What human emotions do we really want of artificial intelligence?

The challenge in making AI machines appear more human. Flickr/Rene Passet, CC BY-NC-ND

David Lovell, Queensland University of Technology

Forget the Turing and Lovelace tests on artificial intelligence: I want to see a robot pass the Frampton Test.

Let me explain why rock legend Peter Frampton enters the debate on AI.

For many centuries, much thought was given to what distinguishes humans from animals. These days thoughts turn to what distinguishes humans from machines.

The British code breaker and computing pioneer, Alan Turing, proposed “the imitation game” (also known as the Turing test) as a way to evaluate whether a machine can do something we humans love to do: have a good conversation.

If a human judge cannot consistently distinguish a machine from another human by conversation alone, the machine is deemed to have passed the Turing Test.

Initially, Turing proposed to consider whether machines can think, but realised that, thoughtful as we may be, humans don’t really have a clear definition of what thinking is.

Tricking the Turing test

Maybe it says something of another human quality – deviousness – that the Turing Test came to encourage computer programmers to devise machines to trick the human judges, rather than embody sufficient intelligence to hold a realistic conversation.

This trickery climaxed on June 7, 2014, when Eugene Goostman convinced about a third of the judges in the Turing Test competition at the Royal Society that “he” was a 13-year-old Ukrainian schoolboy.

Eugene was a chatbot: a computer program designed to chat with humans. Or, chat with other chatbots, for somewhat surreal effect (see the video, below).


And critics were quick to point out the artificial setting in which this deception occurred.

The creative mind

Chatbots like Eugene led researchers to throw down a more challenging gauntlet to machines: be creative!

In 2001, researchers Selmer Bringsjord, Paul Bello and David Ferrucci proposed the Lovelace Test – named after 19th century mathematician and programmer Ada, Countess of Lovelace – that asked for a computer to create something, such as a story or poem.

Computer generated poems and stories have been around for a while, but to pass the Lovelace Test, the person who designed the program must not be able to account for how it produces its creative works.

Mark Riedl, from the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, has since proposed an upgrade (Lovelace 2.0) that scores a computer in a series of progressively more demanding creative challenges.

This is how he describes being creative:

In my test, we have a human judge sitting at a computer. They know they’re interacting with an AI, and they give it a task with two components. First, they ask for a creative artifact such as a story, poem, or picture. And secondly, they provide a criterion. For example: “Tell me a story about a cat that saves the day,” or “Draw me a picture of a man holding a penguin.”

But what’s so great about creativity?

Challenging as Lovelace 2.0 may be, it’s argued that we should not place creativity above other human qualities.

This (very creative) insight from Dr Jared Donovan arose in a panel discussion with roboticist Associate Professor Michael Milford and choreographer Prof Kim Vincs at Robotronica 2015 earlier this month.

Amid all the recent warnings that AI could one day lead to the end of humankind, the panel’s aim was to discuss the current state of creativity and robots. Discussion led to questions about the sort of emotions we would want intelligent machines to express.

Empathy – the ability to understand and share feelings of another – was top of the list of desirable human qualities that day, perhaps because it goes beyond mere recognition (“I see you are angry”) and demands a response that demonstrates an appreciation of emotional impact.

Hence, I propose the Frampton Test, after the critical question posed by rock legend Peter Frampton in the 1973 song “Do you feel like we do?

True, this is slightly tongue in cheek, but I imagine that to pass the Frampton Test an artificial system would have to give a convincing and emotionally appropriate response to a situation that would arouse feelings in most humans. I say most because our species has a spread of emotional intelligence levels.

I second that emotion

Noting that others have explored this territory and that the field of “affective computing” strives to imbue machines with the ability to simulate empathy, it is still fascinating to contemplate the implications of emotional machines.

This July, AI and robotics researchers released an open letter on the peril of autonomous weapons. If machines could have even a shred of empathy, would we fear these developments in the same way?

This reminds us, too, that human emotions are not all positive: hate, anger, resentment and so on. Perhaps we should be more grateful that the machines in our lives don’t display these feelings. (Can you imagine a grumpy Siri?)

Still, there are contexts where our nobler emotions would be welcome: sympathy and understanding in health care for instance.

As with all questions worthy of serious consideration, the Robotronica panellists did not resolve whether robots could perhaps one day be creative, or whether indeed we would want that to pass.

As for machine emotion, I think the Frampton Test will be even longer in the passing. At the moment the strongest emotions I see around robots are those of their creators.



