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Tag Archives: robots

Robots, MMORPGs, and the usual suspects

Archeage Waiting

The MMORPG I play (sort-of, for now, that’s one of my alts above), ArcheAge, is offline for a couple days while they perform server balancing. If all goes well, on Saturday the game will return and I’ll log on to find my avatars moved to a new server with approximately double the population of the old one. This isn’t necessarily a good thing for a solo player like me. The NA/EU distributor of ArcheAge makes large, frequent errors when porting over the Korean content to us. It would be comical if those errors didn’t often cost players lots of time and/or money. Some players didn’t follow the instructions for packing up their homes and farms and may be stunned to find months of work erased because of their own mistakes, too. I signed on to watch the last minutes of my server’s life yesterday. A player pasted the lyrics to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” into faction chat and it was an appropriate send-off. I’m waiting for the restart with hope but low expectations.

Robots! Two mining robots from different companies encounter each other on a rocky planet. Their skills complement each other. Can they work together?

 

On to a couple of personal updates. Jakob remains in the hospital but is conscious, mostly coherent, and able to swallow soft foods like custard. I wish his whole ordeal was over but I don’t wish for him to be gone. As for me, I’m hobbling quite well but still restricted to putting only 50% of normal weight on the leg I broke. Cross your fingers that the surgeon clears me for normal walking when I see him next week. Large sections of my shin remain numb and the scar where he inserted the metal plate is grody to the max, but except for some stiffness in my knee I feel ready to go. Besides that, physical therapy is tedious and I’d rather get back to yoga classes.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

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Jumping into the past for the future

roll-oh 1940

I consider myself a writer, though the money I’ve made as one wouldn’t pay my mortgage for a month. The last couple weeks presented me with an existential crisis. Recovering from my broken leg yet not able to resume all my normal household work, I started feeling restless and trying to define myself. I spent hours paging through job listings and course catalogs. Maybe I should go back into software project management. Maybe I should apply for a job with my city. Maybe I should take programming classes on Coursera. Maybe maybe maybe.

Finally, I skimmed my files of incomplete writing and got hooked in again. I’ve started many projects over the past year, from science fiction to modern drama to goofy short stories to a dense historical novel with the potential to be a family epic. After browsing them all, the last is the one that kept playing in my head, leaving me awake at night thinking about my characters and their world.

So, I’m committing myself to work on that novel as my primary job. Most of the story takes place between the years of 1930-1950; my love of modern technology isn’t going to play a large part in my research. I’ll be hip-deep in a different era, when Roll-Oh was the dream of the domestic robot:

My goal is to keep posting here two or three times a week, though, so I don’t lose my connection to the fascinating intersection of humanity and technology. It’s time I take my other writing seriously, get this story out of my head and onto the page, and maybe earn a few coins toward retirement. Wish me luck.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Our Robot Overlords, Side Topics

 

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Roadmap for personal robotic development

We’re on the cusp of robotic assistants appearing in home and office use; not just silent machines vacuuming our floors (or in my experience with the Roomba, getting stuck under our furniture) or in industrial applications, but interacting with us for daily tasks and presenting themselves in anthropomorphic ways. This is on my mind a lot, but last week’s MIT Technology Review article “Personal Robots: Artificial Friends with Limited Benefits” kept gnawing at me. I’ve got some questions:

  • Why are the first wave of personal robotic assistants so cute and kid-friendly?
  • Is it necessary to train potential buyers with entertaining ‘bots before they will use serious applications?
  • Do cute robots trivialize the potential of these machines?
  • What have we learned from other sources about what adults might want, need, and — most importantly in the long run — actually use?
  • What does the product roadmap look like between Roomba and Rosie, and beyond?

In my previous work life as a project and product manager at Internet companies, it was important to consider not only the current product my team was building, but the competitive landscape, latest research, and how we hoped to iterate the product in the future.  The product roadmap got more speculative the further forward it stretched, and in Internet time, that could mean it was blurry a mere 12 months ahead, but I had some idea where we planned to go. Combined with research, reporting, and user testing, that roadmap would drive the requirements for the next version.

With a number of companies heading in simultaneous, differing development directions, I wonder what the roadmap looks like to people on the inside. Does Cynthia Breazeal want JIBO to become the Furby of 2016, just as irrelevant years later? Is she counting on more adult applications to come from third-party developers, or does she have a track in mind that goes beyond the lovechild of WALL-E and Siri? I look at the “Future Life with Pepper” video from Aldebaran Robotics (below, in Japanese but very easy to understand) and I find it unimaginative and silly.

