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Robotics and Ethics – Should There Even be Robot Clones?

We’ve reached the part of this science fiction movie called life where robot clones (i.e., robotic simulacrums of actual people) are a thing. Putting aside all talk of their practical applications, there’s a pretty big can of worms that this development opens up. That’s right, I’m talking about ethics. Or, more specifically, roboethics.

Is it morally okay to create an artificial copy of someone? What if that person is deceased? Or, if that person is alive, but doesn’t consent to their likeness being put on a robot, is that cool? What if that person doesn’t even know a robot clone of themselves exists? You can answer these hypothetical questions in many different ways, but the bottom line is this: robot clones are creepy.

Robot clones in purple dresses
Twinning with your robot clone, is that creepy or what?

The Arrival of Robot Clones

The introduction of robot clones is not necessarily new. In Japan, researchers and scientists have been exploring robot clones for two decades now. In fact, some robots have even entered mainstream society. The robot, Erica Aoi, became an announcer for Nippon Television network as a robo-journalist. She has discussed topics like robotics and fashion and has even conducted interviews. At least in Japanese culture, there is a wide acceptance without concerns over roboethics and other issues.

However, recent concerns have grown as other robot clone companies enter the scene. Promobot, a Russian start-up, has begun manufacturing autonomous androids for private consumers. The company’s “Robo-C” costs up to $50,000 and can look like anyone, living or otherwise. Despite Robo-C existing from the waist up, it has 18 moving facial parts and 100,000 speech modules. As a result, it can produce up to 600 microexpressions and perform a number of tasks.

To date, Promobot is working on four different robot clones with a total of 10 orders already placed. In addition to one of its robot clones looking like Albert Einstein, the company also created robot clones for a Middle Eastern family. These two robots were to look like the family’s mother and father and their assignment would be to greet guests. In addition to being an odd request, the “creepiness” factor for visitors is likely to be pretty profound.

An Overview of Roboethics

Some suggest that roboethics was initially introduced in the 1940s when writer Isaac Asimov presented the three laws of robotics. The first law required that a robot may not injure a human being through action or inaction. The second law required robots to follow human orders unless they violated the first law. And the third law suggested that robots should protect their own existence, if it doesn’t affect the other two laws. While this sounded reasonable at the time, Asimov’s laws hardly address modern roboethics issues.

In today’s world, robots are increasingly becoming a part of military operations. Notably, if a robot is designed to fight in wars, then Asimov’s first law is completely irrelevant. Secondly, roboethics must address standards of behavior. If human control is necessary, what level of control is sufficient? As artificial intelligence and machine learning advances, robot autonomy will undoubtedly increase. These circumstances thus challenge Asimov’s second law of roboethics.

The introduction of robot clones are raising an entirely new set of issues. For example, if robot clones can look like anyone, is permission required from the individual whose image is being used? Do robot clones infringe upon others’ privacy rights? And what happens if someone is strongly opposes to be the subject for robot cloning? These have clear ethical issues related to justice, autonomy and maleficence that have yet to be addressed.

Exploring Roboethics in the Realm of Robot Clones

Over the past several years, many debates have been held over the topic of cloning. As stem cell research and advances in science have evolved, ethical concerns over cloning were introduced. For the most part, most concerns involved religious beliefs and scientists playing the role of “God”. But much of these concerns arose out of Western religious traditions. Eastern religions, especially those with beliefs in reincarnation, had little issue with genetic cloning. Perhaps, this is why Japan’s acceptance of robot clones has been without any resistance.

Certainly, roboethics related to robot clones will need to address the rights of individuals whose image is being used. Currently, robot clones are far from appearing truly human, which will make this less of a concern for the moment. But as artificial intelligence advances along with robotic technologies, more human-like features will likely appear. And the price tag associated with these robot clones will likely diminish in time. Thus, having a discussion about roboethics as it relates to robot clones should take place sooner rather than later.

So, the question remains…should there even be robot clones? From a practical perspective, robot clones can serve humankind well in many automated capacities. Therefore, it is unlikely to put aside robotics and robot clones due to ethical concerns. However, their development should include some social oversight that addresses the roboethics issues cited. Likewise, as robot clones become increasingly human-like, their own level of moral responsibility should be considered. When unethical choices are made, who is responsible? These are the tough questions that need to be asked, and seeking answers is essential as we enter this brave new world.

