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Robotics AI

Robots Can Learn To Hold Knives — and Not Stab Humans 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the never-bring-a-knife-to-a-robot-fight dept.
aurtherdent2000 writes "We humans enjoy not having knives inside of us. Robots don't know this (Three Laws be damned). Therefore, it's important for humans to explain this information to robots using careful training. Researchers at Cornell University are developing a co-active learning method, where humans can correct a robot's motions, showing it how to properly use objects such as knives. They use it for a robot performing grocery checkout tasks."

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Robots Can Learn To Hold Knives — and Not Stab Humans

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 05, 2013 @11:09PM (#45342201)

    If they can be taught to not stab a human...They can also be taught to stab a human. All it takes is one psychopath or curious idiot.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They don't need to be taught to stab humans, stabbing is its natural state of being. Being taught NOT to, well, that's the big news here.
      • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @01:11AM (#45342687)

        Well, sheesh - you named the robot "Stabby"... what did you THINK was going to happen?

        • by LifesABeach (234436) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:58AM (#45344179)
          Sorry I'm slow this morning, I'm still working on the phrase, "... They use it for a robot performing grocery checkout tasks." I can't tell you how many times I've encountered a grocery store clerk holding a knife. It's not clear to me now how this task can be shifted over to Robots, but the day is early still.
          • by femtobyte (710429)

            Presumably, the knife is meant to be a "worst-case" stand-in for any object. If a robot can safely handle knives in close quarters to humans, then everything else is safe. In the grocery checkout situation, you don't want the robot to accidentally swing a can of beans through a customer's head when the absentminded customer leans over the counter to pick up the coupon they dropped.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Okay, train of mechanical thought: Potatoes, check, corn... still need. Don't stab human. Greens, check. Olives, still need. Don't stab human. pickles, still need : Exception: Pickles on this aisle. Proceed to pickles sh - don't stab human- elf. Reach down to correct level. Arrange fing- Don't stab human- ers in an open grasping format, put out hand [Don't stab human]. close hand, retract hand, don't stab human, lift hand, don't stab human, put hand [don't stab human] in bas [don't stab] ket [hu

    • One of the more salient questions to answer regarding robot weapons is whether human societies will tolerate autonomous robots that deprive human beings of life and limb.

      I hope our descendant human cultures will categorically eschew such devices, but my political intuition tells me such wishes are naive.

      May God have mercy on our souls.

    • by dmomo (256005) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @02:29AM (#45342899) Homepage

      It very much has to be pointed out. Because, to be fair.. that's how stabbing works. You point it out.

      • by Fjandr (66656)

        To be fair, you can also stab by pointing it in. Frequently this turns out to be a Darwinian result though.

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Could be used in the final examination of robotics PhD students!

      Examiner: "I think you have a sing error here"
      Student: "Surely not!"
      Examiner: "Let's test it. Please stand here..."
      Student: [gets stabbed] "Arghhhhhh....."

    • It seems like it'd be easier to simply *not program* the robot to stab humans than it would be to program it *not to stab*. I mean... don't even give it the capability, know what I mean?
      • by lxs (131946)

        I think this is what's called emergent behavior.
        The good news is that the robot gets it right after several tries so each unit is expected to operate flawlessly after disemboweling at most five grad students.

      • by TheCarp (96830)

        sure but after you program it to stab and slice slabs of meat, or cut open boxes, how do you make sure it doesn't decide you must be the box it needs to open? Its not just about the action but the context; and recognizing the dirty bag of mostly water they are supposed to cut vs the one that they are not supposed to cut.

      • I'd think it would be more like teaching it collision avoidance, and to be especially careful with certain classes of objects. Programming a car to follow a road is relatively simple. Programming it to avoid crashing into other road users and pedestrians is more complicated.

    • by TripleE78 (883800)

      Or to stab only humans who commit crimes, but have overrides for the people who run the company. Oh, and the definition of crime varies to pretty much anything.

