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Monthly Archives: July 2017

Call: Artificial Intelligence for Human-Robot Interaction (AAAI Fall 2017 Symposium)

AAAI Fall Symposium: AI for Human-Robot Interaction (AI-HRI)
November 9-11, 2017 — Arlington, Virginia, USA

Submission Deadline (Extended): July 27, 2017

AI-HRI (The AAAI Fall Symposium on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Human-Robot Interaction (HRI)) seeks to bring together the subset of the HRI community focused on the application of AI solutions to HRI problems. Building on the success of the three previous years’ symposia, the central purpose of this year’s symposium is to address the statements “HRI is an AI problem” and “AI is an HRI problem”. The symposium will include current research talks and discussions both to share work in this intersectional area and provide guidance for how to best frame AI-centric HRI work within AI venues. It will also include invited speaker panels to give different perspectives on AI-for-HRI.


AI-HRI encourages social scientists to submit:

FULL PAPERS: 6-8 pages
May highlight HRI research focusing on the use of autonomous AI systems.

SHORT PAPERS: 3-4 pages
May describe challenges that social scientists encounter in designing, performing, or evaluating studies in HRI which could be ameliorated by new or improved tools, software packages, or artificial intelligence systems.

TOOL PAPERS: 1-2 pages
May describe novel datasets of interest to the AI-HRI community. Presented datasets should be made available at the symposium. Read more on Call: Artificial Intelligence for Human-Robot Interaction (AAAI Fall 2017 Symposium)…

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Love Matters India launches 360 VR film to generate awareness on Intimate Partner Violence

[This story from India’s MiD DAY (where it includes other pictures) describes an effort to use presence for education and social change on a vital topic. The goal and power of the approach is described in coverage from The Pioneer: “By integrating technology creatively in the work [the creators] do, they aim to connect more with the young target audience by enabling them to get a realistic immersive experience of what is intimate partner violence.” And coverage in DNA:

“You might have figured out where Manoj’s initial transgressions lead, without us elaborating—but it is only the immediacy of the 360 degree experience that would leave you awake to a reality most often ignored. Because when the prototypical Manoj screams and rampages, he’s not communicating with the disembodied female voice-over. Hardly. He’s looking straight at a horrified audience. He’s looking—at you.”

For more on the uses of emerging and social media for improving sexual health, see coverage in The Guardian. –Matthew]

Care or control? First Indian Virtual Reality film will explain the difference

India’s first Virtual Reality film about Intimate Partner Violence wants you to learn the difference between care and control in love

By Krutika Behrawala | Mumbai | Posted 07-Jun-2017

As Kya Yahi Pyar Hai begins, its protagonist Anuja invites us to step into her shoes. We don’t spot her in the frame, but for those seven minutes, we’re lost in her world. That’s considering she is played by a Go Pro camera that offers a 360-degree view of each setting. As we drag the cursor through a park, we spot Anuja’s boyfriend, Manoj, sitting on a bench. He is chatting with her (us, the viewers) about his usual day at work until he spots a man walk by. He believes his girlfriend was checking him out and gets jealous.

In another scene, he insists on accompanying Anuja to the mall, though she says she can go shopping on her own. The film ends with him slapping her because she said no to having sex with him. This Saturday, if you drop in at the film’s launch in Khar, you can watch this immersive film wearing Virtual Reality (VR) headsets.

Understanding IPV

Produced by Love Matters India (LMI), a bilingual website launched in 2014 that is part of a global multimedia project on love, sex and relationships, Kya Yahi Pyar Hai is India’s first 360 degree VR film that tackles the issue of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). “The idea is to help unmarried couples realise the difference between care and control. Often, it is easier to see physical and sexual abuse as part of IPV. The challenge is to get the audience to understand more subtle expressions of controlling behaviour, be it verbal or financial violence,” says Vithika Yadav, co-founder and head of LMI. Read more on Love Matters India launches 360 VR film to generate awareness on Intimate Partner Violence…

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Call: Artificial Ethics: Moral and Practical Challenges Symposium

Call for Abstracts

Artificial Ethics: moral and practical challenges
University of Southampton | Department of Philosophy
18th and 19th December 2017

In association with the Southampton Ethics Centre and the University of Southampton Research Group in Autonomous Systems

Deadline: October 23, 2017

We invite extended abstracts on the theme of machine ethics. Autonomous systems are set to become ever more integrated into human society. We have self-driving cars, pilotless aircraft. There are systems approving mortgages and offering financial advice.

