Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 6

This week’s session focused on AI and Machine Ethics.

Kerry began the session by talking about a recent article and an interview with Elon Musk on Lateline talking about humans merging with machines. You can access the article in question by clicking here.

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 7.16.10 pm.png

This idea is not new and has been around for over 50 years. Progress is very slow due to the challenges of incorporating hardware with organic systems. The article is an interesting read and we discussed the possibility of an AI deep learning system becoming so advanced that it might decide that humans are a bad idea for the survival of the planet. Kerry likened this to the fate of the Rapa Nui people who used up all of the resources of Easter Island and as people began to starve war broke out among the tribes.

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 7.29.12 pm.png

We went on to talk about the Turing Test and the two imitation games devised by Alan Turing. The first test is to tell the difference between a man and a woman, the second test is between a man and a computer. The point of the test is can you be tricked into telling the difference. It tries to answer the question is the machine behind the curtain actually thinking? And is its thinking human enough to fool you? We know that computers only display a small amount of human behaviour, can they trick you into thinking that they have completely human emotions and thoughts.


Loebner Prize Gold Medal – a prize for an artificial intelligence contest to implement the Turing Test. First prize is $100,000 and this gold medal for the first computer whose responses were indistinguishable from a human’s.

Kerry made the link to Rene Descartes and how we cannot trust our senses, “It is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things” Rene Descartes.


Rene Descartes


Parallel Lines Optical Illusion

We moved off AI and started to talk about machine ethics. We agreed that machines are designed and built in a way so that they are safe to operate and won’t harm humans, remember Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Even down to your toaster, it was designed in an ethical manner. We talked about how most things, especially services, are only available online and this causes problems for people that do not have access to technology and the online world. We heard of examples of older people that do not have a mobile phone or the internet and so cannot access some services. It seems that today if you don’t have a mobile phone or internet then you’re stuffed! The fact that services are online only puts some people at a disadvantage, this raises ethical questions. You have to think is there an alternative way of doing things.

Other questions arose about social interactions. We can go through much of our daily lives without the need for any social interaction at all. All of the things we require we can get by accessing technology, we don’t even need to speak to anybody at Woolies as the checkouts are now computerised. Online social interaction is highly popular, such as with Facebook and Twitter, but these websites easily allow bullying to take place. Other issues around anonymity and cyber crime are also relevant here.

We then spoke about the privacy issue, basically should we have privacy or not? We decided it was a generational issue. Older people firmly believe in privacy of information and not handing over personal information. Younger people do not seem to have an issue with it, they think it is worth the trade off to live in a digitally advanced age. We spoke about a recent decision by President Trump to allow his staff’s phones to be checked to make sure they were not leaking information to the media. So even the US Government does not think people should have privacy. We decided that this was a better option than being tortured for information in the days before digital communication and mobile phones. We also decided that Governments need some privacy. Absolute transparency can be very dangerous as information can be mistreated, misrepresented and misused.

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 9.32.53 pm.png

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 9.38.01 pm.png

We finished this session talking about driverless cars and how they will decide on who to protect in the event of an accident. If the choice of greater harm is to the passenger or a person on the street, who is the car going to choose to protect in the event of a crash. Kerry had the idea of when you get into a driverless car before the journey starts you have to take a test to work out how important you are. The more important or valuable you are to society the more the car will protect you in the event of a crash. So if you’re Albert Einstein or a heart surgeon you will be fine! We liked the idea of this ranking system but thought it would be easy to cheat on the test so not sure how it would work in reality.

Just two more session to go.

Innovation Lecture 2016 – Marita Cheng

On Wednesday September 14th I attended the Warren Centre Innovation Lecture 2016. This year’s speaker was Marita Cheng, founder of RoboGals and the 2012 Young Australian of the Year.


This was the second time I have seen Marita speak, the first time being earlier this year at the Future Schools Expo in Sydney. Marita is an inspirational and engaging speaker. Her style is very natural, laid back with lots of humour. The venue for the lecture was the ballroom at the Westin Hotel in the Sydney CBD, a fitting venue for this eagerly anticipated event.

Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland and graduated from high school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation. She has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics and Computer Science from Melbourne. Marita’s qualifications are clearly very impressive. She also spoke of her time at Singularity University, a benefit corporation that provides educational programs, innovative partnerships and a startup accelerator. She recently attended a 10 week course at Singularity and learnt from some amazing people in the fields of technology, robotics, computer science and more. You can see a day in the life at Singularity University filmed by Marita here. It was here that she gained valuable experience in setting up her own company, and through networking with other people she got the idea for Aipoly, an amazing app that helps blind people see by using artificial intelligence to identify objects using the camera and then the app speaks the object to the user. The app can identify hundreds of objects and colours and is soon to be able to understand complex scenes. This is another example of her incredible vision and for making the world a better place.

