Thursday, June 17, 2021

The brains are wide open, and the scientist Nature issued an article: After artificial intelligence, the rise of "smart matter" computing?

 Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a new concept anymore. We know that it is inspired by the human brain and neural networks. The human brain is particularly good at computationally intensive cognitive tasks, such as pattern recognition and classification.

Regarding AI, a long-term development goal is decentralized neuromorphic computing, that is, relying on a distributed core network to simulate the large-scale parallel computing of the brain, so as to realize a super information processing method inspired by nature. By gradually transforming interconnected computing blocks into continuous computing organizations, it is possible to conceive advanced material forms with basic characteristics of intelligence. This "smart material" can learn and process information in a non-localized manner, and can receive and Respond to the interaction of external stimuli and the environment, and at the same time can adjust the structure autonomously in order to be able to distribute and store information reasonably. Does this kind of thinking broaden your cognitive boundaries of the word "intelligence" again?

On June 17, a team of scientists from the University of Münster, Germany and the University of Twente, the Netherlands, published an article in the "Nature" magazine to give an overview of "smart substances". They reviewed and analyzed the current industry's use of molecular systems, soft materials or solid-state materials. The progress of intelligent materials realized by materials, as well as the practical applications in soft robots, adaptive artificial skin and distributed neuromorphic computing.

Although the intelligent substances in the thesis do not show the kind of intelligence (such as recognition ability or language ability) that the public is familiar with, their functions have far exceeded the characteristics of static substances, and their potential applications are inspiring.

How to understand smart matter?

Under normal circumstances, we can understand intelligence as the ability to perceive information and use it as a knowledge reserve in order to complete adaptive behavior in a constantly changing environment. Although there is no exact definition of intelligent matter, researchers believe that when it comes to the concept of "intelligence", at least two main characteristics must be included: first, the ability to learn; second, the ability to adapt to the environment. So far, most of these two abilities exist in organisms.

With the popularity of AI technology, people are stepping up efforts to realize the machine learning and adaptation skills in an increasingly complex systems, these systems will be integrated in various functional components together . In addition to these functional architectures, it is worth noting that artificial synthetic substances themselves also show many intelligent characteristics, which may constitute a brand-new concept of AI.

Because advanced AI applications generally need to process a large amount of data, it is very challenging to regulate the behavior of intelligent substances in a centralized manner, especially when using traditional computers based on the von Neumann architecture for centralized information processing. The limit is quickly reached, moving data from the memory to the processor and back, not only greatly reduces the calculation speed, but also requires a lot of power consumption.

Therefore, new methods and computational paradigms need to be implemented directly at the material level, so that smart matter itself can interact with the environment, self-regulate its behavior, and even learn from the input data it accepts.

For the development and design of smart materials, inspiration from nature is very useful. The macroscopic functions of natural substances come from the complex internal structure and the interaction of molecular, nano-scale and macro-scale building blocks. In artificial substances, the combination of bottom-up and top-down methods can make the architecture have various novel characteristics and functions.

Researchers believe that the intelligence of artificial materials can be defined in a hierarchical manner. For example, smart substances are realized by combining four key functional elements: (1) the sensor interacts with the environment and receives input and feedback; (2) the actuator responds to the input signal and adjusts the performance of the material; (3) for long-term use A memory for storing information; (4) A communication network for processing feedback.

Ideally, these elements can form a functional processing continuum, which does not require a centralized processing unit, but provides local and distributed information processing capabilities.

Figure|Structural substances are static and cannot change their properties after synthesis, such as pure silicon; octopus tentacles, with embedded sensors, actuators and nervous system, represent smart substances (source: Nature)

The most basic structural substance, it may contain a highly complex but static structure. Although it has a wide range of applications, its properties cannot be changed after synthesis. At an advanced level, reactive substances can change their characteristics (shape, color, hardness, etc.) in response to external stimuli, such as light, current, or force.

At present, scientists are working hard to explore adaptive substances, which have the inherent ability to deal with internal and external feedback. Therefore, it can respond to different environments and stimuli. This definition is similar to "life-like materials", that is, synthetic materials inspired by living things and living substances.

