Is Emotion AI a Dangerous Deceit?

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“How do we get humans to trust in all this AI we’re building?”, asked Affectiva CEO Rana El-Kaliouby, at the prestigious NYT New Work Summit at Half Moon Bay last week. She had already assumed a consensus that trust-building was the correct way to proceed, and went on to suggest that, rather than equipping users and consumers with the skills and tools to scrutinize AI, we should instead gently coax them into placing more unearned faith in data-driven artifacts.

But how would this be accomplished? Well, Affectiva are “on a mission to humanize technology”, drawing upon machine and deep learning to “understand all things human.” All things human, El-Kaliouby reliably informed us, would include our emotions, our cognitive state, our behaviors, our activities. Note: not to sense, or to tentatively detect, but to understand those things in “the way that humans can.”

Grandiose claims, indeed.

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From tapping to talking: 3 bumps in the road

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Voice controlled technologies have made steady progress lately. The adaptability and applicability of voice as an interface is beginning to surprise us all. At the Startup Grind Festival last week, a handful of seasoned “voice entrepreneurs” described to eager newbies how sports fans are already calling on virtual assistants to read out their team’s results, and how we’ll all soon be using conversational AI to select our clothes as part of the regular morning routine. And that’s just in the home. There’s also a lot of chatter about how voice control could take some of the heavy-lifting in the workplace.

The message is clear: voice is here to stay. We’re tired of scrolling, sorting and reviewing. We’re ready for an army of intelligent servants to do our bidding.

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The end of household chores? Be careful what you wish for

This article by Fiona J McEvoy (YouTheData.com) was originally posted on All Turtles.

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Facebook’s and Google’s new home-based devices are designed to improve the way we live and interact in our personal time. These tech giants, along with vast swathes of smaller AI firms, are looking to upgrade and streamline our domestic experiences including how we share, relax, connect, and shop.

The veritable avalanche of new gizmos vying for a place in our most private spaces constitutes a true home invasion, and while many have voiced concerns about privacy and the security of personal data, fewer have considered what this might mean for the human condition.

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The Problem with Next Generation Virtual Assistants

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It may not seem like it, but there is quite an arms race going on when it comes to interactive AI and virtual assistants. Every tech company wants their offering to be more intuitive…more human. Yet although they’re improving, voice activated tech like Alexa and Siri are still pretty clunky, and often underwhelming in their interactions.

This obviously isn’t great if developers want to see them entering the workplace in such a way as to supercharge sales.  Continue reading

Online choice “nudge” and the convenient encroachment of AI

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The beginnings of the internet seem so long ago to those of us who lived through them. Hours spent trawling through pre-Google search results, which often ranged from the useless to the bizarre. Blindly researching gifts and listening to music, sans intelligently selected recommendations.  Checking social media accounts of our own volition, rather than through prompting from “notifications”.

Then the world began to change.

Under the banner of convenience, clever algorithms started to adapt both to our interests and – critically – the interests of commercial entities. We saw (or rather didn’t see) the covert introduction of the digital “nudges” that now regularly play upon our cognitive blind spots, and work to “guide” our decision-making.  Continue reading

Will robots make us more robotic?

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Anyone who has taken public transport in San Francisco will tell you: it is not strange and unusual to encounter the strange and unusual. Every day is one of eyebrow-raising discovery. That said, I surprised myself recently when I became slightly transfixed –and perhaps a little perplexed– listening to someone narrate a text message into their smartphone.

The expressionless and toneless girl carefully articulated each word: “I can’t believe she told you”, she said aloud like a Dalek, “LOL”. How odd it seemed to see someone sat, stoney-faced, proclaiming that they were “laughing out loud” when nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, I have a limited background in acting, and I worked in-and-around politics for several years, so believe me when I say I’ve heard people speak robotically without any conviction or inflection before. But those people were reading scripts, or trying to remember their lines-to-take, or trotting out meaningless straplines. They weren’t expressing their own thoughts and feelings to a friend.

Then yesterday, I stumbled across this blog about the evolution of interactions in the age of AI. In a rather sweet anecdote, the author talks about ordering his Alexa to “turn off the lights” and his young son questioning his manners and the absence of “please”. He goes on to ponder the future and how we might incorporate manners and niceties when instructing our digital assistants, lest we inhibit their range by limiting the vocabulary we use with them.

My thoughts went elsewhere. Though AI is developing to understand our expressions and feelings, it feels like we also have some evolving to do before we become used to addressing artificial systems as we would other humans. Moreover, with voice instructions and narrated text, there seems little need for sincerity or emotion. The text itself is either directly indicative – or free – of sentiment.

Where I’m getting to is this: might we humans begin to develop specific a type of robotic tone exclusively for non-social instructive language? For Alexa and co.? We already have a tone and style we reserve for babies, pets and (sometimes) older relatives. Will a whole new style of monosyllabic speech emerge for the purposes of closing garage doors, sending text messages, ordering plane tickets and browsing TV channels? A sort of anti-baby talk?

It’s fun to speculate about these things, and I’m certainly no linguist, but it’s difficult to see that the voice-activated future we’re promised wouldn’t have some implications for modes of speech. Will we flatten our language, or to the contrary, become hyper-expressive? We’re yet to find out, but we can only hope that the beautiful languages of the world aren’t somehow roboticized as we adapt to hands-free technologies and AI assistants.