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Tag: artificial intelligence

This robot dog would be more than a toy

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Robot dogs are a dime a dozen — well, not quite, the latest Sony Aibo goes for about $1,700 — but the point is they’ve become pretty common in the overpriced toy market.

A researcher at the University of Washington, though, is working on a version of a robot dog that promises to do more than than sit and bark and (though real dogs seldom do this) play music that you program into them.

Normally, when we hear the phrase artificial intelligence we think of intelligence that mimics that of a human.

Kiana Ehsani and colleagues have gathered a unique data set of canine behavior and used it to train an AI system to make dog-like decisions, according to MIT Technology Review.

They say their approach opens up a new area of AI research that studies the capabilities of other intelligent beings on our planet, which strikes me as a good thing — given how humans often botch things up.

To gather their initial data, the team fitted a dog with inertial measurement units on its legs, tail, and body to record. They also fitted a GoPro camera to the dog’s head to record the visual scene, sampled at a rate of five frames per second, and a microphone on the dog’s back to record sound.

It gathered about 24,500 video frames with synchronized body position and movement data to further understand how dogs, act, plan and learn, and to try to predict a dog’s future movements based on those recorded ones.

The researchers say the system got the point that it could accurately predict the next five movements after seeing a sequence of five images.

No actual dog robot was built, just an AI system, but the far away goal appears to be a robot dog that could do everything a real dog does, up to and including sniffing out a trail, and helping the blind.

Of course we already have an abundance of dogs with a built-in knack for those kind of things but, human intelligence being what it is, we want to duplicate it in machine form. And more to the point, there are things to be learned in doing so.

The team loaded up a Malamute named Kelp M. Redmon with sensors, to record movements, video of the dog’s viewpoint, and a microphone.

They recorded hours of activities — walking in various environments, fetching things, playing at a dog park, eating — syncing the dog’s movements to what it saw.

The resulting data was used to train a new AI agent.

Their work so far gathered data from just one dog, and it was primarily on what the dog saw and heard and the movements it made. Much more baseline data would be needed to get anywhere — and giving a robot a nose able to sniff out all that dogs to would surely be daunting, if even doable.

But the research is continuing, and the researchers feel the approach could be used to better understand the intelligence of other animals as well, TechCrunch reported.

“We hope this work paves the way towards better understanding of visual intelligence and of the other intelligent beings that inhabit our world,” Ehsani said.

Revolt of the robot dogs?

It may look like this robot dog is attempting to escape and carry out whatever other carnage he was programmed to inflict.

But it’s only a test by Boston Dynamics, the company developing these creatures for wartime and other uses.

The robot dog has been directed to open the door and leave the room. The technician has been assigned to pose an obstacle, using a hockey stick. The resulting struggle — in which the technician ends up grabbing the metal beast’s tail/handle, and breaking a piece of it off — is shown in this newly released video.

Boston Dynamics describes the video as a test of the dog’s (named SpotMini) “ability to adjust to disturbances as it opens and walks through a door” because “the ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot.”

In other words, they want to be sure the dogs will complete their assigned mission at all costs.

It’s that “at all costs” part that gets a little scary. When you program a robot to “do this and don’t let anything get in the way,” you want to be sure that you, and other living breathing humans, aren’t in the way.

In this case, the robot succeeds in getting out the door. Boston Dynamics assured watchers that “this testing does not irritate or harm the robot.”

The company, owned by Google at the time, took a little heat three years ago when it released a video that showed a technician kicking a robot dog. Even back then, they assured watchers, “No robot dogs were harmed in the making of this video.”

Last year the company was sold to SoftBank.

Retired professor foresees the day we’ll be able to talk with dogs — and it’s soon

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A retired Northern Arizona University biology professor says a device that could provide humans with a basic idea of what dogs are thinking could be developed within the next 10 years, or even as few as two years.

Con Slobodchikoff says the device would decode a canine’s vocalizations, facial expressions and actions and then tell the human user what the dog is trying to say.

There are some far less scientific, far more gimmicky types of devices already on the market, but what Slobodchikoff is proposing — and attempting to raise money for — would be as simple as pointing your cell phone at your pet to get a translation of what he is trying to communicate.

Slobodchikoff, who spent decades researching prairie dog communication at NAU, says the technology would hinge on an artificial intelligence program that would learn to recognize animal sounds and actions through videos and pictures.

“The program would synthesize all of it, then tell the person the dog says ‘I want to go for a walk’ or ‘you’re scaring me, back off please,'” Slobodchikoff told the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.

b8e37915bfa7749f147182db37a4dcebWe’d point out here that the average dog owner is probably already getting such messages from his dog non-verbally. And we’d guess that “let’s go for a walk” or “isn’t it time for dinner” would account for 90 percent of any messages the device picked up.

Then again, what dog owner doesn’t want to get a little deeper into his dog’s head.

People like to think of their dogs as thinking, feeling beings and want to respond to them in some way, Slobodchikoff said. “But they don’t know what their dogs are trying to say to them.”

He says between two million and three million dogs are euthanized each year for behavioral problems, and that most of those problems arise because of a lack of communication between people and their dogs.

Last year, Slobodchikoff started the company Zoolingua to develop animal communication technology.