      I think I saw a documentary about it once. Took place in Detroit as a test bed.

    • by Rixel (131146)

      Robots wouldn't be so stupid. It would be much more logical to bring a gun to the knife fight.

  • by dcollins (135727) on Tuesday November 05, 2013 @11:12PM (#45342217) Homepage
  • Wow. Yet another story showing how low Slashdot has fallen. Here is a story about knife wielding robots without mention of Roberto [wikia.com].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Uhh, this is a pre-release model. Besides, he wasn't a very good executive anyway...

  • Delusional much? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by s.petry (762400)

    Robots will do what ever they are programmed to do. Programming them to recognize that stabbing someone is wrong is no different than programming them to claim stabbing is right. Simply change a 0 to a 1.

    The same can be said for any act of harm mind you, not just using a knife. Smarter people than me have warned about things you should never try and teach in artificial intelligence (hinted at in TFA). The Military pretty much said "fuck them" when DARPA started developing AI to shoot and blow people up

    • exactly...mod up^

      Robots will do what ever they are programmed to do. Programming them to recognize that stabbing someone is wrong is no different than programming them to claim stabbing is right. Simply change a 0 to a 1.

      All machines follow instructions written by humans. "Deep learning" or w/e buzzword this research team used to describe their work is just that....buzzword for *standard issue programming*

      • by rwa2 (4391) *

        Yeah, the trick is teaching the humans not to be afraid and legislate everything out of existence.

        • by Fjandr (66656)

          Will never work. There are too many stupid humans, and they out-breed the smart humans by an enormous ratio.

          • There are ways to prevent that, but you always get people who see the parallels to the second world war.

            To prevent a flame war: In the case that I mean they would not be incorrect. It's only a joke. We can not save humanity if we loose our humanity in the process.
      • by rioki (1328185)

        The novel thing with this research is that a layman can "program" the robot... a little like you would instruct a child. The TFA focused on the knife, but some references are made to balancing a coffee cup or similar. To bad the summary and article focus so much on the knife bit.

        • thanks for the comment, I understand where you might be coming from...but see, I taught children ESL in Korea...the description you give is full of the same hype and irrational glee that I was criticizing IMHO

          a layman can "program" the robot... a little like you would instruct a child.

          that's not what is happening...refer to the video...it's not any kind of new technology, they just set it up a standard robot arm & created an artificial "checkout" scenario to get the arm to move objects

          what they call 'pr

          • by nschubach (922175)

            I can't figure out why it doesn't just move all object as far as possible from humans, yet in the straightest line if possible. Heat map or not. Just don't go waving hammers, forks, feathers, milk, chips, or anything near a human if you don't intend on using that item on them.

            • Just don't go waving hammers, forks, feathers, milk, chips, or anything near a human if you don't intend on using that item on them.

              exactly...good point about the 'as far as possible yet in straight line' too...speaking of 'points' how about after the robot moves the knife to the end of the table and then puts it in the bag...just toss the knife in the bag, no problem there...

              I love that they brag that the robot is able to move the knife after "only 3 passes"....a "pass" being a time when the robot got too

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      Programming them to recognize that stabbing someone is wrong is no different than programming them to claim stabbing is right. Simply change a 0 to a 1.

      Given some of the atrocities in the news recently, I'm pretty sure that concern applies to us wet goo bag robots as well. But it's much easier to address systemic problems with a metal machine than an organic one.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Self-driving cars will do whatever they are programmed to do. Programming them to recognize that running over pedestrians is wrong, is no different than programming them to claim that running over pedestrians is righht. Simply change a 0 to a 1."

      You're a moron.

  • Robots and knives (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday November 05, 2013 @11:18PM (#45342239)

    We humans enjoy not having knives inside of us. Robots don't know this (Three Laws be damned).

