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We are currently systematically using tools to kill each other and even autonomous machines are a tried and tested method to kill humans, both soldiers and civilians. Land mines are maybe one of the best examples for such autonomous killing machines, although they are of course...Read More
Update: The media has become overwhelming. Have a look at the press section to get an impression of the coverage. The response of the media to our LEGO Minifigure study has been overwhelming. Not only did the New Zealand Herald report, but also Die Welt, Tagesschau. There has...Read More
Sounds easy, I wish it was!
Panoramic photography is one of my passions. With the arrival of panorama apps for the iPhone the game has changed, yet again. You can easily create panoramas right on your iPhone. Not only can you stitch them on the phone, but you can even continuously shoot spherical panos with PhotoSynth (free) or 360 Panorama (commercial). You can simply pan and tilt the camera while holding the camera in your hand, but the more elegant and more precise method is to use a motorized camera head. I build one from LEGO and used the Mindstorms NXT (no need for the EV3 for this).
The same principles that classical panoramic photography also applies to this new generation of pano apps. Most importantly, the pivot point of the camera head needs to be in the “no parallax” point of the camera. Since the lens of the iPhone is very small, it is sufficient to just place just into the pivot point. In figure 1 you see how the rotation axis of the motorized camera head roughly meet at the center of the camera.
Programming is very straight forward:
Here is a video of the motorized camera head in action:
And here is the resulting spherical panorama:
The study we performed on the emotional expressivity of LEGO Minifigures is currently receiving an enormous attention in the media. Much more than the LEGO Minfigure Catalogs that I am publishing as books. I am being bombarded with requests for interviews and statements. The Norwegian news paper “Morgenbladet” even asked me to confirm that this is not an action from the infamous “Yes Men” or any other artist group alike. I share their disbelief how such a little study could cause such a ripple in the global media landscape. I do not think that it deserves that much attention. Why then has it sparked such an intense consideration?
The study showed, amongst other things, that the number of unique LEGO Minifigure faces has increased dramatically over the years and that the proportion of happy faces is declining. Anger is the second most frequent expression. As my wife put it to me yesterday: “So what, there are some angry faces!”. I agree, there is nothing wrong with having a variety of faces, including faces that are angry, sad, fearful and surprised. They reflect our normal repertoire of facial expressions.
When reflecting on the type of questions reporters asked me I gathered that there is another phenomena that, mixed with the results of our study, does concern many people. Have the LEGO toys become more aggressive and violent in general? This is not a question of the faces on the Minfigures, but on the sets and the phantasy worlds in which they are embedded. Have a look at set 44001 Pyrox (see Figure 1). This certainly looks like a violent demon, if not the devil himself. The question comes up again and again as to whether such toys have a negative effect on our children.
Figure 1: Set 44001 Pyrox
We do already have a big debate about violent computer games and to my knowledge there is no scientific consent as to what effect it may or may not have on children and young adults. The Mega Blocks company even sells LEGO compatible sets that are based on the violent computer game called Halo.
Surely there is a relationship between the artifacts and ourselves. We shape the tools and toys and they shape us. But it is a complex relationship in which causalities are difficult to establish. Our little LEGO study was never intended to give an answer to this question and it certainly cannot even give a hint. We have only been able to scientifically establish that there are now proportionally less happy faces and more angry faces. But this is the main question that has been asked by the reporters. I feel sorry to have to disappoint the reporters and readers. I am not able to give you any scientific proof that LEGO is good or bad for your children.
But I can give you my non-scientific, personal view. I believe the LEGO company has some great toys that help kids develop and the more generic LEGO bricks you buy, the more freedom you give the kids to develop their own imaginary worlds. It is a misconception that the basic LEGO bricks have gone. You can buy a bucket of basic bricks in every toy store right now. I recommend that you, no matter the age, sit down today on the floor and do play with some LEGO. But do not step on them barefoot!
We are currently systematically using tools to kill each other and even autonomous machines are a tried and tested method to kill humans, both soldiers and civilians. Land mines are maybe one of the best examples for such autonomous killing machines, although they are of course rather simple. But even the deterministic simplicity of killing machines can be their greatest asset. The Russians maintained an autonomous system during the cold war called the Dead Hand that, once activated, would automatically launch intercontinental missiles in case a nuclear attack on Russia was detected. Today’s weapon systems have become more complex, such as the Phalanx Gun System, which already caused the death of a soldier in 1989. Despite the increase of complexity the fundamental questions remain the same. Who will take the responsibility for a non-deterministic weapon system? And how do we define autonomy?
Interestingly, it is a requirement for a just war that the participating agents must be responsible for their actions. For an autonomous killing machine to fight a just war, we would need to give them the legal state of a person, so that it can take responsibility for its actions. But the ideas for a just war have fallen out of fashion. We no longer declare or end wars; we directly invade or attack from the air. Maybe the only glimpse of hope is that autonomous weapon systems, left to their own devices, will quickly run out of battery or fuel. Land mines remain a deadly threat long after the original conflict has ended.
This legal requirement of responsibility becomes even more pressing in a civilian context. We will need to make our autonomously driving cars legal persons so that it can be made responsible for the deaths they will cause. In the near future I am convinced that we will have to deal with more fatalities through autonomous cars than autonomous war machines. The first documented death by robot already occurred as early as 1979 when a factory worker was hit by a robotic arm.
It is also important to make a clear distinction between Science and Fiction. Many of the recent articles on “Killing Robot” used imagery from the movies “Terminator” to illustrate human like killing machines. Using a fiction to talk about real world problems is misleading at best. The autonomous weapon systems we will be dealing with in the near future come from the air, not the ground. The media is abusing the Frankenstein Complex to stir fears of androids. This may seriously harm the research and development of androids.
Isaac Asimov, a famous writer wrote: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. By that definition, autonomous killing machines are hopelessly incompetent, since all they know is violence. Lets remain competent in our decision.
The response of the media to our LEGO Minifigure study has been overwhelming. Not only did the New Zealand Herald report, but also Die Welt, Tagesschau. There has also been an interview on the Australian’s ABC radio:
And I also gave a TV interview today for TV3 News. You can watch it below:
Today the media picked up on one of our studies on the emotional expressions of LEGO Minifigure faces. Some of it is a dramatization, so here is the full text of study for your consideration. The paper received a honorable mention at the upcoming First International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction (iHAI 2013).
While exhibiting at the Auckland LEGO show last weekend, I also took a time lapse movie of the event. Of course I used Mindstorms for the motorized camera head. The iPhone camera did a good job, but its memory got filled completely. So it is only a 270 degree pan. Still, pretty neat.
Canterbury is a New Zealand region founded by the “Canterbury Association“. It’s largest city is Christchurch. The name of Christchurch was agreed on at the first meeting of the association on 27 March 1848. It was suggested by John Robert Godley, who had attended Christ Church College, Oxford, UK. The University of Canterbury was then founded in 1873 as New Zealand’s second-oldest university. To make things complicate, there is also a “Canterbury Christ Church University” in Kent, UK (founded in 1962). Can you feel the holy spirit already?