Some of my irritation with how Pepper is shown could be cultural; I like kawaii things, but I don’t want an infantilized assistant with a high voice. That might say “non-threatening and friendly” to others, but it says “annoying and dumbed down” to me. I would love to have a moving robot with hands right now, if it could fetch or carry things for me while I’m steering my wheelchair or gripping crutches. Stir onions on the stove while they carmelize. Let the dog out. Pick up the ball of yarn I dropped that rolled across the room. Don’t play peek a boo with me when I’m crying, ffs. How useless!

Does the roadmap for personal robotics have to pass through Candyland? Though I find it frustrating for myself as an early adopter, I can see how it could be a viable path. It’s a non-threatening way to get robots into a family home. Children might engage with a cute bot more frequently and naturally than adults with a more serious one, and I suspect that like a digital assistant or a DVR, robots will have more perceived value when used regularly, while that value might be hard to explain to a non-user. Teaching children to comfortably interact with robots could be important to the roadmap in a Wayward Pines First Generation sort of way: they are the future, and when robotic technology has advanced so there are more home and office uses, they will be the programmers, designers, buyers, and users.

Do we have data that could point to what older users want from personal robots in the near future? I’d suggest looking at tablet/phone apps, gadget purchases, and use of digital assistants now. Mail, chat, videos, photography, weather, maps, social media, music, games, search, stock updates, fitness tracking, and news. Communication with other devices on the same network. Notifications delivered in a personalized, prioritized way. Immediate answers to relatively simple questions. Reminders and a calendar.  These are all things that are perfectly suited to a stationary, voice-controlled robot with a display screen. If I were designing a bot of that sort for my personal needs I’d add in: can take dictation and save longer notes, can read a piece of text and answer basic questions about it (“How many cups of flour do I need?” when reading a recipe), can send voice/photo/video messages to other bots of the same/similar type, can act as a receptionist for my mobile phone when I’m home, can interact with my accounts on video sites and the Chromecast/future device attached to my TV (“Play season 2 of Archer on the family room television”), and more.

I think that even at that point in the roadmap, a stationary robot with personality, like JIBO rather than the not-very-clever, screenless Amazon Echo, could be exceedingly useful for remote relationships of various types. My family is spread across the country and my friends are around the world, and just from my own life I can think of many use cases. I can also imagine such a bot as an assistant at work. In a few years, with better communication between devices and programs instead of maintaining silos of information, even this level of robot could be a daily helpmate to many people.

When we start to consider a robot with mobility and limbs, however, we need to think in 3D. The Pepper video fails greatly in that regard. The only shown use of mobility is that Pepper can move toward people and its hands are used for games or expressions. I doubt that’s all we want, but the development path between that and a fully mobile bot with useful appendages that could do housework, for example, is unclear. Our homes have different floor types, thresholds, stairs, and obstacles that must be overcome before we start to consider the fine motor control and grip needed for simple tasks. Still, I can imagine a robot not too far off that could operate on one floor of a home or office and handle small manual jobs as well as providing entertainment. At times, most of us could simply use an extra set of hands to hold, stir, open, carry, or balance something. Is that enough to justify the work necessary to make a mobile robot?  Probably not. I can see the first viable generation of mobile home robots being developed and marketed for the elderly or disabled, with uses customized to those populations as well as the functionality of the stationary bots. When might that be? 10-15 years from now?

It seems that the next step after that is currently undefined. The technological gap that remains before we reach the dream of a robot butler or housekeeper, able to do physical work in any setting, is huge. Maybe we need to give some thought to the roadmap and where we really want personal robotics to be in 20-30 years. Are charismatic androids the best robotic supplement we can imagine?  Maybe there is a fork in the path, where we separate companion bots from more utilitarian bots. Maybe the development curve of smart home/office technology will intercept the robotic curve at a point where the robot can be the control interface, but not need so many skills built in.

Along those lines, I’ve embedded a video below about the characters in the AMC series HUMANS. It’s interesting if you’re watching the series, but even if you’re not, it introduces the androids (“synthetics” or “synths”) as they’re imagined in that parallel present and the interactions that humans have with them. I think that full-service androids like synths are often seen as the endpoint of the personal robotic roadmap. Should they be?