This symposium will explore the ethical challenges – both theoretical and practical – which surround the development and implementation of such systems.

Relevant questions to be addressed include:

  • Should machine ethics simply extend existing human ethical systems?
  • Are the ethical standards for machines the same as those for people in identical circumstances?
  • Should we program machines with explicit ethical rules, or by something more akin to exemplar-based learning?
  • If we program machines to be ethical and they disagree with us, might we defer to them?
  • Can a machine be held responsible for wrongdoing?
  • To what extent should the government oversee machine ethics, and to what extent should it be left to the market? Or should the sector be self-regulating?
  • What are the main ethical risks of autonomous systems?
  • What ethical benefits might there be to automation?

The Symposium will feature keynote talks by both ethicists and engineers, a roundtable discussion and dinner.

A full programme will be announced in August.

Papers are welcomed from philosophers as well as from engineers and computer scientists working on relevant problems. Read more on Call: Artificial Ethics: Moral and Practical Challenges Symposium…

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Giant virtual reality arcade VR World opens in New York City

[I look forward to multiple field trips to the new presence-experience attraction VR World described in this story from Metro US; the original story includes a 16-image photo gallery and two videos. –Matthew]

Giant virtual reality arcade VR World opens in Midtown

With 50 stations and all the latest equipment, VR World finally gets the future of virtual reality gaming and movies in your hands.

By Eva Kis
Published: July 15, 2017 | Updated: July 17, 2017

Hold onto your controllers, NYC — a huge new virtual reality arcade called VR World just landed in Manhattan.

“You can walk in and try some of the best of what virtual reality has to offer,” says Yasser Ghanchi, CEO of VR World. “What we’re trying to do is make virtual reality accessible to consumers.”

Virtual reality has been the “next big thing” in gaming for years now, but unless you were going to a tech convention or shelling out over $1,000 for equipment, there wasn’t a good way to try it.

Enter VR World, where you can experience 50 of the hottest games and movies in a three-story space that feels more like an upscale lounge than the usual beeping, flashing arcades, complete with a full bar and, soon, food service. “It’s important that the experience is not too overwhelming, so you can play a game then have a snack and relax for a bit,” Ghanchi says. Read more on Giant virtual reality arcade VR World opens in New York City…

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Jobs: PhD positions on Multi-Party Virtual Coaching in European Horizon-2020 project

Three PhD positions on Virtual Coaches
European Horizon-2020 project Council of Coaches

Do you want to put your talents at work to develop a new coaching concept? Do you want to work on an innovative project in an international environment? Are you excellent in what you do and do you have strong social skills?

Come and apply for one of three PhD positions available on Multi-Party Virtual Coaching!

In the context of the European Horizon-2020 project Council of Coaches, the University of Twente and Roessingh Research and Development are looking for three highly motivated PhD candidates to help shape the future of virtual coaching technologies in the healthcare domain. You will be working in a highly interdisciplinary and international research project – Council of Coaches. The project is an international collaboration between Universities and companies from the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Spain and France (see the Consortium page). The project introduces a radically new virtual coaching concept based on multiple autonomous, embodied virtual coaches, which form together a personal council that coaches older adults towards a healthy lifestyle. Each coach has his own expertise, personality and style of coaching; they might not always agree with each other, but they all share a single goal: to support the user across every aspect of well-being, including physical, social, cognitive and mental support.


The three available PhD positions focus on three distinct, but aligned sub-tasks of the project:

  • Position #1: Smart Behavior Mining (University of Twente)
  • Position #2: Human-Computer Interfaces (University of Twente)
  • Position #3: Coaching Strategies and Knowledge Base (Roessingh Research and Development)

See the details of the three positions below. If you have any general questions about the vacancies or the project, please send an email to Read more on Jobs: PhD positions on Multi-Party Virtual Coaching in European Horizon-2020 project…

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VR and presence help reinvent law enforcement training

[This story from CBS News details the ongoing evolution of simulator technologies used to train members of law enforcement; in addition to 360 degree immersive virtual environments, the simulators can create a more realistic “fear response” via “an electronic impulse device which can be used to deliver a mild shock to the trainee.” The original story includes a second image and a video. –Matthew]

[Image: Monmouth County’s VirTra V-300 simulator in action. The simulator gives officers a 300-degree view using five different screens. Courtesy Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.]

