Kevin Lepton

I am the writer, editor and publisher behind this future technology blog and I predict you will keep reading to see what is coming right around that metaphorical corner.

U.C. Berkeley to Create Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence

 Artificial Intelligence  Comments Off on U.C. Berkeley to Create Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence
Sep 072016

A team at U.C. Berkeley, lead by artificial intelligence (AI) expert Stuart Russell, created the new Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence, which focuses on ensuring AI systems will be beneficial to human beings. Russell is the co-author of “Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach”, which is regarded as the standard text in the AI field, and is an advocate for incorporating human values into AI design. The center was launched with a $5.5 million grant of from the Open Philanthropy Project, with additional grants from the Future of Life Institute and the Leverhulme Trust.

With regards to the imaginary threat from the evil robots of science fiction known as sentient, Russell quickly dismissed the issue, explaining that machines that are currently designed in fields, such as robotics, operations research, control theory and AI, will literally take objectives humans give them. Citing the Cat in the Hat robot, he said that domestic robots are told to do tasks without understanding the hierarchy of the values of the programmed tasks at hand.


The center aims to work on solutions to guarantee that most sophisticated AI systems, which might perform essential services for people or might be entrusted with control over critical infrastructure, will act in a way that is aligned with human values. Russell said, “AI systems must remain under human control, with suitable constraints on behavior, despite capabilities that may eventually exceed our own. This means we need cast-iron formal proofs, not just good intentions.”

One solution that Russell and his team are exploring is the so-called “inverse reinforcement learning”, which allows robots to learn about human values through human behavior observations. By allowing them to observe how people behave in their daily lives, the robots would learn about the value of certain things in our lives. Explaining this, Russell states, “Rather than have robot designers specify the values, which would probably be a disaster, instead the robots will observe and learn from people. Not just by watching, but also by reading. Almost everything ever written down is about people doing things, and other people having opinions about it. All of that is useful evidence.”

However, Russell acknowledged that this will not be an easy task, considering that people are highly varied in terms of values, which will be far from perfect in putting them into practice. He said that this aspect can cause problems for robots that are trying to exactly learn what people want, as there will be conflicting desires among different individuals. Summing things up in his article, Russell said, “In the process of figuring out what values robots should optimize, we are making explicit the idealization of ourselves as humans. As we envision AI aligned with human values, that process might cause us to think more about how we ourselves really should behave, and we might learn that we have more in common with people of other cultures than we think.”

Among the principal investigators who are helping Russell for the new center include cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths and computer scientist Pieter Abbeel.





Pokémon GO AR Game Could Start Social & Environmental Revolution

 Augmented Reality  Comments Off on Pokémon GO AR Game Could Start Social & Environmental Revolution
Aug 042016


Since the release of the augmented reality game Pokemon Go weeks ago, it has received positive feedback for its surprising positive effects on mental and physical health. Apart from getting kids, who are hospitalized, to engage in social and physical activities, the game also motivates people to explore their cities and consequently boost local tourism as tour agencies and independent tour guides take advantage of the chance to conduct Pokemon Go city tours.

Although this is basically an AR game that literally turns people into digital zombies as they walk the streets looking for Pokemon characters, this phenomenon has also encouraged people to socialize more not only in meetings or conventions held in different states but also in parks in New York City and Georgetown, to name a few.

Social Awareness and Environmental Impact

But if one will look beyond just the mental and physical effects of the game, there is a lot of potential seen in Pokemon Go that gives it environmental and social relevance. A perfect example is the idea of an animal shelter in Indiana. The Muncie Animal Shelter came up with the idea of letting Pokemon GO players walk dogs which are also up for adoption while enjoying the location-dependent AR game. Not only was the invitation well-received, with more than 250 volunteers showing up at the shelter but also according to Melissa Blair, the assistant superintendent at the animal shelter, four dogs were adopted after the experience, including a black Labrador which found a new family. Labeled “Pokemon Dogs”, this brilliant idea became international news.

