Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Asimov’s Laws won’t stop robots harming humans so we’ve developed a better solution

How do you stop a robot from hurting people? Many existing robots, such as those assembling cars in factories, shut down immediately when a human comes near. But this quick fix wouldn’t work for something like a self-driving car that might have to move to avoid a collision, or a care robot that might need to catch an old person if they fall. With robots set to become our servants, companions and co-workers, we need to deal with the increasingly complex situations this will create and the ethical and safety questions this will raise.
Science fiction already envisioned this problem and has suggested various potential solutions. The most famous was author Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which are designed to prevent robots harming humans. But since 2005, my colleagues and I at the University of Hertfordshire, have been working on an idea that could be an alternative.

Instead of laws to restrict robot behaviour, we think robots should be empowered to maximise the possible ways they can act so they can pick the best solution for any given scenario. As we describe in a new paper in Frontiers, this principle could form the basis of a new set of universal guidelines for robots to keep humans as safe as possible.

The Three Laws

Asimov’s Three Laws are as follows:
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
While these laws sound plausible, numerous arguments have demonstrated why they are inadequate. Asimov’s own stories are arguably a deconstruction of the laws, showing how they repeatedly fail in different situations. Most attempts to draft new guidelines follow a similar principle to create safe, compliant and robust robots.
One problem with any explicitly formulated robot guidelines is the need to translate them into a format that robots can work with. Understanding the full range of human language and the experience it represents is a very hard job for a robot. Broad behavioural goals, such as preventing harm to humans or protecting a robot’s existence, can mean different things in different contexts. Sticking to the rules might end up leaving a robot helpless to act as its creators might hope.
Here to help. Shutterstock

Our alternative concept, empowerment, stands for the opposite of helplessness. Being empowered means having the ability to affect a situation and being aware that you can. We have been developing ways to translate this social concept into a quantifiable and operational technical language. This would endow robots with the drive to keep their options open and act in a way that increases their influence on the world.
When we tried simulating how robots would use the empowerment principle in various scenarios, we found they would often act in surprisingly “natural” ways. It typically only requires them to model how the real world works but doesn’t need any specialised artificial intelligence programming designed to deal with the particular scenario.
But to keep people safe, the robots need to try to maintain or improve human empowerment as well as their own. This essentially means being protective and supportive. Opening a locked door for someone would increase their empowerment. Restraining them would result in a short-term loss of empowerment. And significantly hurting them could remove their empowerment altogether. At the same time, the robot has to try to maintain its own empowerment, for example by ensuring it has enough power to operate and it does not get stuck or damaged.

Robots could adapt to new situations

Using this general principle rather than predefined rules of behaviour would allow the robot to take account of the context and evaluate scenarios no one has previously envisaged. For example, instead of always following the rule “don’t push humans”, a robot would generally avoid pushing them but still be able to push them out of the way of a falling object. The human might still be harmed but less so than if the robot didn’t push them.
In the film I, Robot, based on several Asimov stories, robots create an oppressive state that is supposed to minimise the overall harm to humans by keeping them confined and “protected”. But our principle would avoid such a scenario because it would mean a loss of human empowerment.
While empowerment provides a new way of thinking about safe robot behaviour, we still have much work to do on scaling up its efficiency so it can easily be deployed on any robot and translate to good and safe behaviour in all respects. This poses a very difficult challenge. But we firmly believe empowerment can lead us towards a practical solution to the ongoing and highly debated problem of how to rein in robots’ behaviour, and how to keep robots -– in the most naive sense -– “ethical”.

Marie Curie Global Fellow, University of Hertfordshire
Christoph Salge is a Marie-Curie Global Fellow at NYU, where he works on using intrinsic motivation to evaluate procedural generated game content. He is interested in artificial intelligence, artificial life and philosophy. His work revolves around applying information theoretic approaches to a range of topics, such as games, robots and life.

[This post first appeared on The Conversation]

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

What does good look like when thinking about care homes?