The Green Metropolis: Recycling Food Waste for Fuel

It’s no secret that greenhouse gas emissions are actively threatening the environment. But what might be less well-known is that wasted food accounts for a significant portion of those emissions. In fact, estimates suggest that food waste produces as much greenhouse gas emissions as 3.4 million vehicles annually. And food waste also accounts for 75 percent of landfill space, which is an additional concern. Fortunately, bold companies and policymakers are providing sustainability solutions to these problems. Specifically, food-recycling techniques that not only serve to protect the environment but also produce energy now exist.

Increasingly, cities are pursuing efforts toward recycling food waste. While many municipalities have adopted composting methods, better alternatives now exist. Anaerobic digestion of food not only is faster but also offers additional benefits. But some obstacles remain that must be overcome if we are to fully realize the potential of recycling food waste. With over 80 million pounds of food wasted annually in the U.S., that is an essential pursuit. Food-recycling strategies must be employed sooner rather than later if we are to make progress in these areas.

What Is Anaerobic Digestion?

To appreciate how anaerobic digestion is involved in recycling food waste, traditional approaches need to be understood. In routine composting, wasted food is allowed to decompose as bacteria and oxygen breakdown food components. In contrast, however, food-recycling efforts with anaerobic digestion do not require oxygen. Here, bacteria break down foodstuffs without oxygen, which accelerates the process. And at the same time, anaerobic digestion can be used to generate biogas, which is an energy fuel.

Certainly, this detail gives anaerobic digestion a clear advantage in recycling food waste. But it doesn’t mean composting is not still a useful process as well. In fact, many still prefer composting when it comes to breaking down leaves and sticks. But for food-recycling efforts, efficiency and added byproducts make anaerobic digestion a preferred method. In an ideal scenario, cities would employ both techniques in an effort to be more sustainable and reduce waste. And in fact, many municipalities are doing just that.

cartoon of two men recycling food waste for fuel for their car parked along a suburban street
Effective food-recycling efforts through anaerobic digestion are here! How will they impact future sustainable fuel solutions?

Food-Recycling Barriers to Overcome

Numerous cities already have food-recycling laws in place, and an increasing number are exploring new alternatives. For example, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Philadelphia are already constructing or using anaerobic digesters for recycling food waste. Some towns, like Brooklyn, have existing wastewater treatment plants pursuing similar strategies for food-recycling. And private companies are also beginning to see profitability in providing anaerobic digestion services to areas. One California company currently uses anaerobic digestion to both fuel its plant while also provide energy for 600 homes annually.

Despite this progress, many cities have yet to invest in these measures. Using anaerobic digestion in recycling food waste often requires costly updates to public infrastructures. Likewise, until profits are realized, anaerobic digestion is more expensive than composting in the short term. And private investors are often needed to build new anaerobic digester sites. That and a lack of federal incentives have hindered many towns from exploring anaerobic digestion for food-recycling as an option.

Bold Businesses to the Rescue

Given the challenges many towns face, anaerobic digestion has been slow to evolve. Nevertheless, a small number of private companies are taking the lead and offering such services. Most have launched in Europe where anaerobic digestion specifically, and sustainability solutions generally, are being pursued more robustly. Germany, Switzerland and Italy are seeing a gradual rise in anaerobic digestion plants for recycling food waste. And China has recently aligned with private partners to do the same in some regions.

For example, Kompogas—a Zurich-based company— is able to manage 100,000 pounds of food waste daily in its California plant. In its high-heat process of recycling food waste, it generates methane biogas. It can then be either used or sold, thus making this endeavor quite profitable. Organic Waste Systems (OWS) is another company based in Belgium involved in the construction and operation of anaerobic digestion plants. These types of bold business are showing how food-recycling efforts through anaerobic digestion can be effective. Indeed, such efforts are necessary to preserve landfill space, but they also offer hope for sustainable fuel solutions for tomorrow.