Other Possible Scenarios

Pokemon GO is a potential medium to spread environmental and social awareness to people in a global scale, given its popularity among digital gamers of all ages. There is no doubt that one of the most fascinating features of this game is the augmented reality platform. However, what makes it more unique and attention-grabbing is its location dependence. This very same popular aspect of the game is can motivate gamers to contribute to the upkeep of Mother Earth.

Players of Pokemon GO spend hours and even weeks looking for Pokemon characters and hatching eggs without getting bored. As opposed to other augmented reality games that require players to hover their devices on a piece of paper or a specific product packaging for a visual sequence to be enjoyed, Pokemon Go uses the real surroundings the players are in. This platform allows players to walk for miles around the cities they live in and takes them to places they seldom have the chance to visit at any given day. Having said that, the game can be instrumental to reaching places like illegal trash dumping sites, crime locations and other important places that are overlooked and in need of attention from authorities.

In the future, perhaps, Pokemon GO manufacturers will add features that will enable players to contact government agencies responsible for repairs and maintenance to ensure public safety like covering open manholes or fixing damaged slabs. Or Pokemon GO players will be able to take images of emergency situations and send them to specific government agencies by just pressing a button.

With all these possibilities, the AR game experience will someday be taken to yet another level, one that has significance not only in terms of technological advancement but also in environmental and social awareness.




Mood Modulation Technology in the Future

 Future Medical Technology  Comments Off on Mood Modulation Technology in the Future
Jul 052016

Mental states that only used to be altered for the better by drugs and surgery can now be enhanced with the use of technology. With an alternative method to change brain activity with the application of non-invasive brain stimulation, technology might become a significant factor in balancing activity in the brain of a depressed patient.

This technique works by using electrical or magnetic energy to stimulate the left and right hemispheres of the brain in patients diagnosed with depression. Moreover, this method is believed to be both effective and safe without the manifestation of side effects that can be experienced in treatments associated with drugs. Apart from these appealing qualities, this technology is also relatively cheaper than other existing treatments.

The technology known as transcranial direct current stimulation has been used on sixty-six early adult women who were not diagnosed with clinical depression. Results showed that this technique showed improvements in the moods or at least 64.7% of the total scores in the experiment manifested a reduction of negative mood states.

Today, questions have been raised if these types of techniques be applicable in what is known as “cosmetic mood enhancement. Since it can be readily accessible to a great number of people and is low in cost, there are several products available in the market that boast of the use of this technology. Also, there are already private clinics that offer a course in neurofeedback training.

Meanwhile, there is also some evidence that the effects of these alternative techniques are not far behind the effect of placebo and that efficacy is slim. But despite these issues, there are still people who are willing to try treatments like these even if they have not been proven to be effective.

Questions about Mood Modulation Technology

There have also been skepticisms about these cosmetic mood enhancements. Questions have been raised on how much the people are informed of the possible adverse effects of mood modulation technology and if the benefits really outweigh the drawbacks. Concerns over the possible dependence of an individual on the technique of brain stimulation just as a person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol have been presented. Some also ask about the accountability of private clinics and manufacturers of mood enhancement products as well as their commitment to monitor potential harm and informing the public. The controversy on only the people with money can take advantage of this technology has also been mentioned.

Available Clinical Depression Treatments

A person suffering from depression can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy which is part of a pathway of care. In some instances, these therapies will also be combined with drug treatments. Patients will be given serotonin re-uptake inhibitors to balance chemicals in the brain. If these methods prove to be ineffective, patients will be given other drugs with side effects. These side effects are what lead experts to consider alternative treatments such as the use of technology.

Conversely, deep brain stimulation is also done to help patients suffering from mood disorders. This involves drilling a hole into a patient’s skull to give way to fine electrodes that will work on the targeted area of the patient’s brain. Although this has been used in some patients with Parkinson’s disease, there are also risks involved.

Having said that, making use of technology as a better option to enhance the mood of patients and non-clinically depressed people is likely to happen in the near future. If this happens, more people will benefit from technological advancements.