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Digital Devices, Our Robot Overlords

 

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A is for android and ArcheAge

Wouldn’t you know it: just after I posted about ArcheAge last week, praising the female plate armor for not being revealing, I got the next set as a quest reward and presto! Metal bustier (with leather and chain mail hot pants and metal garters). I suppose I should be happy that the metal armor doesn’t have extreme breast physics, like it does in TERA, and that it has a decorative element shielding her from chest wounds:

bremen_aa_0712

Notice anything else surprising in that screenshot from a Korean MMORPG? My avatar Tsofia is standing in front of the entrance to a public farm, which is capped by rural images including… hey, wait!  Is that the Bremen Town Musicians, from the Grimm Brothers story? Yup. In my early years of college I was interested in international fairy tales and folklore, and this is a nice example of how a story can travel and be put to use in another form.

Over the weekend, my patient husband watched Futureworld with me. Its a terrible movie from 1976, starring Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner as reporters investigating a rebuilt amusement park where androids staff, and are, the attractions. It was a sequel to Westworld, a much more successful film. Westworld stayed close to Michael Crichton’s meme of powerful technology having a disastrous vulnerability, whereas Futureworld strayed into mad scientists and world domination. The trailer gives away the big twist, but shows Delos (the overall park, of which Futureworld and Westworld are sections) in some of its cheesy glory.

We watched the film before I knew that HBO is turning Westworld into a series. Guess I’ll have to let my DVR pick that up in September and hope that it’s good. I’d like to see a series take a more optimistic view of robot/human interactions, though. Maybe not as Utopian as The Jetsons, but more like Almost Human; man and machine in a sometimes flawed partnership.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Gaming, Our Robot Overlords, Video

 

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A few short thoughts

I thought that the solitude forced upon me by a broken leg might be a great opportunity to write. How wrong I was! I don’t know if it’s constant exhaustion fogging up the sharper edges of my intellect, but I have a pile of half-finished, unpublished posts. I’ll spare you those until I can refine the thoughts.

There are two TV series airing now that would seem to be my bailiwick: Mr. Robot on USA Network and HUMANS on AMC. Basic themes: hacker vigilantism, androids that feel (and human interaction with lifelike bots). I’ve read glowing reviews of Mr. Robot, but we watched part of the 2nd episode and thought it was terrible. The acting, the characterizations, the script, everything. Am I missing something? On the other hand, HUMANS is intriguing so far. It makes my husband and I wish we had a Synth to help around the house, especially while I’m partly out of commission.

Tomorrow I visit my surgeon to remove the staples from my leg, x-ray it, and see how my healing is progressing. Of course I hope to hear, “My god! I’ve never seen someone heal this quickly. Kay, forget staying off that leg for three months. You can walk now. Hell, do a jig if you want! You’re practically the female Wolverine, with that healing speed!” What I expect to hear is, “Looks good. No weight on that leg until September.” I’m surprisingly upset by the immobility and restrictions of this surgery. I usually stay home alone, contentedly, all week, but knowing that it is impossible for me to leave the house without assistance makes it feel like a prison. I find it ironic that a relatively common injury like a broken leg is more debilitating than cancer or a hip replacement were for me. I’m sure it will be better when my leg is healed enough for me to sleep and sit upright more comfortably. It’s certainly strange to have Jakob sending me sympathetic emails and worrying about my health, and I remind myself frequently that my condition is temporary and before I know it, I’ll be ok again.

 
 

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Wednesday film: The Last One

The main character of this short is the final survivor of his kind in the war between humans and robots. The film is nicely shot and touching, but I’m including it mainly because of the last line of voiceover. How soon could that be true for both sides in the battle? Will it ever be?

The Last One from Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg on Vimeo.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in Video

 

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Wednesday films: Chef, phlebotomist, and dubstep robots

Three short videos for your Wednesday enjoyment! The first is a cute musical film (wait for the drop).

 

Dubstep Dispute from Fluxel Media on Vimeo.

The next two are recently released robotic news videos. One is for a robot chef, or at least, an automated kitchen system that uses robotic arms. I don’t see it being practical, but the suspended robot arms are similar to something in a story I’m writing. The last video is for a robotic phlebotomist. I saw an article suggesting that this would be good for people with fear of needles. No, it would not be!  Dear heavens. I have a fainting response to needles and the slow process of holding my arm in place and then the machine putting in the line would be awful.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in In the News, Our Robot Overlords

 

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