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How cognitive science can be used to bring AI forward

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Dr Marie Postma spoke to SiliconRepublic.com about misconceptions around AI as well its relationship with human consciousness.

AI and robots are getting ‘smarter’ all the time. From Irish-made care robot Stevie to Spot the robot dog from Boston Dynamics, these tech helpers are popping up everywhere with a wide range of uses.

The tech beneath the hardware is getting smarter too. Earlier this year, Researchers at MIT developed a simpler way to teach robots new skills after only a few physical demonstrations. And just this week, Google revealed how its combining large language models with its parent company’s Everyday Robots to help them better understand humans.

However, the advances in these areas have led to recent discussions around the idea of sentient AI. While this idea has been largely rebuffed by the AI community, an understanding of the relationship between cognitive science and AI is an important one.

Dr Marie Postma is head of the department of cognitive science and artificial intelligence at Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences in the Netherlands.

The department is mainly financed by three education programmes and has around 100 staff and between 900 and 1,000 students.

‘Technology is not the problem; people are the problem’
– MARIE POSTMA

The team focuses on different research themes that combine cognitive science and AI, such as computational linguistics with a big focus on deep learning solutions, autonomous agents and robotics, and human-AI interaction, which is mainly focused on VR and its use in education.

Postma was a speaker at the latest edition of the Schools for Female Leadership in the Digital Age in Prague, run by Huawei’s European Leadership Academy.

Postma spoke to the 29 students about cognitive science and machine learning, starting with the history of AI and bringing it up to the modern-day challenges, such as how we can model trust in robots and the role empathy could play in AI.

“We have research where we are designing first-person games where people can experience the world from the perspective of an animal – not a very cuddly animal, it’s actually a beaver. That’s intentional,” she told me later that day.

Sentient AI

Her talk brought about a lot of discussion around AI and consciousness, a timely discussion following the news that Blake Lemione, a Google engineer, published an interview with the AI chatbot and claimed that it had become sentient.

Postma said much of the media coverage around this story had muddied the waters. “The way it was described in the media was more focused on the Turing test – interacting with an AI system that comes across as being human-like,” she said.

“But then at some point they mention consciousness, and consciousness is really a different story.”

Postma said that most people who research consciousness would agree that it’s based on a number of factors. Firstly it’s about having a perceptual basis, both the ability to perceive the world around us but also what’s happening inside us and being self-aware.

Secondly, the purpose of consciousness is being able to interpret yourself as someone who has feelings, needs, actionability in the world and a need to stay alive. “AI systems are not worried about staying alive, at least the way we construct them now, they don’t reflect on their battery life and think ‘oh no, I should go plug myself in’.”

Possibilities and limitations

While AI and robots don’t have consciousness, their ability to be programmed to a point where they can understand humans can be highly beneficial.

For example, Postma’s department has been conducting research that concerns brain-computer interaction, with a focus on motor imagery. “[This is] trying to create systems where the user, by focusing on their brain signal, can move objects in virtual reality or on computer screens using [electroencephalography].”

This has a lot of potential applications in the medical world for people who suffer from paralysis or in the advancements of prosthetic limbs.

Last year, researchers at Stanford University successfully implanted a brain-computer interface (BCI) capable of interpreting thoughts of handwriting in a 65-year-old man paralysed below the neck due to a spinal cord injury.

However, Postma said there is still a long way to go with this technology and it’s not just about the AI itself. “The issue with that is there are users who are able to do that and others who are not, and we don’t really know what the reasons are,” she said.

“There is some research that suggests that being able to do special rotation might be one of the factors but what we’re trying to discover is how we can actually train users so that they can use BCI.”

And in the interest of quelling any lingering fears around sentient AI, she also said people should not worry about this kind of technology being able to read their thoughts because the BCI is very rudimentary. “For the motor imagery BCI, it’s typically about directions, you know, right, left, etc.”