Marita is probably best known for founding the RoboGals education initiative. RoboGals is now a huge success with chapters in many countries and helping thousands of young people to be engaged in engineering and robotics. But in the early days just getting volunteers, and her friends, to help out was tough. Her story shows that with grit, determination and hard work anything is possible. Read more about RoboGals here.


Marita now runs 2Mar Robotics, an innovative company that is dedicated to providing robotics solutions for people with disabilities. It is an inspirational initiative and she spoke candidly of the processes involved from setting up a company and getting her ideas off the ground, and hopefully to market. Marita and her team have designed some amazing machines to help people that really need them. Her ideas are rooted in making the world a better place,

“Engineering is all around us, so it’s important that the engineers who create our world are as diverse as the people who live in it.”

Marita Cheng

Marita’s story is engaging and inspirational and she has certainly inspired me to continue to deliver an engaging and exciting STEM program at my school and aim to inspire the next generation of female engineering superstars to make the world a better place to live in. In the world of STEAM – E is for engineering!

Robotics in the Classroom – MacICT Workshop

Today I attended the Robotics in the Classroom professional learning workshop at Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre. The course was presented by John Burfoot, an experienced teacher and robotics educator who has spoken and presented at numerous events in Australia and internationally. He began by talking about a recent conference he attended in San Diego, USA, the LEGO Education Elementary Conference. The purpose of this conference was to gather together people who use the LEGO toolset to teach STEM related subjects in the classroom, and try out new activities, share experiences, meet new people and learn about new LEGO developments.

Our first activity today was to build a robot, specifically a robot called Harvey Mark II. We were given the hardware components, including the sensors, wheels, cables and EV3 brick. We also received, to keep, a small bag of LEGO Mindstorm pieces to construct our robot with. It took me 20 minutes to build the robot, shown below, from the instructions provided.

Harvey Mark II

Harvey Mark II

This robot included the 2 main motors, the ultrasonic sensor and the light sensor. We then used the Mindstorm software to code the robot to move and draw a square shape on the floor. The challenging part of this activity is the turn the robot needs to do. It takes a few guesses to make the robot turn the 90 degrees necessary, and when achieved the first turn is perfect, but the next 3 turns needed to complete the square are not 90 degrees, due to some oversteer the robot produces. Other people experienced the same problem, and part of the fun of robotics is collaborative problem solving, working things out with others, trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t in the quest for the perfect algorithm to produce the perfect output.

The next challenge was called ‘Bug in a Box’ and we needed to alter the build of the robot so it looked like a bug. I added some antennae to mine using a few extra pieces of LEGO. On the floor of the room we were in there were floor tiles, and some of them were red, some were beige. Some of the red tiles had masking tape around them, and the challenge we faced was to keep the robot moving inside the red tile only for 1 minute. This challenge meant we had to use the colour sensor to sense the colour of the floor, if the sensor read the red tile it kept moving in a straight line, however, if it sensed the colour of the masking tape around the outside of the red tile then the robot was programmed to turn around back to the red tile and keep moving straight. This challenge was not too difficult, and again people worked collaboratively to fix any problems that arose. People in attendance had mixed experience with LEGO products and robotics, but everyone was fully engaged throughout the day.

We then altered our program to include the ultrasonic sensor, and if the robot was close to an obstacle in the box it would also change direction. For this we used the loop and switch blocks to make the algorithm more complex and efficient. We could use logic like if the robot is less than 10cm from an obstacle then turn around and go back. We also got to program sound effects and images on the screen of the robot to improve the output when these events happened.

We filmed our robots for this challenge and were encouraged to join an Edmodo group to share our videos with the others in the group, which was a nice touch. The Edmodo group included lots of resources from the day as well as plenty of others, very useful indeed.

Some of the resources I learnt about today are:

This was a great workshop and the presenter was excellent. We got to build a robot, program it to move, turn, use the ultrasonic sensor, colour sensor, use loops, switches and more. It was a packed day and the time went really quickly. The course was very well catered and other participants were like minded and enthusiastic to learn new things. After this course I can’t wait to get back to school and use the EV3 with the kids!