Researchers believe that transcending adaptive substances will ultimately promote the development of smart substances. Smart substances will include four major functional elements (sensors, actuators, networks, and long-term memory), and can show the highest level of complexity and functionality.

What are the things that tend to be smart?

Researchers outlined in the paper traces the development of smart materials, has given no isozyme example of a complex system level of energy, thereby showing the development of intelligent material may trend.

The first type is cluster-based self-organizing materials (such as nanoparticle assemblies, molecular materials).

A prominent form of complex behavior is to rely on the collective interaction of a group or a large number of individuals in a group. In such a system, multiple individually responding entities will organize and communicate in a special way, thereby realizing large-scale adaptive phenomena and forming a collective protection model. In nature, this behavior is usually observed in insect communities, fish schools, birds and even mammal populations.

When using this concept to implement building blocks on a microscopic scale, this concept of basic intelligence is particularly interesting for the realization of intelligent matter. For example, cluster robots interact with a large group of small robots. Each small robot is about one centimeter high and has limited capabilities, but they can be arranged in complex, predefined shapes.

When considering group behavior on the nanoscale, similar logic is still available, such as nanoparticle assemblies. In self-assembled material systems, the local communication between weakly coupled and highly dynamic components takes place in the form of particle interactions. .

Based on chain formation, repulsive fluid and attractive magnetic interactions between structural nanoparticles, and according to the initial shape, micro-groups can perform reversible anisotropic deformation, controlled splitting and merging with high modal stability, and navigational motions, but these Shape adaptation relies on external programmer input, magnetic field control, etc., so the particles themselves do not show intelligent behavior.

Figure|Adaptive group behavior and colloidal clusters (Source: Nature)

Interesting adaptive behaviors are also found in synthetic molecular systems, and feedback comes from the interaction between the reaction network and coupling molecules. In addition, the transmission of information about the size of self-replicating molecules can be observed. From ancestors to offspring replicons, this behavior is somewhat similar to the norm in biology.

However, the lack of memory in this type of material prevents the material's ability to learn from past events.

The second is the realization of soft matter (such as reactive soft matter, soft matter embedded in memory, and adaptive soft matter).

In biological systems, softness, elasticity, and flexibility are notable features. Molluscs can achieve continuous deformation in a crowded environment, thereby achieving smooth motion. Natural skin also exhibits the remarkable characteristics of basic intelligence, including the tactile sensation of force, pressure, shape, texture and temperature, tactile memory and even self-healing ability.

The goal of the field of soft robotics is to transform these characteristics into soft matter. The soft robot can simulate biological movement by adjusting its shape, grip and touch. Compared with rigid materials, due to the conformity of the materials, when they come into contact with humans or other fragile objects, the risk of injury is greatly reduced.

Figure|Responsive soft matter and soft matter with embedded memory function (Source: Nature)

Soft matter contains reactive soft matter, and the most common drive is the change of shape and softness with input.

A typical example is a self-contained artificial muscle composed of a silicone rubber matrix. Its driving relies on the vapor phase transition when the liquid is embedded in ethanol microbubbles and heated. This sensitive artificial muscle can repeatedly lift more than 6 kilograms of weight.

Another case is based on the double cross-linked responsive hydrogel induced by DNA hybridization. With the help of an external DNA trigger, the volume contraction of the material is locally controlled to imitate human hand gestures. There is also an artificial skin developed by using the triboelectric effect, which can actively sense the proximity, contact, pressure and humidity of the touched object without the need for an external power source, and the skin can autonomously generate an electrical response.

There are also scientists who use the ion gradient between the micro-polyacrylamide hydrogel compartments of the cation and anion selective hydrogel membranes to create an "artificial eel" that uses a retractable stacking or folding geometry to activate thousands at the same time. A voltage of 110 V is generated after a series of gel chambers. Unlike typical batteries, these systems are soft, flexible, transparent and potentially biocompatible.