The Trust Economy: Fighting Fake Reviews with AI Technology

When it comes to the trust economy, social media and online consumer reviews play an important role. Surveys have indicated that nearly 90 percent of all consumers are willing to share positive or negative reviews. With almost 2 billion online shoppers a year, that is a big deal. Increasingly, consumer reviews are becoming a key factor in consumer-purchasing decisions. But underlying this reliance on consumer reviews is a trust in the process. So, what happens when fake reviews are used to promote a product or service? Will trust in the system gradually decline?

Perhaps more than anything, fake reviews pose a serious threat to the trust economy. Estimates currently suggest that 1 in every 7 consumer assessments is a fake review. Fortunately, actions are being taken to combat this rising trend. Regulatory agencies and businesses alike are cracking down on those posting fake reviews on various websites. And believe it or not, artificial intelligence might represent the best solution to this problem long term.

AI technology Solutions for Fake Reviews

In terms of consumer reviews, the vast majority remains accurate and legitimate. Still, at the same time, some consumers are ill-willed without a fair and unbiased perspective. And more concerning is the hired applauders who are paid to write positive reviews. When these types of fake reviews are numerous, they negatively impact consumer experiences. Fortunately, some telltale signs often distinguish reviews that are fake from those that are not. And AI technology is currently being used in detecting which ones are truly legitimate.

Fake reviews tend to have several red flags that help AI technology identify them. For one, the language used in a fake review often includes formal product names, model numbers and marketing jargon. Also, reviewer profiles usually fail to reflect a normal pattern of product or service reviews. And many times, fake reviews are posted too frequently in a short amount of time. By assessing these aspects, AI technology can identify false reviews from legitimate ones.

Businesses Using AI Technology for Fake Reviews

It’s no secret that AI technology offers businesses an advantage in terms of consumer review analyses. However, the use of AI technology is more commonly used to examine consumer complaints, preferences and requests. Machine learning is used to capture consumer data from reviews to create consumer profiles. And NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming is utilized to identify themes, topics and sentiments expressed in consumer reviews. And that is remarkably different from using AI technology to detect fake reviews. Indeed, businesses are starting to use AI technology for this purpose also.

Two notable companies are employing AI technology for this purpose currently. TDAI Labs recently released its product called “Wise Reviews”—which recalculates rankings of top Ramen restaurants in Tokyo. Using AI technology, this product identified fake reviews and readjusted their rankings. Some restaurants were found to drop over 300 spots as a result. Likewise, Fakespot is a free website that offers consumers a way to determine if a fake review is present. This website uses AI technology to detect fake reviews. And it has proven to be reasonably accurate when used on reviews listed on Amazon, Yahoo and Trip Advisor.

Federal Trade Commission on the Case

False advertising has long been recognized as an act of fraud from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s perspective. So, it’s not surprising that the FTC is also taking action against fake reviews. In fact, recently, the FTC has successfully won a lawsuit against a company that paid for favorable fake reviews on Amazon for its products. The result banned the company from ever making its product again in addition to a $12.8 million fine.

The company, Cure Encapsulation Inc., paid another entity to maintain its product reviews to have a rate that is over 4.3/5. Because their product was weight loss pills, the fake reviews naturally promoted the pill’s ability to help consumers shed some pounds. However, in addition to that claim being inaccurate, the pills also carried a risk for liver damage. Notably, this case has not been the only lawsuit that the FTC has pursued in this area. And it is likely that the FTC will increasingly utilize AI technology to identify fake reviews for future enforcement actions.

cartoon of masked men making online fake reviews in a dark room and an AI Technology robot busting in on them
Truly, online consumer reviews play a significant role in the trust economy. Will AI technology solutions make a big impact in our battle with fake reviews?

Can AI Technology Save the Trust Economy?

Without question, AI technology solutions offer significant promise for enhancing the trustworthiness of consumer reviews. With the use of machine learning and AI algorithms, the capacity to detect fake reviews will increase. That will help improve the legitimacy of product and service reviews so that better consumer decisions can be made. Indeed, combined with FTC oversight, these solutions will be necessary safeguards. But alone, they will not necessarily ensure that consumers will trust a company and its offerings. Ultimately, companies will need to provide oversight as well—as Airbnb recently realized. From fake reviews to the validation of its offerings, each business will need to play an active part in fostering consumer trust. And that will likely include employing AI technology to reduce various threats such as fake reviews.

