LAUREN – Smart (human) intelligence for the home assistant

LAUREN is a project by new media artist Lauren McCarthy. She will impersonate a home automation assistant not unlike Amazon’s Alexia, responding to users’ vocal commands and acting on their connected domestic environment. Project Lauren will last 3 days.

 

 

“Lauren will control your home for you, attempting to get better than an AI, understanding you as a person”.

I reckon it is a no brainer for Lauren the HI (human intelligence) to be better than Alexa or Siri, examples mentioned by the artist on the project’s website.

Volunteers might feel more morally observed than by an artificial assistant, and may have to deal with interruptions of service due to naps or other very human breaks.

You can apply here if you are interested in hosting Lauren in your home.

 

— Why do I blog about that?

 

I have an ongoing interest in the way machines and humans roles overlap or shift, takeover, resistance, harmony, symbiosis. Power, delegation, cyber-isation. Lauren is an interesting gesture that reminds us about the unique -as yet- touch humans can bring to other humans in a way machines cannot. My own Am I Robot installation works on a similar principle of injecting HI in a system normally driven by AI or simpler algorithms.

 

The Wizard of Oz, HI trickster, exposed by Toto's down to earth DI (dog intelligence)

Excellent candidate for wild robot experiment

The robot fans readers will know about Boston Dynamics‘ Spot Mini, a pretty amazing quadruped robot I mentioned a while ago. On 19th July 2017, an upgraded version was introduced to the clients of Boston Dynamics’ new owner, Softbank Japan. Spot has been given an “arm”, that looks as much as a neck and jaws as it does an arm.

These characteristics would make Spot Mini an ideal candidate for the Coy-B Wild Robot experiment that’s been haunting me fo the past ten years, with highs and lows. For reasons of reliability, cost and battery usage, I did not think of Coy-B as a legged robot. Yet, something agile and uncanny like Spot Mini would be very good for the job!

The demo shows a robotic creature whose abilities are, if not quite at the level of those demonstrated by the coyote that inspired Coy-B, fluid and fast enough for a very engaging real-time interaction with a human. Loaded with a suitable set of teeth and a wild AI program of course.

When will it be available at the robot shop around the corner?

Electric Wildertree Wrekshop

Just back from the Deershed Festival in Topcliffe UK where I ran a 3 days Wrekshop for kids. The festival’s theme was Wilderwild [not sure where they got that from. I understood it as something to do with woods and some spooky friendly vibe you can get in nature]. I thought it would be a good opportunity to make an ELECTRIC WILDERTREE combining e-waste, the relentless energy of children with screwdrivers and a bit of expert technological creativity.

One hour before the attack

One hour before the attack

dsWrekshop2017Table dsWrekshop2017ManWoman dsWrekshop2017BoytreeDay3

Wrekshop leftovers ready to go back to recycling facilities

Wrekshop leftovers ready to go back to recycling facilities

Combover Jo in Hull, UK

Good old Combover Jo the purple hairy robot with an unfortunate hairstyle is roaming until September 24th in Humber Street Gallery Hull as part of States of Play, an exhibition organised by the Craft Council of England.

States of Play is a new Crafts Council exhibition for Hull City of Culture 2017 which shows how play shapes our lives and the world around us.

Work by sixteen UK and international makers and designers turn upside down the idea that play is the preserve of children. Instead it is revealed as a creative, social and political force that infuses all areas of life.”

cJoAndGirlHullWeb

For the occasion Combover Jo has been updated to version 2.0, losing its hands but gaining an eye, and a much improved dream state. Confirming its crowd-pleaser status, the trickster robot moved among and played with a busy crowd on the opening night amongst incredulous gasps and loud laughs. The show runs until September 24th.

cJo opening Tom Arran 5Photo by Tom Arran

Things I liked in States of Play include twisted 3D printer works Thingiverse gone GMO nightmare by Matthew Plummer Hernandez, rejection letter automated crows by Ting Tong Chang, blow-activated wind device by MischerTraxler Studio, the optical non-things by Glithero and the silver pineapples on the gallery’s front by Silo Studio. Check it out, Hull as City of Culture 2017 has lots going on!

Combover Jo is the moving part of the installation Am I Robot, originally commissioned for The Imitation Game exhibition in Manchester Art Gallery. The exhibition was inspired by Alan Turing’s seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence.