Claire Goodman is Professor of Health Care Research at University of Hertfordshire. Claire has a district nursing background and is a NIHR Senior Investigator. Her research focuses on the health and social care needs of the oldest old, including those affected by dementia and living in long term care. She leads the DEMCOM study, an evaluation of Dementia Friendly Communities – @DEMCOMstudy @HDEMCOP

We have new neighbours. They moved three miles to improve their children’s chances of going to their preferred secondary school. If they had stayed put they would have been assured of getting a good state education. We are surrounded by Ofsted rated ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools. The issue was that whilst it probably did not matter if their daughter went to a girls only or co-educational school, for their son, a boys only school, with a big focus on sport, would have been a problem. People in my local area know a lot about the schools, they know what the head is like, who the good teachers are, what extra-curricular activities are available and if it’s struggling with its budget.
Fairburn Mews and Vale Care Home by Brian Bullock on Flickr
The same cannot be said about care homes. For many, choosing a care home is based on the CQC report and a visit, where the absence of a smell of urine is taken as a good sign. This level of insight and understanding does not raise expectations of what can and should be achieved for people living and dying in care homes.
Residents’ access to health care is arguably one important marker for quality of care.  A recent NIHR study (The OPTIMAL Study) asked what needs to be in place for the NHS to work well with care homes.  It looked at different approaches to support effective working between NHS and care home staff and mapped the current range of provision, to test what kind of service provision works when and in what circumstances.
It found that access to healthcare was more likely to be effective if practitioners had been able to develop how they worked together over a sustained period of time, if the care home work was valued by the NHS practitioners and the organisation they worked for, and if the care homes were linked to a network of NHS support. Access to dementia specialist care for both NHS and care home staff was also important in addressing situations of uncertainty about how to support a resident in the care home.
We will never see people moving house to be closer to a good care home, especially if they have to sell their house to pay the fees. Nevertheless, evidence that demonstrates how to achieve good care, including access to healthcare, changes the narrative of pessimism and informs the decisions of commissioners, practitioners, residents and families.
Claire Goodman
Professor of Health Care Research at the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care at the University of Hertfordshire.
[This post first appeared on the British Geriatrics Society Blog]

Monday, 10 July 2017

In Praise Of The Moff: On The Legacy Of Doctor Who’s Departing Showrunner

Doctor Who is regenerating.

We’ve known this for some time but the fiery vapours swirling around Peter Capaldi’s hands during the recent season finale put paid to any lingering doubts. On Christmas Day, both Capaldi (the Doctor since 2014) and Steven Moffat (showrunner since 2010) will leave the TARDIS. Not everyone will be sorry to see them go. In the case of Moffat, a sizeable minority of the Doctor Who fandom has been agitating for him to depart for years and, if some reports are to be believed, the BBC is also impatient for his handover to Broadchurch-creator Chris Chibnall.

For what it’s worth, I wish Capaldi had stayed on for a year or two longer: he just gets better with every outing. Moffat, on the other hand, has probably called it right: it is time to depart. But those who are so eager to bundle him out of the door have significantly undervalued his achievements.
Dr Who Experience by Neil Thompson on Flickr

Here are seven reasons to celebrate Moffat’s seven years in charge:
1. Moffat writes interesting women
No, really, he does. Starting with Nancy, the teenaged leader of a gang of Blitz kids in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (2005), Moffat has written a succession of intriguing female characters, from Madame de Pompadour to River Song.
It’s true, his judgement has been dismal at times (that kiss-a-gram joke in 2010’s The Eleventh Hour!) and there’s been a tendency to create women who seem to exist only to save the Doctor. But he does seem to have listened to criticism, even if he hasn’t always understood it. Clara Oswald deepened considerably as a character in her final season.
Moffat’s transformation of the Master into Missy has been an audacious delight and Bill Potts is surely up there with the best Doctor Who companions ever. Credit goes to Michelle Gomez and Pearl Mackie for their astonishing portrayals of these characters, but it must surely go to Moffat as well.
If nothing else, he has riled enough people to spark debate about the representation of women in Doctor Who, both on screen and off. That debate has been needed since at least 1964, when William Hartnell’s Doctor advocated that his granddaughter Susan needed ‘a jolly good smacked bottom'. Whole books can and should be written on this subject (beginning with Lorna Jowett’s Dancing with the Doctor (2017), which is highly recommended...)
2. Moffat gave us Doctor Who’s first lesbian marriage between a Victorian human (Jenny) and a prehistoric reptile (Madame Vastra)
He also gave us its first pan-sexual character, Captain Jack Harkness, and Bill Potts, its first subtly, proudly, believably gay companion.
3. Moffat’s stories are clever
And that’s a good thing. It seems odd now to recall that during the first five years of new Who it was Moffat’s scripts (Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, etc.) that were held up for particular praise. Since then, the qualities for which they were celebrated have become the bad habits for which he has been attacked: complex story arcs, narrative trickery, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey...
Doctor Who has never been at its best when at its ‘easiest’ and it has always respected the intelligence of its viewers, young and old. Experimentation and cleverness are part of the deal, as are failed experiments and cleverness that goes too far. If you don’t believe me, go and watch The Mind Robber (1968) or Warriors’ Gate (1981). And then treat yourself to some fish fingers and custard.
don't blink by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr

4. Moffat knows how to throw a 50th anniversary party
By any standards, The Day of the Doctor (2013) was a thing of beauty. Not only did it bring David Tennant and Matt Smith together, but it brought back the Zygons, threw in some Daleks and Billie Piper, and treated us to the grouchy, battered, not-to-be-spoken-about War Doctor, played by the late John Hurt. And then there was that scene with Tom Baker... And the closing moments, with the speech about going home, the long way round... Not to mention the surprise treat of the online mini-episode, The Night of the Doctor, bringing Paul McGann’s Doctor back to the screen after 17 years...

