Thursday, April 25, 2013

"I, Robot" - Ethical Quandaries of Robotics

I, Robot
Book of short stories by Isaac Asimov
(c) 1950
Movie “based” on book
released in 2004
Book much better!
(my opinion, your mileage may vary)
Stories are based on…
The “three laws of robotics”
What are they?
The 3 Laws:
1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Theme of stories is…
The 3 laws conflict
They form an ethical code with “problems”
Can anyone think of how they might conflict?
Let’s look at the story plots
…because each story is based on a conflict
Warning: I am ignoring reading pleasure – go read it yourself!
Robbie is a nannybot
When the parents send Robbie away…
Little Gloria is heartbroken
What should Robbie do?
Setting: Mining colony on Mercury
Speedy is the robot
He is ordered to fetch liquid selenium from a lake
Does not return…what happened?
He’s circling the lake, acting “drunk”
The problem:
Selenium is dangerous to him
3rd law is strong because he’s expensive
2nd law is weak because order was so casual
So he’s stuck at a distance where they balance
Can a law be “strengthened” or “weakened”?
Is this conflict really a possibility?
What should Speedy do?
What should the colonists do?
Space station beaming energy to Earth
QT1 (“Cutie”) is a new, advanced AI robot
QT1 concludes that Earth, stars…do not exist
“I myself, exist, because I think”
QT1 decides humans are inferior
QT1 is responsible for aiming the beam
One mistake could fry a city
The humans on the ship are in a frenzy
What happens?
“Catch That Rabbit”
Robot DV-5 (“Dave”)
It controls several remote bots by RF
But the remote bots just “dance”
When humans observe, they work again
(The problem was called a “Heisenbug”)
Dave gets confused by too much complexity
Human observers reduce the complexity
Solution: deactivate one remote robot
Now there is less complexity
Robot RB-34 (“Herbie”)
Story has first known occurrence of term “robotics”
Poor Herbie has a manufacturing defect
He’s telepathic…
(…ok, let’s allow some artistic license here)
What to do when telling the truth hurts a human?
So Herbie is always lying!
What could happen?
What should Herbie do?
In the story -
Herbie is told of the problem
He freezes up permanently
…seeing no way out
Time for a new robot
A new hypersmart AI designs a hyperspatial space drive
The crew takes off
But…no showers, beds, or any food besides beans and milk
What’s the problem?
The AI is off kilter because during the hyperspace jump the crew ceases to exist briefly
Problem: AI thinks that conflicts with 1st law
What’s the solution?
Byerly survives a wreck
Later, runs for office
Opponent Quinn accuses him of being a robot
…made to look like Byerly
How can Byerly prove he’s not a robot?
Office holders must be human!
(Is that a good rule?)
He eats an apple
He has a right not to be x-rayed, etc.
What can he do to prove humanness and win the election?
A heckler runs onto stage during a speech
Demands Byerly hit him
(What would that prove?)
Byerly does!
How could Byerly do that *if* he was a robot?
Would a robot be a good leader?
Note: the story never says if he is or is not a robot
“The Evitable Conflict”
Byerly is now World Co-ordinator
Robots/AIs control many decisions
But some decisions are harming some humans!
Robots are interpreting the 1st law as “humanity” shall not come to harm
This would seem to require occasionally harming individuals
What should the AIs actually do?
The robots are in control
Should they be removed?
Still never resolved:
Whether Byerly is a robot or a human

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guest speaker: Harry E. Pence, PhD

Dr. Pence is a chemist and State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus. He presently serves as a Faculty Fellow for Emerging Technologies at the Teaching and Learning with Technology Center at the campus in Oneonta, NY. He has written and presented frequently about emerging learning technologies and has served on several state-wide and national committees that deal with this topic. He is a co-editor, along with Dr. Robert Belford (UALR Chemistry Dept.) of the recently published American Chemical Society book, "Enhancing Learning with Online Resources, Social Networking, and Digital Libraries," and co-authored two chapters in that book.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Scientific Proof" - an Idea Debunked