Virtual reality helps reinvent law enforcement training

By Tyler Lewis, CBS NEWS
July 14, 2017

Virtual reality is being used to train law enforcement officers for scenarios they may encounter out in the field, ranging from traffic stops to active shooter situations.

A new facility incorporating a virtual reality simulator along with a physical training environment was introduced last month in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The facility is the first of its kind in the state and another step towards virtual reality becoming a more mainstream element in law enforcement training across the country.

The facility is called STARS: Situational Training And Response Simulator, and is a joint initiative involving various agencies in Monmouth County. The location is divided into two parts. The first is a physical plant which places officers in a tangible environment using non-lethal training rounds, smoke, fire alarms, strobes, and other special effects. For the second, virtual portion of the training, they are using the VirTra V-300 simulator from a company called VirTra Systems Inc.

This simulator has five screens, allowing trainees a 300-degree view of the situation. Scenarios are designed to replicate real-life events that officers may encounter in the field, ranging from domestic violence incidents to active shooter situations. The trainees are equipped with a variety of tools including training firearms that recoil and weigh the same as an authentic firearm would.

The scenarios are pre-recorded using trained actors with approximately 10 to 15 different outcomes per scenario. An operator in the training room controls how the simulation unfolds based on the actions of the trainee.

“The main objective is to have the officers go in and be submersed in different scenarios so they have that split-second decision-making capability,” said Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden. “And not only split-second decision-making capability on use of force, but de-escalation — how to handle different scenarios, how to provide commands so that we have positive outcomes along the way.”

Other law enforcement agencies around the country have also added virtual reality simulators to their arsenal of training techniques. Earlier this year, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in California added the VirTra V-300 simulator. Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said that while simulation technology has had a place in law enforcement for decades, it has evolved into what can genuinely be called “virtual reality.” Read more on VR and presence help reinvent law enforcement training…

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Call: Cognitive Aspects of Interactive Technology Use: From Computers to Smart Objects and Autonomous Agents – Frontiers in Psychology Journal issue)

Special Issue (Research Topic) on “Cognitive Aspects of Interactive Technology Use: From Computers to Smart Objects and Autonomous Agents” at Frontiers in Psychology Journal

Submission deadline: Nov 15, 2017


Although several researchers have questioned the idea that human technology use is rooted in unique “superior” cognitive skills, it still appears that only humans are capable of producing and interacting with complex technologies. Different paradigms and cognitive models of “human-computer interaction” have been proposed in recent years to ground the development of novel devices and account for how humans integrate them in their daily life.

Psychology has been involved under numerous accounts to explain how humans interact with technology, as well as to design technological instruments tailored to human cognitive needs. Indeed, the current technological advancements in fields like wearable and ubiquitous computing, virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence give the opportunity to deepen, explore, and even rethink the theoretical psychological foundations of human technology use.

The miniaturization of sensors and effectors, their environmental dissemination and the subsequent disappearance of traditional human-computer interfaces are changing the ways in which we interact not only with digital technologies, but with traditional tools as well. More and more entities can now be provided with embedded computational and interactive capabilities, modifying the affordances commonly associated with everyday objects (e.g., mobile phones, watches become “smart watches”).

This is paralleled by novel frameworks within which to understand technology. A growing number of approaches view technology use as resting on four legs, namely cognition, body, tool, and context (of course including social, cultural, and other issues). The idea is that only by viewing how these notions interact and co-determine each other can we understand what makes the human invention, adoption, and use of technology so peculiar.

Consider for example how advanced artificial prostheses are expanding the human capabilities, at the same time yielding a reconsideration of how we incorporate tools into our body schema and how cognition relates to and interacts with bodily features and processes. While virtual environments and augmented realities likely change how we experience and perceive what we consider reality, robots and autonomous agents make it relevant to explore how we anthropomorphize artificial entities and how we socially interact with them.

All these theoretical changes then back-influence our view of more traditional technologies. In the end, even a Paleolithic chopper both required a special kind of mind and at the same time modified it, the users’ bodily schema, or the way in which they participated in their sociocultural contexts.

Technological changes thus inspire a renewed discussion of the cognitive abilities that are commonly associated with technology use, like causal and abductive thought and reasoning, executive control, mindreading and metacognition, communication and language, social cognition, learning and teaching, both in relation to more traditional tools and complex interactive technologies.


The current Research Topic welcomes submissions focused on theoretical, empirical, and methodological issues as well as reflections and critiques concerning how humans create, interact, and account for technology from a variety of perspectives, from cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, constructivism, phenomenology, ecological psychology, social psychology, neuroscience, human-computer interaction, and artificial intelligence.