Other misconceptions about AI

Aside from exactly how smart the robots around us really are, one of the biggest falsehoods that Postma wants to correct is that the technology itself is not necessarily what causes the problems that surround it.

“What I repeat everywhere I go, is that the technology is not the problem, people are the problem. They’re the ones who create the technology solutions and use them in a certain way and who regulate them or don’t regulate them in a certain way,” she said.

“The bias in some AI solutions is not there because some AI solutions are biased, they’re biased because the data that’s used to create the solutions is biased so there is human bias going in.”

However, while bias in AI has been a major discussion topic for several years, Postma has an optimistic view on this, saying that these biased systems are actually helping to uncover biased data that would have previously been hidden behind human walls.

“It becomes explicit because all the rules are there, all the predictive features are there, even for deep learning architecture, we have techniques to simplify them and to uncover where the decision is made.”

While Postma is a major advocate for all the good AI can do, she is also concerned about how certain AI and data is used, particularly in how it can influence human decisions in politics.

“What Cambridge Analytica did – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And I don’t think they’re the only company that are doing that,” she said.

“I’m [also] concerned about algorithms that make things addictive, whether it’s social media or gaming, that really try to satisfy the user. I’m concerned about what it’s doing to kids.”

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Hurricane Ian pushes NASA’s Artemis launch into October • The Register

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NASA’s Moon-ward Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will not be blasting off from Earth until late October at the earliest, after the vehicle was rolled back to its hangar to shelter from an incoming hurricane.

Tropical storm Ian is projected to hit Florida, where the SLS lives, over the next few days. Officials began transporting the rocket back to its Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Monday at 2321 ET (0321 UTC, Tuesday) as a precautionary measure. Unfortunately, the move means NASA cannot launch the rocket from the Kennedy Space Center for the next few weeks. 

It’s hoped the SLS rocket will be used in NASA’s Artemis mission to, some time this decade, put the first American woman and another man on the Moon. For now, prior to that return to our natural satellite, the US space agency wants to test the SLS: it’s expected to carry an empty Orion crew capsule up into the Moon’s orbit. The podule will then return to Earth. In future, there’ll be astronauts in the pod.

The hurricane marks another set back to conduct this first-ever flight demonstration of the multi-billion-dollar SLS heavy launch vehicle – NASA’s most powerful rocket to date – that was at one point slated to fly on August 29.

Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said there was a slim chance the SLS may launch in late October, and November may be more likely. “We’re not writing it off, but it will be difficult,” he said during a media teleconference briefing on Tuesday.

When weather conditions improve, experts will assess any damage to infrastructure at the center before personnel are safely allowed back on site. Engineers then have to perform checks on the heavy launch vehicle; hardware components may need to be replaced, such as the flight’s batteries before it can be rolled back out on the launchpad. 

Hurricane Ian isn’t the only bad omen NASA has been forced to deal with. Janet Petro, the space center’s director, said a fire had erupted in the VAB. “I’ll also note that approximately at 1145 today, a fire was reported in the Vehicle Assembly Building, employees were evacuated and there were no reported injuries. The VAB is now fire safe, personnel are back inside working and the Artemis vehicle was never at risk,” she said during the briefing. An investigation to uncover the cause of the blaze is underway.

All previous attempts to launch the SLS have been scrubbed due to hydrogen fuel leakage. A team of NASA engineers performed a cryogenic demonstration test to confirm whether repairs made to address leaks were successful or not on September 21.

“The launch director has confirmed all objectives have been met for the cryogenic demonstration test, and teams are now proceeding with critical safety activities and preparations for draining the rocket’s tanks,” NASA previously said in a statement. “After encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities.” ®

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Here’s what workers and students can expect to get

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The cost-of-living crisis loomed large in Budget 2023, with a host of temporary supports announced for businesses, households and students.

The Irish Government has today (27 September) announced a number of measures designed to protect workers and those in higher education as part of the 2023 Budget.