Acknowledgement: This article were inspired by discussion and debate at the Robotronica 2015 panel session The Lovelace Test: Can Robots be Creative? and I gratefully acknowledge the creative insights of panellists Dr Jared Donovan (QUT), Associate Professor Michael Milford (QUT) and Professor Kim Vincs (Deakin).

The Conversation

David Lovell, Head of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Inefficient tax slugs all homebuyers

Developers levied by local governments to provide essential infrastructure over-inflate that cost when passing it onto buyers. AAP/Paul Miller

Lyndall Bryant, Queensland University of Technology

Housing affordability is more than just house prices. It also includes ready access to public transport, schools, good road networks, and of course access to all the basic utilities. However, local governments don’t have the money to build all the infrastructure new housing estates need.

So developer charges were introduced as a “user pays” method of funding new urban infrastructure. These charges are levied on property developers by local authorities at the time of planning approval. Some think these costs are passed back to the original land owner by way of lower land prices.

But property developers claim these charges are instead added on to new house prices, with a negative impact to housing affordability. When new house prices increase, existing house prices are also dragged up, extending the housing affordability issue throughout the community.

However, new research by QUT has uncovered evidence that these costs are not merely passed on to homebuyers, but are passed on at significantly over-inflated rates.

In an Australian first, the study empirically examines the impact of developer charges on housing affordability, providing evidence that developer charges are passed on to all homebuyers in the community. So while policy makers think they are charging developers for the provision of infrastructure in new communities, the cost is really being borne by all homebuyers.

The research

This research applied a hedonic house price model to 4,699 new and 25,053 existing house sales in Brisbane from 2005 to 2011. Using diverse data sets on both housing supply and demand items, it tested the impact developer charges had on both new and existing house prices over this time.

This study has provided the first Australian evidence that developer charges are passed onto home buyers. But these charges aren’t passed on in a dollar-for-dollar fashion. Consistent with international evidence, there is evidence that suggests these charges are inflated on both new and existing homes by around 400%.

What does that mean? It means that $10,000 of developer charge adds about $40,000 to the price of both new and existing houses.

In Queensland, where developer charges are around $28,000 per new house, this one fee alone could be responsible for over $110,000 of the house price. Over the term of a 30 year mortgage, this could be costing homebuyers in excess of $338,000 or almost $1,000 per month extra mortgage payments.

This is not to say developers are profiteering. The competitive nature of the development industry ensures developer margins are kept within a range reflective of the risky nature of property development. Developer fees are a supply side cost that often aren’t locked in until many years after the land is first bought for subdivision.

Demand factors, such as low interest rates and limited supply force up prices and land owners quickly adjust their expectations, asking more for the undeveloped land that will help with supply. Holding costs, time delays, limited supply of serviced land and imperfect data and models are all thought to contribute to this problem.

All buyers pay

This price inflation affects new home buyers and also buyers of existing homes, resulting in increased mortgage repayments of close to $1,000 per month in Australia.

Thus this inefficient developer “tax” isn’t being paid by developers at all. It is being paid by all home buyers across the community, even though the actual infrastructure built only services the new developments.

These findings suggest that developer charges are not only an inefficient tax, but are a significant contributor to increasing house prices and reduced housing affordability.

It is inefficient and inequitable to expect the community to pay four times the cost of infrastructure that services only new housing estates.

In the current environment of resource constraints and declining housing affordability, it’s now time other infrastructure funding models were considered by policy makers.

Lyndall Bryant is Lecturer in Property Economics at Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Protecting Australia’s Lake Eyre basin means getting our priorities right

The yellow-footed rock wallaby is just one of the rare species found in the Lake Eyre Basin. Angus Emmott, Author provided.

Jennifer Firn, Queensland University of Technology; Andrew Reeson, CSIRO; Belinda Walters, CSIRO; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; Iadine Chadès, CSIRO; Jean-Baptiste Pichancourt, CSIRO; Josie Carwardine, CSIRO; Ramona Maggini, The University of Queensland; Rocio Ponce-Reyes, CSIRO; Sam Nicol, CSIRO, and Tara Martin, CSIRO

Australia’s Lake Eyre is perhaps best known as the continent’s largest lake, and for the rare floods that bring the desert to life.

But Lake Eyre is much more than a lake. Taking into account the rivers that drain into it and where they come from, the Lake Eyre Basin is one of largest inland draining systems in the world, the size of Germany, France and Italy combined. It is home to many natural wonders, such as Uluru, and many species of threatened wildlife.

