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Meet the new MIT robot that could beat you at hide and seek

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Researchers at MIT have developed a robot, RF-Grasp, that can sense hidden objects with ‘superhuman perception’.

A research group led by a team at MIT has developed RF-Grasp, a robot that uses penetrative radio frequency to pinpoint items even when they’re hidden from view.

This is because radio waves can pass through walls and sense objects hidden behind them. RF-Grasp uses radio waves alongside more traditional computer vision techniques to locate and grasp such items.

The goal here isn’t to develop an AI that can give you a run for your money in a game of hide and seek. According to associate professor and director of the Signal Kinetics Group at the MIT Media Lab, Fadel Adib, it’s to give robots “superhuman perception”.

A game changer for e-commerce?

Adib is part of a team led by Tara Boroushaki, a research assistant in the Signal Kinetics Group. According to the group, developing robots with superhuman perception could potentially streamline e-commerce fulfilment in warehouses or help machines “pluck a screwdriver from a jumbled toolkit”.

The group explained that warehouse work is still largely carried out by humans despite the fact that working conditions are sometimes dangerous, and one of the reasons is that robots can’t locate and grasp objects in crowded environments.

Another of the researchers, Prof Alberto Rodriguez from MIT’s department of mechanical engineering, said: “Perception and picking are two roadblocks in the industry today. Radio frequency is such a different sensing modality than vision. It would be a mistake not to explore what radio frequency can do.”

Such robots could even have applications in the home, according to Adib, by locating the right Allen wrench while you assemble Ikea furniture. He said: “Or you could imagine the robot finding lost items. It’s like a super-Roomba that goes and retrieves my keys, wherever the heck I put them.”

How RF-Grasp works

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Visible light waves cannot pass through walls, which is what stops humans from being able to see through them. RF-Grasp gets around this by using radio waves instead.

Like other radio frequency identification systems, RF-Grasp consists of a reader and a tag. The latter is a tiny computer chip that is attached to the object you want to track. In the case of pets, for example, the chip is implanted.

The reader emits a radio frequency signal that gets modulated by the tag and reflected back to the reader, providing information on the tagged object’s identity and location.

Image of the RF-Grasp robot at MIT.

RF-Grasp in action at MIT Media Lab

With RF-Grasp specifically, both a camera and a radio frequency reader help it find and grab tagged items. It has a robotic arm with a grasping hand and the camera sits on its wrist. It constantly collects both radio frequency tracking data and a visual picture of its surroundings. It then integrates the two data streams into its decision-making process.

Boroushaki explained: “The robot has to decide, at each point in time, which of these streams is more important to think about. It’s not just eye-hand coordination, it’s radio frequency-eye-hand coordination. So, the problem gets very complicated.”

Adib added: “It starts by using radio frequency to focus the attention of vision. Then you use vision to navigate fine manoeuvres.” He compared it to hearing a siren from behind and looking to get a clearer picture of where it came from.

During testing, RF-Grasp was able to pinpoint and grab target objects with around half as much total movement as its non-radio frequency equivalents. It was also uniquely able to declutter its surroundings, the team said, by removing packing materials and other obstacles to reach the tagged items.

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NFT trader OpenSea bans insider trading after employee rakes in profit | Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

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A non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace has introduced policies to ban insider trading, after an executive at the company was discovered to be buying artworks shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page.

OpenSea, one of the leading sites for trading the digital assets, will now prevent team members buying or selling from featured collections and from using confidential information to trade NFTs. Neither practice was previously banned.

“Yesterday we learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly,” said Devin Finzer, the co-founder and chief executive of the site.

“This is incredibly disappointing. We want to be clear that this behaviour does not represent our values as a team. We are taking this very seriously and are conducting an immediate and thorough third-party review of this incident so that we have a full understanding of the facts and additional steps we need to take.”

NFTs are digital assets whose ownership is recorded and traced using a bitcoin-style blockchain. The NFT market boomed earlier this year as celebrities including Grimes, Andy Murray and Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold collectibles and artworks using the format. But the underlying technology has questionable utility, with some dismissing the field as a purely speculative bubble.

