indian Kashmir just hours after being restored when a truck driver was killed by suspected militants and his vehicle set ablaze, authorities said Tuesday.
Separately Indian officials said that a 24-year-old woman died in the latest exchange of artillery fire with Pakistan over their de-facto border dividing the blood-soaked Himalayan region.
Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate.
Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones on Monday, following a 72-day blackout in the restive northern territory imposed after New Delhi scrapped the region's semi-autonomous status.
The seven million-plus people of the Kashmir Valley — the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule — are still cut off from the Internet, however.
Authorities said SMS services were cut again on Monday night following the attack on the driver of a truck carrying apples in Shopian.
Residents said two masked gunmen told the driver to use his truck to block the road, but it skidded and got stuck.
“The gunmen then fired at the truck and set it on fire,” a witness told AFP.
Apples are a sensitive issue in Kashmir, which exports vast quantities of the fruit to markets across India.
Many orchard owners say they are refusing to harvest this year to protest against the government’s move to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy.
Indian authorities say that militants — backed by arch-rival Pakistan — have been intimidating farmers and businessmen.
The latest death from Pakistani artillery fire over the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir brings the number of fatalities on the Indian side to three in the past four days, the Press Trust of India reported.
Two Indian soldiers were killed in two separate incidents on Friday and Sunday, PTI said. It was unclear if there were any fatalities from Indian fire on the Pakistani side.
Also on Tuesday, police arrested 13 women activists in Srinagar after they staged a protest calling for civil liberties and the release of detainees.
The women, wearing black armbands, were arrested for “breaching the peace” and for a contravening a ban in place since early August on public gatherings of more than four people, police said.
They included the sister and daughter of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, one of several hundred local politicians, lawyers and others in custody since early August, mostly without charge.
Abdullah, 81, was formally arrested in mid-September under the highly contentious Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows someone to be held for up to two years without charge, and which has been used widely in Kashmir in recent years.
Rebels have been fighting for three decades some 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory, demanding independence or to join Pakistan which also controls part of the region and, like India, claims it in full.