In Search of a Home — Robot Dogs Exploring Bold Opportunities

Robotics already represent a major disruptive technology in a wide swath of industries, in tasks ranging from production lines to consumer interactions. But to date, the role that robot dogs might serve for businesses and firms remains unclear. For companies like Boston Dynamics and its competitors, this is about to change. Boston Dynamics’ Spot the robot canine has been put to work as a sort of roving webcam, and his work has inspired discussion over new robotic applications.

Introducing Spot the Robot

For some time now, videos of Spot the robot have been circulating, stimulating fascination and intrigue. Boston Dynamics, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, introduced its robot dog some time ago. Developed with a flexible platform allowing companies to adjust functionalities according to needs, Spot the robot doesn’t serve one function. Instead, purchasers can utilize the robot dog’s impressive kinematics to accomplish several potential tasks. All that is required is designing specific application software to guide and instruct Spot the robot for a particular endeavor.

However, Spot the robot has been in search of a company home for a while. But that recently changed when HoloBuilder equipped the robot dog with reality capture platform software. This software allows Spot the robot to collect 360-degree images of construction sites, which saves engineers significant time and effort. And with some initial mobility training performed via remote control, the robot dog is able to work autonomously. As a result, HoloBuilder is now working with a handful of construction companies utilizing Spot the robot’s capabilities.

Bold Opportunities for Robot Dogs Ahead

In essence, Spot the robot has some unique capabilities. For one, it is able to carry up to 14 kilograms of supplies and materials on its agile frame. Likewise, it can explore challenging environments—including those that are wet, dusty, confined and even toxic. Understanding this detail, its use as a construction site imaging hound is likely just the tip of the iceberg for its future. The fact that Spot the robot is programmable and can be operated via remote control definitely offers some advantages. But it will be up to specific companies and organizations to determine precisely how the robot dog might be used.

One of the most obvious uses of robot dogs involves their ability to carry supplies and materials. For example, LLAMA (Legged Locomotion and Movement Adaptation) robots are expected to help carry supplies and ammunition for military troops. This robot was developed by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. Other potential uses for Spot the robot include search-and-rescue missions, bomb disposals, and hazmat remediations. And robot dogs could also play a part in remote data collection, access to confined spaces, and security protections. And despite its limited use to date, a number of possible tasks could be performed by Spot the robot in the future.

Rising Competition Among Robot Dog Manufacturers

One indicator that robot dogs might soon have multiple uses is the recent increase in competition that Boston Dynamics faces. Several startups are actively pursuing similar robots in addition to those being developed by the military. For example, ANYbotics, a Swiss company, has introduced a robot dog called ANYmal. Unitree Robotics, a Chinese robotics startup, has two robot dogs available. And Ghost Robotics recently introduced its own robotic canine called Vision. The Vision model has already been used by one of the teams in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge this year.

While the business competition for Spot the robot is increasing, universities are also getting in on the game. At Zhejiang University in eastern China, a research team has developed a robot dog with advanced abilities. In addition to having superior sensors, this robot dog can jump 1.5 meters high, jump through hoops, and even head a ball. By comparison, Spot the robot is much slower and less adept. And while Spot the robot can learn to navigate independently, other robot dogs are anticipated to likely be more autonomous. As a result, the capabilities of future models of these robots could accelerate their use from a practical perspective.

cartoon of four robot dogs being used in different ways across industries
Evidently, many robotics manufacturers anticipate robot dogs to assist humans with a variety of tasks across different industries!

The Future Ahead for Spot the Robot

At the current time, the biggest obstacle for companies that want to employ Spot the robot is cost. Though the exact price has not been quoted, it is estimated to be around the price of a new luxury car. As a result, Boston Dynamics offers a leasing program. However, specific applications must still be either purchased or developed for a company’s precise needs. Fortunately, with the advancing competition, these obstacles should progressively improve in time. And if these robot dogs can create greater efficiencies and quality results, then they will naturally receive increasing attention. It’s simply a matter of time before Spot the robot and his fellow robot dogs find their way home.