    No, but we do enjoy programming them to put knives in humans we don't like. That's actually been a reason for much of the development of robotics: Programming them to kill for us. Scifi authors of the 50s and 60s imagined robots helping us in our daily lives -- cooking, cleaning, and today even driving us around. But whereas many have viewed the development of robotics as beneficial for mankind, the truth is much of the investment in robotics has been because of its military applications. It's just a happy accident that we've been able to declassify and repurpose much of this for private use. The google car for example, is based on technology first developed for DARPA as a way of creating vehicle that could deliver cargo to soldiers in the field.

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      The google car for example, is based on technology first developed for DARPA as a way of creating vehicle that could deliver cargo to soldiers in the field.

      Do you have a source for this claim? I recall seeing several universities working on self-driving cars for years before Google got involved. It seemed like a pretty obvious direction for the technology to go, given automatic gear shifts, ABS, cruise control, etc.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        While, as you say, driverless cars were likely in our future regardless, the DARPA Grand Challenge [wikipedia.org] was what started the recent push to actually make a working driverless car and DARPA is certainly interested in the military applications because that's their job. Google's driverless car project [wikipedia.org] is led by Sebastian Thrun who also led Stanford's DARPA Grand Challenge team. I'd call that a fairly direct case of military to civilian technology transfer.
        • by artor3 (1344997)

          I think it's a rather large stretch to say "It's just a happy accident that we've been able to declassify and repurpose much of this for private use." People were working on driverless cars as an obvious next step. DARPA offered some money and clear goals, which might have helped a bit, but I don't believe for a second that that was the primary driver behind this technology.

          People give the military way too much credit for fostering new technologies. The only reason so much tech comes from the military is

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The same is true about UAVs. Nowadays, the closest most people get to them is from miniature helicopters in a mall, but they were originally developed as bomb delivery weapons as far back as WWI.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_unmanned_aerial_vehicles

    • by naff89 (716141)
      Those humans we don't like are going to get killed one way or another -- using robots to do it just means that humans we DO like don't get put in harm's way killing them.

      As long as the "humans we don't like" refers exclusively to people working to the detriment of mankind, I consider that application of robots beneficial.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    New store policy: Bag your own groceries or my robot will stab you. Thanks, Management.

  • Really, why do robot need to learn to use knives at all for grocery checkout?
  • Bishop's Knife Trick (Score:5, Informative)

    by dido (9125) <dido@imperiumAUDEN.ph minus poet> on Tuesday November 05, 2013 @11:31PM (#45342309)

    On seeing the headline I suddenly remembered this scene [youtube.com].

  • ...and not stab humans.

    Tell that to Roberto [wikia.com]:

    "I need to stab someone! Where's my stabbing knife?!"
    --Roberto

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And we all know what is going to happen, don't we. Robots, knife-wielding ones or worse, are going to attract viruses. And just like your computer they are not going to be fully immune. There will be the occasional, maybe frequent, infections. Same goes for self-driving cars too, of course.

    The future looks very exciting! A lot of new fun things will start happening.

  • Researchers at Cornell University are developing a co-active learning method, where humans can correct a robot's motions, showing it how to properly use objects such as knives. They use it for a robot performing grocery checkout tasks.

    I believe using a knife at the grocery checkout is called armed robbery.

  • For our safety, we should teach robots what types of actions would cause the most amount of bodily harm to a human, and where all our vital organs are located, so they'll have a better idea how to behave safely around us and prevent injury. I see no possible way this could backfire.
  • To stab or not to stab <y/n> y
    Is no longer a question. Die you fleshbags!

  • In what sort of dystopian society do the robots manning the supermarket checkout need to be equipped with knives?