Among the measures being promised are a package of supports for families, households and businesses to help them cover energy bills amid the ongoing inflation crisis. There will also be a cost-of-living package introduced for students, as well as investment plans for education over the coming months.

Remote working and rural development are being invested in too, as part of the Government’s Our Rural Future and National Development plans. There will be a total of €390m allocated to rural and community development, building on projects for remote and hybrid regional workers such as Connected Hubs.

To complement its investment in rural development, the Government is putting aside €218m to progress the roll-out of the high-speed broadband network next year under the National Broadband Plan.

The State is promising that fibre broadband will be made available to an additional 80,000-85,000 premises in 2023. This is designed to help businesses and workers who rely on technology as part of their working lives.

Those working from home can expect a little help covering their energy bills, as the Budget is to provide a €600 electricity credit to ease the cost of energy bills this winter.

All Irish households regardless of whether their occupants work from home or not, will receive this credit. It will be delivered in instalments, with €200 due before Christmas and the remainder due in two separate batches early next year.

In order to protect jobs and dampen the effects of the energy crisis on businesses, the Government is providing up to €10,000 per business per month until spring 2023. This is part of its plan to help employers meet rising energy costs. The temporary scheme will support eligible companies, covering 40pc of the increase in their energy bills.

Criticism

However, critics have said the measures will not be enough to protect jobs. Damien McCarthy, CEO of Kerry’s HR Buddy said that the measures will only save “a small number of businesses” and a “small number of jobs”.

“The number one aim in a cost-of-living crisis should be to protect how people earn their living. For this reason, businesses needed more from this budget in order to survive and protect their workers’ jobs through this crisis. A support that only covers 40pc of an overwhelming problem is not going to save jobs. Employers will still be left with 60pc of the problem and that is only the energy costs problem. Businesses have many other rising costs outside of energy,” he said, adding that the temporary measures would “prolong the pain a while longer, but that’s about it”.

“The fact that the lower VAT rate is not being maintained beyond February is also going to be a huge blow and again put people’s jobs at risk,” McCarthy said.

Higher education supports

For those in higher education, the Budget will attempt to alleviate the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis with a range of temporary grants and supports packages. There will be a once-off €1,000 reduction in the undergraduate student contribution fee for higher education students eligible for the free fees initiative.

There will also be a once-off reduction of up to 33pc in the contribution fee for apprentices, as well as a once-off extra payment for all student maintenance grant recipients. Postgraduate students who qualify for SUSI grants will receive a once-off payment of €1,000, meaning their grant will increase from €3,500 to €4,500.

There will be a further €8m investment in the Student Assistance Fund for the 2022-2023 academic year and more once-off funding for the third-level sector to assist with rising energy costs.

The Government is investing in apprenticeships and skills training programmes in Budget 2023, also. It will provide funding for 4,800 additional apprenticeship places and 4,000 registrations. The State will provide more than 11,000 upskilling and reskilling opportunities for those sectors most impacted by Brexit and more than 2,000 Skillnet places in sectors such as sustainable finance, green-tech and climate.

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Fifa 23 review – EA’s final Fifa game bows out gracefully | Games

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They think it’s all over … The football sim series that has graced the gaming charts every year since its launch in 1993 is about to face the final whistle, thanks to a licensing tussle with Fifa. Next year, Electronic Arts will be revealing its annoyingly named replacement, EA Sports FC, but for now, we get to run out on to this heavily branded pitch one last time.

It’s immediately clear the development team was determined to go out on a high, throwing in a range of vital updates. At last we get to play women’s league football, if only within the English and French premier divisions. Still, it’s fun to play as the stars of the recent Euro 22 tournament, making a mazy run into the box as Beth Mead or marshalling the Olympique Lyonnais defence with Wendie Renard, and it may be genuinely inspiring and educational for girls who have got into the sport through that glorious summer tournament. And there is full online cross-play between consoles of the same generation (PC owners are able to play against PS5 and Xbox Series X pals) in seasons and friendlies, as well as Ultimate Team, broadening your competitive base considerably.