1. Let us find out what "scientific proof" really means
. . . and what it doesn't

     We can relate this to 
         daily life
         Earth 2100
         or whatever we feel like discussing

A starting point:
    What is the difference between

2. Math:
prove new things
based on
existing knowledge

Mathematical reasoning is:

  • 1+1=2
  • 2+2=4
  • Therefore,
    • 1+1+1+1=4
    • (proof by substitution)

  • All men are mortal
  • Socrates is a man
  • Therefore,
    • Socrates is mortal
    • (proof by "syllogism")

  • Deduction can prove things
  • Mathematics uses deduction
  • Therefore,
    • mathematics can prove things
    • (proof by syllogism again!)

3. Science is different from math!

  • Science is based on:
    • induction
    • (not deduction)
  • All apples that break off the tree,
    • fall down
  • Therefore, if I shake this apple tree,
    • and an apple breaks off,
    • it will fall down
  • Not a proof!
    • Can you think of a counterexample?

  • That which goes up has always come down
  • Therefore, if I throw this up, it will come down
  • Not a proof! Can you think of a counterexample?

4. Science needs more than induction

Humankind has always sought reasons

Scientists call those reasons
"theories" and "hypotheses"

Theories are the BIG ones
  • relativity
  • evolution
  • continental drift/plate tectonics

Hypotheses are the >little< ones
  • If the ground gets waterlogged,
    • water will get into my basement
  • IFSC majors 
    • are more employable 
    • than physics majors

Conclusion. . .
Math proves;
science does not prove!

Science disproves
(by refuting inductive "truths")

Science explains
(using theories)

Science predicts
(because the theories predict)

5. The phrase "scientific proof" makes no sense!
  • Science does not prove things!
  • It explains things and finds evidence
  • If only everyone actually knew that
  • Not just you, but also
    • reporters,
    • spokespeople,
    • politicians
    • the average person
6. Example: Global Warming

7. Example: Various medical advice

8. Example: US legal system

9. Example: More speculative science
                    ("Do toxoplasma germs control humanity?")

Thursday, February 21, 2013

EIT SUPER program

Could you help publicize the following points  in your class? Thanks for your

1. Interested in a paid, summer research opportunity ?
2. Minimum GPA of 3.22 is desirable but not essential
3. Sophomores and Juniors preferred, but all students welcome to apply
4. Apply by March 15 to be fully considered


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Futurists and an example: Millenium Project

Futurist Organization Examples

Futurism community is characterized in part by

       people running their own



               small consulting companies

Here are just a few examples

            Publishing book now

                  We could look at potential covers

            Notice the various programs

            Notable mainly for its splash page

       Institute for the Future

            One of the biggest

                (see e.g. Wikipedia article)

            At one time featured Paul Saffo

                See bio

                Turns out he is not the founder or leader

       The Millenium Project

             What does "millenium" mean?

             Founder and head is Jerome Glenn

                  see bio

             Let's look at the splash page

             Click to see video intro to their

                    Global Futures Intelligence System

             They have 4 major activities

                    Click "About Us" to see

                         Note the 4

                         Click "Short Powerpoint..." for details


             Note the "On-Going Programs"

             1. Futures Research Methodology

                    See CD

                    Helped to design this course

                    Let's see the web page           

             2. State of the Future annual reports

                    Let's click for that page as well

             3. Special futures research projects

             4. Global Futures Intelligence System

                    Click "Press Room" at top to see the news

                    Go back and click to go to the GFIS


   Let's check over the page at

   Activate the  Introduction  button

Got to here Sp '13

   Let's go through the challenges 1 by 1

        How would you solve these

             What does GFIS say?

As time allows

     Look at the other links on the GFIS page

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Question form for guest lectures

Your name:___________________________

Directions: please write three (or more) questions that occur to you during the guest lecture. I will collect them, and possibly use them to ask the guest during the discussion period after the talk, as needed. This is worth points (see HW).




Thursday, January 17, 2013

Welcome to Spring 2013!

All postings below this point are from a previous time this course was taught.