The timeline for developing a working translation device depends on how much money he and his partners can raise, he said. “If we get a lot of money we can do it in two to five years, not as much money then it probably will be 10 years.”

He hopes to perfect a device for dogs, then expand it to cats, horses, other domestic animals, and possibly wild animals someday.

Before he retired from NAU about seven years ago, Slobodchikoff’s research focused on analyzing the calls of prairie dogs that live around Flagstaff.

screen-shot-2015-08-16-at-11-00-02-pmSlobodchikoff conducted experiments where he parsed out prairie dog calls and determined that the animals had different calls for different threats or predators, like humans, birds and coyotes.

Upon further analysis, he found that the prairie dogs’ alarm calls had a structure similar to the nouns and adjectives used in human sentences. The animals also had different dialects, he said. You can read more about his work with prairie dogs in this New York Times article.

chasing“People see … that they’re not just this nuisance ground squirrel that digs burrows. They really are a complex animal that has unique personalities. Hopefully people can relate to that in a different way so that makes them stop and think a little bit before they just decide to shoot one or poison one on their property just because they don’t like it.”

After retiring, Slobodchikoff wrote the book “Chasing Doctor Dolittle,” in which he explored the languages of everything from whales to honeybees.

“Many animals do have language but we humans simply have not been listening,” he said.

Sony working on reincarnating Aibo, this time as a smart home assistant

aiboAibo is coming back, and he hopes to take a bite out of Alexa.

Sony is reportedly re-forming the team behind its discontinued robot dog Aibo, and plans are for him to come back in a form that will compete with Alexa, the artificially intelligent household assistant produced by Amazon.

Aibo made a splash when he was introduced back in 1999, but after a few years consumer interested waned.

In large part that was because, aside from the novelty, he was less than cuddly and really couldn’t do much other than sit and bark.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that Sony is preparing to compete with Amazon, Google and Apple by producing a smart, speaking, more helpful version of the robot dog.

After a 12-year hiatus from robotics, the company announced last year it was turning its attention back to robots. Aibo’s return would be the first of several products brought to the market.

He will engage in all the dog-like behavior the old one did, but this time will be equipped with artificial intelligence, Internet connectivity, and he will speak the human language.

He’ll be able to control home appliances, play music and query the Internet at the command of his owner’s voice. Equipping him with AI will allow consumers to use him the same way they use any other digital assistant, all while being a little more personable, a little more like family, than just a futuristic looking speaker.

Whether the smarter, reincarnated version will be named Aibo isn’t certain yet, but the company says it is a possibility.

An app that’s not apt to be very useful

Only in these mega-awesome modern times could a product that really doesn’t work well at all become a big hit.

And only in the Internet age could how badly it works be a selling point.

Fetch! is an app that lets you upload a photo of your dog and learn what breed it is, or, judging from my try, what breed it’s not.

It was released yesterday just in time for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, according to promotional material. (Last I checked, competitors at Westminster were pretty sure what breeds their dogs were.)

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Not a Rhodesian Ridgeback

The app analyzes a photo and makes a guess as to breed — using its artificial intelligence and tons of data stored in clouds.

It’s just one of the latest products to hit the market offering to guess everything from your age to your state of mind to the significance of your mustache — all via the power of object recognition, a key facet of artificial intelligence.

It comes as a Web app or download for devices running Apple’s iOS, and you can also get an idea of what it’s all about at the website what-dog.net.

I generally avoid apps (I’m app-rehensive?) so I went to the website to give it a test. I fed it three different photos of Ace, and it identified him as a Rhodesian Ridgeback each time. (He’s not.)

Next I uploaded a photo of myself and was told I was a “Chihuahua … quick witted, loving, wary of strangers and other dogs.”

(Strangers and dogs are actually the two things I’m NOT wary of.)

Microsoft is using the device’s lack of reliability as a selling point, as if to say,  “Well no, it’s not really accurate at all, but isn’t it fun?”

Seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

As in the series of ads from Time Warner that make light of the sheer hell the company — once, they’d have us believe — put customers through.

As in the direction the news media has been going in ever since it realized there was an Internet.

As in all those overused hooks designed to get us to click a link on the Internet – such as awesome, epic, jaw-dropping, life-changing, pee-your-pants-funny, you’re not going to believe what happened next.

With Fetch, in my case, not too much happened next.

But its developers say they expect it to wow the masses.

“There was an interest in creating a framework that would allow you to take a domain – in our case, dogs – and recognize numerous classes, such as breeds. We were interested in enabling an app to allow you to make object recognition extraordinary, fun and surprising,” said Mitch Goldberg, one of the Fetch  developers

“If you want to take photos of dogs, it will tell you what dog breed it is, if it’s one of our supported breeds. If I choose to take a photograph of a flower, it’ll say, ‘No dogs found! Hmmm… This looks more like…flower?’ But if you take a picture of a person, it’ll kick into its hidden fun mode. And in a playful way, it’ll communicate to you not only what type of dog it thinks you are, but also why.”

Follow all that? When the app works, it’s an amazing example of artificial intelligence. When it doesn’t, don’t worry, it’s in playful, fun mode.

I sometimes wonder if artificial intelligence is gaining on us, or if we’re just getting more stupid.