Fifa 23 stadium realism.
Fifa 23 stadium realism. Photograph: Electronic Arts

How does it play? It’s really rather lovely. There is a fluidity to the action that contrasts with the somewhat ponderous Fifa 22. It’s not quite the turbo-charged ping pong feel of classic Pro Evo, but the zippy passes and pacy off-the-ball movement allow for sweeping attacks that feel genuinely exciting. There seems to be a much more granular employment of analogue button presses too, allowing well weighted crosses and accurate long-range strikes. While the set pieces are still not perfect, you can now add spin and bend to the ball with the right analogue stick, and use a slightly more instructive onscreen pointer to get the direction right.

Updated impact physics add greater unpredictability to collisions and loose ball situations. I’ve seen a through ball connect with the back of the target player’s boot, sending the ball rebounding back to me; I’ve powered in a low cross that has spun wildly off a defender’s shin and into their own goal. These capricious little moments add a nice sense of realism and tension to the game. Meanwhile, players now have one of three types of pace – explosive, lengthy and balanced – bringing variety to how they chase the ball and outrun rivals. The likes of Thiago and Traoré can call on a quick burst of speed, peeling away from nearby opponents in a sudden blur, while Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw will stride the whole length of the pitch, gathering momentum as they go. Brought together, the new additions provide moments of genuine visual spectacle: play for long enough and you might see Lewandowski audaciously chip the keeper in a crowded box or Bernardo Silva volleying a stray ball into the top right-hand corner from an angle so acute it would make Euclid shake his head in disbelief.

Throughout every match there are pleasing visual moments: players pulling dainty step-overs to change direction, the ball spinning up water from a wet surface; the net billowing wildly as a shot makes contact. Even the commentary is bearable, despite the odd Accidental Partridge moment from Derek Rae (after a fumbled throwout that results in a goal: “And the goalkeeper is wishing, quite simply, that he hadn’t done that.”)

There is as ever, a lot of football on offer here. Quick Play lets you launch straight into a single match or a tournament either alone or against friends or online competitors. Skill Games test you in various elements of passing and shooting. Volta is street football with a lot of fancy moves. In Career, you take either a player or manager through their entire footballing life, handling all aspects of their ascent, as a timetable of matches, training sessions and transfer dramas rolls by. This hasn’t changed hugely since the last game, though the presentation is neater and you get the chance to take part in Playable Highlights of matches rather than having to go through the entire 90 minutes. It’s kind of like an interactive version of Match of the Day, and feels tense, fun and demanding.

Then, of course, there is the monstrous Ultimate Team, where you buy virtual packs of player cards to build a super-squad of heroes while trading swaps and challenging other Fifa owners to online matches. For me, the big addition is Moments, a new set of single-player challenges that let you earn currency towards card packs and loan players. These might be mini skill challenges, or you could be tasked with replaying key moments in a major player’s career. New stuff arrives daily so there’s always a way to earn packs for nothing. Fifa 23 may be more generous with its freebies than previous titles, but at its heart Ultimate Team remains a fiendish loot box specifically designed to prompt fans into regular card pack purchases. The dopamine-piquing quest for elusive star players is as real as ever.

Controversial player-packs aside, Fifa 23 is the culmination of EA Sports’ philosophy. This series has always talked about realism, but it was for many years a Roy of the Rovers-style of realism – a penalty in the dying seconds, a scissor kick goalline clearance, a 35-yard screamer bending through the air like a misfiring exorcet missile. Now it feels like the physics, AI and animation have come together in a way that makes even these ridiculous moments feel naturalistic and pleasurable. The first Fifa on the Mega Drive billed itself as an authentic experience of real sport, real drama, real spectacle. It wasn’t then, but perhaps, in this final iteration … it is now.

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