5. Moffat’s given us monsters... Lots of them
And Doctor Who has always been about monsters, hasn’t it? Russell T. Davies, for all his brilliance, was responsible for the farting Slitheen and the horribly cutesy Adipose. Moffat’s mind spawned the Weeping Angels and the Silents.
In bringing back classic monsters, Moffat has balanced respect with risk. Fair enough, the big, bright, gravelly-voiced ‘new paradigm’ Daleks didn’t work out and I’m not convinced by the flying, Tony Stark-style Cybermen but the Silurians, the Zygons and the Ice Warriors have all been lovingly and successfully updated.
As a parting gift to Capaldi, he even revived the Mondasian Cybermen in all their unsettling, Heath Robinson glory.
6. Moffat’s words are exquisite. Absolutely exquisite
His dialogue has wit, his ‘catchphrases’ really catch (‘Are you my mummy?’) and he’s written some of the most powerful monologues in television history. The anti-war speech at the end of 2015’s The Zygon Inversion should be a set text in schools. So should the ‘just kind’ speech from The Doctor Falls (2017). In the age of Trump, Putin, Assad, Kim Jong-un and Islamic State, the world needs words like these.
7. Moffat’s a fan
He ‘gets’ Doctor Who because - like Davies, Tennant, Capaldi and many others involved in the rebooted series - he was, is, and will always be a fan. His fan instincts have infused every second of his time in charge of the show that he’s been accused, by some, of ruining. As Dr Who scholar Matt Hills has written, ‘being a fan means being disappointed by the object of fandom as much as it means appreciating it’. In 2018, Moffat will rediscover this. I hope he enjoys the experience.
Ivan PhillipsAssociate Dean in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire
Follow Ivan Phillips on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ivanphillips
[This blog post first appeared in the HuffPost UK]

Friday, 7 July 2017

Why You Should Never Promise Your Parents You Won’t Put Them Into A Care Home (And Why Parents Should Never Ask)

The recent furore around so-called “dementia tax” has placed the costs of care homes firmly at the forefront of public debate and consequently minds. It may be that people, for whom this issue is very personal, are considering promising to look after loved ones at home, rather than placing them into care. Or they may well be asked to promise this by concerned parents.

However consider this. Promising not to put your parents in a care home, is not always reasonable or even achievable. Sometimes - but not always - becoming old requires more care than a loving family can provide.
Rather than making a promise you may be unable to keep, it is much more important to have discussions with loved ones about how to plan for that possibility; what good care might look like and how you might know when extra help is needed.

Care can bring relief - to residents and families
Clearly going into to a care home is not something that any one looks forward to and there are reasons to be reluctant: care homes are expensive, they represent a move from independent living and there are rather too many stories of bad care to make the option attractive. Considering that you or your parent might need a care home also raises that frightening possibility that one day you may not be able to look after yourself; that you will need help to wash, dress and even go to the toilet. 
However there are times when it is no longer possible to have a reasonable quality of life at home. The novelist Diana Athill speaks eloquently of the relief that moving into a care home brings. Of not feeling a burden to her friends or family, freed from feeling overwhelmed by the increasing challenges of shopping, preparing food and dealing with domestic emergencies. Going into a care home gave her the time to do the things she wanted: read books, see friends, visit gardens and write. Other residents I have interviewed as part of studies reflect on how lonely they became prior to admission or that they no longer felt safe in their own home. Finding a care home gave them a new lease of life.
People’s health often improves immediately after entering a care home. Some have experienced a nomadic existence in the years preceding admission and having continuity of care provides the opportunity to recover. For others the time leading up to the decision to go into a care homes comes after a period of progressive deterioration and entering a care home can slow that decline. 