It is also threatened by invasive animals and plants, and climate change. How can we best protect the basin, given finite funds?

In two studies (published this week in Global Change Biology and the Journal of Applied Ecology) and in two CSIRO reports we show that managing feral pigs is one of the most effective ways to ensure the basin remains healthy in the future.

Introducing Lake Eyre (Kati Thanda)

Ecosystems in the Lake Eyre Basin are intimately connected when rainfall is high and water is flowing through three major river systems. Decisions within the four states that manage the basin – Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales – will impact neighbouring habitats.

Australia’s Lake Eyre Basin covers 120 million hectares. This huge area of the outback has a rich and thriving Indigenous culture stretching back tens of thousands of years, with Indigenous people making up 40-90% of the population.

Firn et al.

The basin contains natural and cultural assets such as Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, Uluru, Coongie Lakes and other internationally important wetlands.

There are threatened “mound springs” (EPBC Act 1999, which are permanent wetlands in arid ecosystems fed by the water from the Great Artesian Basin that provide refuge for at least 13 plant species and 65 animal species that occur nowhere else on earth.

The basin is also home to many other unique, rare, threatened species such as the greater bilby, yellow-footed rock wallaby, night parrot, grey falcon and letter-winged kite.

Mound springs are home to many unique species.
Angus Emmott, Author provided

Threats to the basin

Invasive species and climate change are two things scientists are most concerned about in the Lake Eyre Basin.

The basin is already characterised by a highly variable climate and climate change impacts are predicted to increase this variability.

Grey Falcon
Angus Emmott, Author provided

Significant pressures are threatening the natural systems of the Lake Eyre basin, with exotic animals’ and plants’ establishment and spread being major concerns.

Climate change is also a major concern as it is altering the habitat suitability for many native species and may increase the severity of other threats, such as invasive species.

Invasive animals can reproduce and spread quickly, as they are highly adaptable to changing weather and biotic conditions. This combined pressure from climate change and invasive animals will impact on threatened native species already disadvantaged by habitat and environmental conditions.

We estimated that 29 species (including the greater bilby) would be at risk of extinction thanks to climate change, unless we manage other threats.

Getting our priorities right

Letter winged kite
Angus Emmott, Author provided

Management across such a large area like the basin is expensive, so smart decisions are necessary to make sure resources are used as efficiently as possible.

So we want to know managing which invasive species will give us the most bang for our buck. And we want to know that it will continue to pay off under a changing climate.

We combined local knowledge, scientific data and analyses to develop an efficient and rational set of strategies for managing the negative impacts of invasive species – the priority threat management approach.

After comparing 11 different strategies for managing invasive species (including dogs, cats, camels and rabbits) we found managing feral pigs proved the most cost-effective strategy overall.

Pigs impact many different native species (including flora and fauna). Experts estimated that pig control would have the highest uptake, a moderate cost and one of the highest benefits for threatened species.

Managing feral pigs would make the most difference at the least cost to the Lake Eyre Basin.
Angus Emmott, Author provided

The benefit for threatened native wildlife of controlling pigs was estimated to decrease when the climate change scenario was considered.

While managing pigs overall was the best strategy, if we focus on threatened mammals we find, perhaps unsurprisingly, that managing feral predators such as cats, dogs, and foxes is the best option.

Invasive animals also impact on agriculture so managing them for biodiversity increases agricultural productivity. We found that managing predators (cats, dogs and foxes), goats and rabbits, would potentially increase agricultural productivity by 10% or more.

We also found we would need to reduce invasive plants by 30% to reduce their impact, particularly parkinsonia, chinee apple and mesquite.

We have limited funds for protecting Australia’s environment. Prioritising what action we take can help preserve our unique biodiversity now and into the future.

The Conversation

Jennifer Firn, Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology; Andrew Reeson, Behavioural Economist, CSIRO; Belinda Walters, Research Support Officer, CSIRO; Hugh Possingham, Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland; Iadine Chadès, Senior research scientist, CSIRO; Jean-Baptiste Pichancourt, Senior Research Fellow in Ecology, CSIRO; Josie Carwardine, Research Scientist, Ecosystem Sciences, CSIRO; Ramona Maggini, Honorary Research Fellow, The University of Queensland; Rocio Ponce-Reyes, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CSIRO; Sam Nicol, Postdoctoral Researcher, Ecosystem Sciences, CSIRO, and Tara Martin, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.