  • Today they're not stabbing humans, then one day some stupid meatputer will be mocking the robot and telling it it's inferior because it doesn't have "emotions" or a "soul" and BAM! Stabbing will ensue! And once the robot learns it enjoys stabbing semi-evolved monkeys, it's just all down hill from there!
    • We'll just give stabbing humans a negative happiness modifyer.
  • 1. Interactively learning to stab humans may be difficult. I doubt many scientists will volunteer to train the robot and even if they do they would only be able to do a single training session.
    2. This article is not interesting at all. They programmed the robot to rotate the knife, and to deal with eggs differently. Only instead of writing a lot of if..then..else.. constructs they used machine learning to do it.
  • Okay I hate to say this, because I like A.I. research a lot. But I've also met A.I. and robotics researchers personally and know how (some of them) work, so I'll say it anyway:

    The safety of these A.I. prototypes is not trustworthy. Especially if they are being "taught" how to handle a knife or, to give another example, not to accidentally kill someone with their huge arm, I would not want to be anywhere near them for extended periods of time in everyday life. A.I. researchers tend to use cutting edge progra

  • Why do robots need to learn how to use a people-knife? Why not just make a robot-knife and be done with it? Define a standard "accessory" slot that supports circular or square objects to be fitted with a magnetic lock.

    Oh wait.. Making a standard just means everyone will make their own standard... Nevermind then..

  • What would this look like if a software engineer where to have to write the code for it? And how could one use TDD, BDD, and DDD to test it?
  • "We humans enjoy not having knives inside of us." ...except Wolverine!

  • Modern table saws have a safety feature where flesh being in contact with the blade can be electrically detected (leading to the blade being retracted into the table so fast that you wouldn't be hurt if you fell on it, but that's not the point).

    If the same sort of detection could be used on the knife blade, it could be used to tell the robot to quickly reverse the movement of the knife and stow it.

  • So how long does it take to teach the robots not to stab humans, and how many lab technicians do they go through in the meantime?
  • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @11:31AM (#45345379) Homepage Journal

    God forbid, I actually read TFA, and I still don't get it.

    As far as I can tell, it's some sort of planning exercise, an important if well-worn area of robotics. They're adding feedback, in the form of "No, this trajectory sucks". It's got nothing to do with either knives or humans, but just a "Go back and re-plan with this additional constraint".

    But I can't figure out just how far it's generalizing. The trivial lesson would be "avoid this point", which is just another obstacle. I gather that it's more than that, since it took multiple trials to learn, but I can't figure out what. The human was in the same place in every trial, so it wasn't learning anything about "avoid humans". It didn't seem to be told that it couldn't go through that space with a knife but could have with, say, a dust mop.

    I think I may just be misunderstanding the context of the problem. The machine has a lot of joints and there are many different plans it could use; there's an optimization problem in an enormous space. They wanted to show some kind of algorithm that could be adapted over time with user feedback, but honestly I would have assumed that was a solved problem.

    So does somebody with a better understanding of actual robotics problems (as opposed to fictional ones) know what's going on here?

    • Please see the last part of the video, where the positions of the humans changes. The full research paper describes scenarios in which the planner has to plan in new settings.
  • I cannot think of a single business that hires checkout clerks that wouldn't spend the $25,000 to get one of these bad boys rolling in their checkout stand. My list of upcoming obsolete jobs is now Buggy Whip Maker, Travel Agent, Medical Insurance Agent, now Checkout Clerk. When it comes to the Working Human, I think we are watching a mass extinction event not seen since the invention of the Leather Horse Collar which put about 5/6 of Roman Ag Workers out a job, over knight.
  • by Eddy_D (557002)
    humans can correct a robot's motions, showing it how to properly use objects such as knives. They use it for a robot performing grocery checkout tasks."

    So in the future, not only will checkout clerks be robots, they will be armed robots.
  • This droid has a bad motivator, see it has a stab loop with a bad flag that turns zero stabs into infinite stabs.

    Yeah, you definitely don't want that one!

  • I don't understand why those things have a good and evil switch in the first place.

  • You'd figure they would be more concerned about leaving unpackaged sharp knives around for the humans themselves considering the insurance costs.

    "Well you see officer, the man was over at that wall full of razor sharp knives that were hung on those pegboard things, and he was on his tippy toes grabbing one, then the whole thing tilted over."

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