 

Power of the mud

mudMonsterBatts

Robotic artist Paul Granjon and bio-engineer Michka Melo are exploring the usability of microbial fuel cells for powering small robotic, sensing, interactive systems. Microbial fuel cells work by harnessing the electron-releasing capability of certain types of bacteria widely found in soil and mud. Paul and Michka have started working together on Microbial Fuel Cells in 2016.

barryMud

They will use sediment mud from Barry Island, Wales, to power a pair of small twitchy robots.

shewanella2

The mud is rich in Shewanella bacteria, see above.

The original idea was to work on a pair of sloth-inspired minibots. We now think of a mud-powered simple cybernetic life-ish system… Watch this space.

slothPair

powerMudDrawing

With support from FabCre8 @ Cardiff School of Art and Design

BBC Radio Wales: Children make robots

BBC Radio Wales Art Show came to interview children and staff on the last day of a 10 weeks project where we made sort of robots from old PCs and bits and BBC micro:bits

croestyBots

The project was part of the Lead Creative Schools run by the Arts Council. Aimed at promoting a creative approach to teaching and life, the scheme allows a class to work with a creative practitioner for approximately 10 teaching days on a made to measure project. Check the scheme out, you can apply to take part in the next round if you are a school, teacher, or creative practitioner based in Wales.

Good vibes all along, ace dodgy robots, enthusiatic young makers, this was a fine adventure! Thanks to all involved.

croestyBot1 croestyRobotDetail

 

Micro:bit review

PC Cannibals

I finished running a Wrekshop for kids with a Year 4 class near Bridgend (UK). A typical Wrekshop combines creative taking apart and reconstruction of electronic waste with coding. The kids made sort of robots from electronic waste. For the coding aspect I decided to use the recently released BBC Micro:bits. Micro:bits are small, child-friendly programmable devices developed by the BBC, the University of Lancaster, Microsoft and other partners.

croestyRobotDetail

micro:bit in a scrap robot’s “brain socket”

The BBC and partners are aiming to generate an enthusiasm for coding in young people similar to what happened when the original BBC Microcomputer was released in 1981. A generation of British coders learned their skills on this flexible machine (and me 15 years later). Unlike current computers or tablets, the user had to code so as to get the best of the machine’s possibilities.

bbc micro

Positives:

After ten sessions in the class, I find the BBC Micro:bit well suited for the task of engaging children into coding and interfacing. They can get quick gratification with the built-in 5×5 LED display and 2 buttons. The JavaScript Block Editor programming environment (similar to Scratch) is intuitive and easy to use and there is ample way to progress with the availability of MicroPython and Java programming environments.

micro:bit block editor

I used Micropython to finalise the programs for the class, not an ideal solution for the children who were used to the block editor, but the only way so far for including speech in the project. The kids were keen to get their robots to speak.

Downsides:

Unfortunately the Block Editor is only available online, which can be seriously limiting if you have no or slow internet access. For more advanced users I recommend the MU editor, a self-contained, downloadable MicroPython programming environment that works very well.

bbcMicrobitFront

The crocodile clips connections system, although a good idea, makes it easy to short-circuit the board as the 3 Volts and Ground holes are next to each other. The clips can also easily cross-connect adjacent pins. Most 8 year olds do not find it straightforward to use crocodile clips and several of the boards used in the project have suffered already. Still, with a little care it works fine.

This machine could bite

•– This Machine Could Bite —————————-

The Australian online journal Fibreculture’s special issue on Creative Robotics is now available! The issue features 8 articles by academics and artists on themes such as creative robots on Mars, non-organic intelligence, working with the most famous humanoid robots, failing robots and more… My contribution to the journal is an article titled This Machine Could Bite, On the Role of Non-Benigh Art Robots. I make a case for experimentation in human robot interaction with machines not designed for being useful or friendly.

pepperLAdy

Article abstract:

“The social robot’s current and anticipated roles as butler, teacher, receptionist or carer for the elderly share a fundamental anthropocentric bias: they are designed to be benign, to facilitate a transaction that aims to be both useful to and simple for the human. At a time when intelligent machines are becoming a tangible prospect, such a bias does not leave much room for exploring and understanding the ongoing changes affecting the relation between humans and our technological environment. Can art robots – robots invented by artists – offer a non-benign-by-default perspective that opens the field for a machine to express its machinic potential beyond the limits imposed by an anthropocentric and market-driven approach? The paper addresses these questions by considering and contextualising early cybernetic machines, current developments in social robotics, and art robots by the author and other artists.”

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