World Science Festival: Computational Creativity

Interest in artificial intelligence (AI) seems like it’s at an all-time high, with people both wary and intrigued about how machine learning systems will change, and hopefully improve, our lives. Past discussions we’ve covered have delved into the ethical sphere: Can autonomous robots that (currently) lack consciousness and emotions serve us well as future healthcare aides and soldiers? Can robots be moral? But last week’s World Science Festival in New York City looked at a different side of AI, with a panel discussion on “Computational Creativity: The Art of Ingenuity.”

Focused on the creation of art, music, and culinary arts, the panel was tasked with answering such questions as: Can a robot truly imagine an original masterpiece or just replicate known styles? Is computational creativity a collaborator or a competitor?

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Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and the Future

Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.

Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”

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Moral Robots: How Close Are We?

world science festival robots
While we have grown accustomed to living and working in a world aided by “smart” devices, there is still a sense of suspicion when we talk about artificial intelligence (AI). Hollywood certainly hasn’t helped, with movies like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix,” but how close are we really to co-existing with autonomous, superintelligent robots?

The robots of today, at least, are not going to take over the world, said cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus one of the panelists at Saturday’s World Science Festival event, “The Moral Math of Robots: Can Life and Death Decisions be Coded?” To assuage any fears right off the bat, he encouraged audience members to watch a bloopers video from a recent DARPA Robotics Challenge. The Terminator, they are not. In fact, their fumbles are kind of endearing.
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World Science Festival: The Future of Computerized Companions

Bandit the robotMatarić with an earlier version of Bandit.

Our society is getting older. The Administration on Aging projects that by 2030 there will be about 72.1 million Americans 65 or older, more than twice the number of seniors there were in 2000. While seniors represented 12.4 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, that number is expected to reach 19 percent by 2030.

There may not be enough people to take care of them. And that may be OK. That’s because researchers are developing robots that can serve as caretakers. That kind of technology is still years away, but robots are currently assisting children and stroke patients.

A World Science Festival event on Friday focused on the idea of robot caretakers. At the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, attendees watched an advance screening of Robot and Frank, the winner of a feature film prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The film stars Frank Langella as an elderly ex-jewel thief whose son gives him a robot caretaker. Following the screening, two leading roboticists talked about the future of the field.

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