The majority of care home residents have some cognitive impairment and whilst dementia is terminal it does not mean that life ends for the individual. Good care homes are designed to support people with dementia to focus on what people are still able to do and are interested in. Nor do staff infantalise or stigmatise people living with dementia, as so often happens in wider society. 
For family and friends, being freed from caring responsibilities can importantly re-establish and renew relationships, especially with people living and dying with dementia. It can give time to focus on the person and spend time together without feeling exhausted and resentful.
So how can I address care with loved ones?
If you are not going to promise your loved ones you won’t put them in a care home, then what can you do? 
  • Firstly, take stock every year about how well you or your older relative are doing, to work out if some aspects of living at home are becoming too much and what could be done to support them. Would it be good to down size and reduce responsibilities, or is the answer “not yet” because these are the things that bring joy?
  • Discuss what kind of care you or your family might like if you should ever need it. Do you want to be part of a family environment with communal activities, is having a faith based care home important or do you prefer an approach that enables you to participate but is closer to hotel type care? 
  • There are very reasonable fears of loss of dignity, however very many care homes do involve residents in decision making, enabling them to have a sense of purpose and maintaining continuity with what came before. Recognising good is very difficult if you never think about what care homes might or might not do. Have you visited any of your local care homes? We give a lot of time to choosing good schools, so maybe we should think in the same way about care homes.
  • We need to recognise that we will all die and it is possible, but not definite, that the time leading up to death will require extra care. This needs to be talked about. It does not have to be morbid; it can be very practical. Make sure you have Lasting Power of Attorney in place and discuss in detail what might be the kind of care you want, when you might not want to be treated in hospital and what is important to you. 
There is no denying that some care homes do not deliver good care and that is for a range of reasons: there is a funding crisis and also a collective reluctance as a society to value caring work as important skilled work that is worth investing in. 
However, a knowledge of what good care looks and what is important to us or our relatives raises expectations. It helps us to plan and make informed decisions, rather than making promises we can’t keep. 
You may never need it but at least you will be better prepared, plus you will avoid needless guilt if the time comes and a care home really is the best choice.
Claire Goodman
Professor of Health Care Research at the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care at the University of Hertfordshire.
[This blog post first appear in the HuffPost United Kingdom]

Monday, 3 July 2017

The University of Hertfordshire's Harry Potter Heritage

What a way to realise that you’re getting old. Coming in to work on a gloomy Monday morning and being told that it’s the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone being published. 


Like most children born in the 1990’s, I didn’t want to read books. However, thanks to the magic of J.K. Rowling’s quill and ink, I was reluctantly engrossed and grew up reading the books, watching the films and hoping I wouldn’t be sorted into Hufflepuff. Little did I know that the University I would eventually attend holds spellbindingly strong links with the Harry Potter cinematic universe.


The University’s associations with the Harry Potter world are vast, from Rupert Grint ‘performing’ at The Forum Hertfordshire, to having our Film and Television Soundstage named after Mike Newell (Director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), to sadly being unsuccessful in our bid to host the Triwizard Tournament in 1999. Newell has also held a number of lectures for our Film and Television Production students, giving fascinating insights into the industry and how it has changed over the years. Mike also attended the annual Visions Film Festival at the University where he presented the ‘Mike Newell Prize for Best Directing’ award to Liana Fallia, Director of Commissioned. Fellow Harry Potter Director David Yates has also graced our students with lectures, touching on the challenges brought on by organising a large crew, use of magic on set and his thoughts on casting, rehearsals and finding creative collaborators. 

BAFTA award winning director Mike Newell, and Academy Award winning film editor and sound designer Walter Murch

Harry Potter producers Warner Brothers also provide Film and Television students with the opportunity to attain a £10,000 scholarship to help students further their studies, whether that’s by funding a film, paying living expenses or buying a new Nimbus 2000. Lyndsay Duthie, Programme Leader for Film and TV, stated “We are very proud to be in our 4th year of the Warner Bros Scholarship programme which gives our student’s a unique opportunity to attend masterclasses, film premieres, be mentored and gain work into the industry. Students involved have worked on blockbusters like Wonder Woman and Fantastic Beasts and are forging successful careers.” It is clear that the University’s enchanting relationship with Warner Brother Studios, Leavesden, will ensure that “help will always be given at Hogwar… I mean Herts, to those who ask for it” (Dumbledore, 1998 – kind of).


What is truly magical is the employment opportunities that have been presented to University of Hertfordshire graduates within the world of Harry Potter. This includes the career of graduate Neil Ellis, who boasts prop-making credits from the final two instalments to the Harry Potter cinematic universe. Furthermore, Creative Arts Senior Lecturer Howard Berry has worked on a number of Harry Potter films in Visual Effects. This impressive experience and depth of knowledge that Howard was able to utilise on the Harry Potter series is the same expertise that he is able to teach our students with today.

Tom Rowe
Film & TV Production Graduate