The insider trading came to light thanks to the public nature of the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFT trades occur. Crypto traders noticed that an anonymous user was regularly buying items from the public marketplace shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page, a prestigious slot that often brings significant interest from would-be buyers. The anonymous user would then sell the assets on, making vast sums in a matter of hours.

One trade, for instance, saw an artwork called Spectrum of a Ramenification Theory bought for about £600. It was then advertised on the front page and sold on for $4,000 a few hours later.

One Twitter user, ZuwuTV, linked the transactions to the public wallet of Nate Chastain, OpenSea’s head of product, demonstrating, using public records, that the profits from the trades were sent back to a wallet owned by Chastain.

While some, including ZuwuTV, described the process as “insider trading”, the loosely regulated market for NFTs has few restrictions on what participants can do. Some critics argue that even that terminology demonstrates that the sector is more about speculation than creativity.

“The fact that people are responding to this as insider trading shows that this is securities trading (or just gambling), not something designed to support artists,” said Anil Dash, the chief executive of the software company Glitch. “There are no similar public statements when artists get ripped off on the platform.

“If Etsy employees bought featured products from creators on their platform (or Patreon or Kickstarter workers backed new creators etc) that’d be great! Nobody would balk. Because they’d be supporting their goal,” Dash added.



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British home computer trailblazer dies aged 81 • The Register

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Sir Clive Sinclair died on Thursday at home in London after a long illness, his family said today. He was 81.

The British entrepreneur is perhaps best known for launching the ZX range of 8-bit microcomputers, which helped bring computing, games, and programming into UK homes in the 1980s, at least. This included the ZX80, said to be the UK’s first mass-market home computer for under £100, the ZX81, and the trusty ZX Spectrum. A whole generation grew up in Britain mastering coding on these kinds of systems in their bedrooms.

And before all that, Sir Clive founded Sinclair Radionics, which produced amplifiers, calculators, and watches, and was a forerunner to his Spectrum-making Sinclair Research. The tech pioneer, who eventually sold his computing biz to Amstrad, was knighted during his computing heyday, in 1983.

“He was a rather amazing person,” his daughter, Belinda Sinclair, 57, told The Guardian this evening. “Of course, he was so clever and he was always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers so he’d be chatting engineering with them.”

Sir Clive is survived by Belinda, his sons, Crispin and Bartholomew, aged 55 and 52 respectively, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. ®

A full obit will follow on The Register.

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UN human rights chief raises concerns over AI privacy violations in report

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‘AI tech can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights.’

The UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence technology until safeguards are put in place to prevent potential human rights violations.

Bachelet made the appeal on Wednesday (15 September) to accompany a report released by the UN’s Human Rights Office, which analysed how AI systems affect people’s right to privacy. The violation of their privacy rights had knock-on impacts on other rights such as rights to health, education and freedom of movement, the report found.

“Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.

“Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states,” Bachelet added.

Japanese multinational Fujitsu caused a stir when it announced plans to implement AI facial recognition technology to monitor employees’ concentration levels during meetings.

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The report was critical of justice systems which had made wrongful arrests because of flawed facial recognition tools. It appealed to countries to ban any AI tools which did not meet international human rights standards. A 2019 study from the UK found that 81pc of suspects flagged by the facial recognition technology used by London’s Metropolitan Police force were innocent.

Earlier this year, Canada banned Clearview’s AI facial recognition technology after the company violated Canadian privacy laws by collecting facial images of Canadians without their consent.

Bachelet also highlighted the report’s concerns on the future use of data once it has been collected and stored, calling it “one of the most urgent human rights questions we face.”

The UN’s report echoes previous appeals made by European data protection regulators.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on facial recognition in public places in June. They urged EU lawmakers to consider banning the use of such technology in public spaces, after the European Commission released its proposed regulations on the matter.

The EU’s proposed regulations did not recommend an outright ban. The commission instead emphasised the importance of creating “trustworthy AI.”

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