Relevant topics include but are not limited to:

  • Distributed cognition in interactive environments
  • Social cognition and computer-mediated communication
  • Theoretical and empirical investigation of embodiment and technology
  • Affordances of “traditional objects” and technological devices
  • Theory of mind and social interactions with intelligent agents and robots
  • Cognitive models for designing, interacting with, or evaluating technology
  • Empirical studies on human-technology interaction
  • Evolutionary accounts of human tool use
  • Differences between animal and human tool use
  • Methodological issues and opportunities in human-technology interaction

ABOUT FRONTIERS RESEARCH TOPICS Read more on Call: Cognitive Aspects of Interactive Technology Use: From Computers to Smart Objects and Autonomous Agents – Frontiers in Psychology Journal issue)…

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A luxury Star Wars-themed hotel is Disney’s latest investment in immersive entertainment

[As this story from The Verge notes (in the second-to-last paragraph), “The goal of immersive entertainment is to bring people into fictional worlds and situations; to give them agency and presence in a way that blurs the line between fiction and reality,” and “Disney is all-in on the concept, no matter the medium.” The company’s latest project is a vivid example. See the original story for two more pictures. –Matthew]

Disney wants to build a Westworld for Star Wars fans

A luxury space hotel in a galaxy far, far away

by Bryan Bishop
Jul 16, 2017

This weekend at its D23 Expo, Disney offered several new details about its themed expansion land Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. But it was a much briefer announcement, confirming rumors that the company was working on an immersive, themed hotel set in George Lucas’ universe, that offered perhaps the most intriguing hint of where the company sees its parks and resorts businesses going.

Basically, Disney wants to build a Westworld for Star Wars fans.

That sounds like a bit of hyperbole on its face, but as described by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek, the project amounts to almost exactly that. “We are working on our most experiential concept ever,” he told the crowd during a Saturday panel. “It combines a luxury resort with immersion in an authentic environment.”

In this case, that environment would be a Disney World hotel, designed to look like a massive starship, with views of outer space from every window. But it wouldn’t just be a place for lodging on the way to Galaxy’s Edge; it would be an area where guests could have actual interactive experiences as part of a narrative storyline. “It will invite you to live your own dedicated, multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away,” Chapek explained. Guests wouldn’t wear flip-flops and shorts; they’d wear Star Wars costumes. They wouldn’t deal with hotel employees; they’d interact with Star Wars creatures and droids. And over the course of their stay, the story would unfold around them through a series of story moments and interactions, letting them fall completely into a fictional world.

Sure, synthetic humans may not be involved, and Ed Harris probably wouldn’t be poking around looking for a maze. But on a conceptual level, it’s precisely the value proposition offered by the Delos corporation in HBO’s show. It sounds like the ultimate dream for any Star Wars geek or immersive entertainment fan, and while the project is still in development it’s easy to see how this kind of closed-loop entertainment environment fits neatly within the expertise Disney has spent decades building. Read more on A luxury Star Wars-themed hotel is Disney’s latest investment in immersive entertainment…

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Call: Synthetic Method and Robotic Design Workshop: A Focus on Morphology and Body Dynamics Facilitating Social Interaction (at ICDL-Epirob 2017)


Synthetic Method and Robotic Design Workshop
A Focus on Morphology and Body Dynamics Facilitating Social Interaction
@ICDL-Epirob 2017
, Lisbon, Portugal (
September, 18, 2017

L. Damiano (University of Messina, Messina, Italy)
I. Ocnarescu (Strate Design School, Paris, France)


Deadline: August, 7, 2017
Notification of Acceptance: August, 17, 2017


SMRD 2017 is a frontier cross-disciplinary workshop dedicated to discuss ways, goals, possibilities and limits of the application of the Synthetic Method to the design of body parts and dynamics for social robots that can facilitate their social interactions with humans.

Since the early beginnings of Cybernetics, the construction of embodied artificial agents – robots – has been strongly relying on the Synthetic or – according to current definitions – “Understanding by Building” Method, which supports and disciplines the modeling of living, cognitive, and social processes – lato sensu – through artificial systems. Its goal is twofold: testing scientific hypotheses about the mechanisms underlying the target processes, and building better artifacts, able to exploit these mechanisms to enhance their performances.

In the last decades, with the development of Cognitive, Developmental and Social Robotics, as well as Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), this method has been increasingly applied to social processes. The attempt is that of re-creating aspects of human and/or animal sociality in robotic agents, not only in order to test theories about related social dynamics, but also in order to build avant-garde “social robots” – robotic platforms capable of providing services to humans based on advanced social competences and interactions.

The SMRD workshop 2017 focuses on the applications of the Synthetic Method in the construction of social robots with a specific focus: human and/or animal body parts which, due to their morphology and related dynamics, are recognized to have a great potential relevance in (human-human, human-animal and) human-robot interaction. The goal is to create a cross-disciplinary forum dedicated to explore and discuss ways, goals, possibilities and limits of the application of the Synthetic Method to the design of socially relevant body parts and dynamics for social robots.

Some of the debated questions will be:

  • Is it possible to define a set of human and/or animal social body parts or dynamics that can be considered essential (pre-)conditions of “social presence” and/or “social competences” in robotic agents? Can they be implemented in robotic agents? If yes, how?
  • Should “artificial sociality” be rooted in human and/or animal sociality? Or should it be ideated and developed as a new form of sociality? What could be the origins and grounds of a specifically robotic sociality? What kind of morphology and body dynamics should it involve?
  • Is it advantageous to implement human and/or animal sociality in robots? To what extent? Are there situations in which the reference to human and/or animal sociality, based on human-like and/or animal-like morphology and body dynamics, results are disadvantageous? What are these situations? How can we avoid them?
  • Are there scientific (experimental) explorations that allow us to investigate the differences between robotic “social presence” and “social competences” grounded in human-like and /or animal-like sociality, and robotic “social presence” and “social competences” based on other grounds?

The workshop intends to bring together researchers interested in investigating one or more of these aspects of the development of the Synthetic Method in Robotic Design, with the aim of stimulating interdisciplinary dialogue and the creation of an active interdisciplinary scientific community.

HOW TO SUBMIT AN ABSTRACT Read more on Call: Synthetic Method and Robotic Design Workshop: A Focus on Morphology and Body Dynamics Facilitating Social Interaction (at ICDL-Epirob 2017)…

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The many ways Alexa is creating medium-as-social-actor presence experiences

[Even without the startling prediction that “by the year 2021, there will be more Alexa-like digital assistants on the planet than humans” the responses to and uses of Amazon’s product described in this story from The New York Times are fascinating examples of medium-as-social-actor presence. It also contains interesting analyses of the reasons for these responses. The original version of the story includes more images. –Matthew]

[Image: By Sergio Baradat]

‘Alexa, Where Have You Been All My Life?’

Siri is so five years ago: How a sleek, smooth-talking cylinder from Amazon stole our hearts, bamboozled our spouses and enchanted our children.

By Penelope Green
July 11, 2017

The other day, a newly single friend confessed that lately she had found herself not just chatting up Alexa, Amazon’s crisp-voiced domestic bot, but also looking forward to her responses. “That’s a road,” she said darkly, “you don’t want to be heading down.”

I know how she feels. Come evening, Alexa may tell me that she isn’t sure if she missed me, but her winking green glow, like the pitch of a dog’s ears, is its own kind of welcome. After a disquieting day, how nice to be greeted by a creature, digital or otherwise, that lights up at your approach.

Since her introduction in November 2014, Alexa has neither devolved into the malevolent intelligence predicted by Arthur C. Clarke nor ascended to the metaphysical eroticism promised by Spike Jonze (by way of Scarlett Johansson). Instead, she has assimilated as a kind of ideal roommate, with none of the challenges of an actual human.

Not that she is without mischief. Alexa has starred in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, been called as a witness to a killing and even appeared on the nightly news when she delivered a dollhouse and cookies to a 6-year-old in Dallas, a story that when it was broadcast then prompted Alexas “listening” to their televisions in the San Diego area to try to order dollhouses for their households, too. (I have heard the Alexas singing each to each. I do not think they will sing to me.)

This year, over 25 million Americans will use an Alexa device at least once a month, according to eMarketer. Ovum, a market research company, has predicted that by the year 2021, there will be more Alexa-like digital assistants on the planet than humans. More and more users will groan at her jokes, secretly swell to her Daily Affirmations (“You are brave”) and discover startling depths of rudeness in themselves as they rail at her shortcomings, like her poor hearing, her tendency to interrupt and her inability to multitask. Read more on The many ways Alexa is creating medium-as-social-actor presence experiences…

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