Soft matter embedded in memory, this type of functional soft matter combines material memory and perception capabilities. Some scientists have verified this concept in a mechanical hybrid material, in which a resistance switching device is used as a storage element on an island of rigid polymer photoresist (SU-8), which is embedded with stretchable polydimethylsiloxane In (PDMS), the microcracks in the gold film evaporated on polydimethylsiloxane act as electrodes and stress sensors at the same time. This kind of motion memory device allows the detection of humans based on changes in stress and subsequent information storage Movement of the limbs.

In addition, self-healing is also an important property of soft materials, allowing materials to quickly restore their original properties after being disturbed/bent, and is a way to eliminate past traumatic memories. A scientific team has reported an organic thin film transistor. This kind of transistor is made of stretchable semiconducting polymer, which can work normally even when folded, twisted and stretched on the moving human limbs, and this kind of polymer can repair itself after special solvent and heat treatment, almost completely The field effect mobility is restored.

Information processing usually involves counting, which requires a perception ability and a storage unit that stores the latest value. A scientific research team has proposed a design concept based on subsequent biochemical reactions to calculate substances, which can release specific light pulses based on the number of detected light pulses. The output molecules or enzymes to achieve the actual counting process.

In addition to sensing and driving, the adaptive soft matter also includes a precisely customized chemical-mechanical feedback loop. One way to realize adaptive soft matter is the autonomous particle motion model system proposed by scientists. It contains an elegant combination of sensing and driving, coupled through a reaction network, for example, there is a material that can regulate the growth and contraction of oxygen bubbles in the capsule. , Which leads to the antagonistic adjustment of effective buoyancy, and realizes the oscillating vertical movement of the colloid in the water driven by the enzyme.

The third type is the realization of solid materials (such as neuromorphic materials, distributed neuromorphic systems).

At present, the information processing technology of solid materials is much more advanced. For example, the traditional computer core is constructed by physical devices (such as chip transistors). Non-traditional computing surpasses standard computing models, especially biology, which can be considered as non-traditional computing systems.

Programmable and highly interconnected networks are particularly suitable for performing computational tasks, while brain-inspired or neuromorphic hardware is designed to provide physical implementation. Although in the top-down manufacturing of the semiconductor industry, mature semiconductor materials are used to enable neuromorphic hardware (such as Google’s tensor processing unit) to be realized, the bottom-up approach using nanomaterials may be unconventional and Efficient calculations provide new ways.

Researchers believe that combining the above-mentioned various material realizations, the hybrid method may eventually lead to the realization of smart materials.

For example, the use of phase change materials to simulate neuromorphic computing systems has become a key enabling factor for brain-inspired or neuromorphic hardware, allowing artificial neurons and synapses to be implemented in artificial neural networks, using them to be heated in an amorphous or crystalline state by Joule heating Under the programmability to achieve fast, accessible room temperature non-volatile memory function.

The memory behavior of phase change materials further makes them suitable for brain-inspired calculations, where they usually embody synaptic weights or nonlinear activation functions. In addition, two-dimensional (2D) materials, such as graphene , molybdenum disulfide, tungsten diselenide, or hexagonal boron nitride, have also appeared in experiments with neuromorphic devices, allowing the design of compact artificial neural networks.

A recent study showed that it is possible to perform nonlinear classification and feature extraction on disordered networks of boron-doped atoms in silicon at a temperature of 77K. Many other research results show that the deep neural network model of nanoelectronic devices can be used to effectively adjust the device through the gradient descent method to complete various classification tasks instead of achieving functions through artificial evolution.

These works reveal the potential for efficient calculations at the nanometer scale using the inherent physical properties of matter.

Figure|Neuromorphic materials and systems (Source: Nature)

It is worth noting that in the neuromorphic system, information processing and memory are co-localized, which is strictly different from the traditional von Neumann structure. One promising study is the optical neural network model, because light itself can be calculated by interacting with matter or interfering with itself without pre-defined paths. In addition, this model allows data to be processed at the speed of light (in the medium). Processing, and the power consumption is extremely low compared with electronic equipment.

When light propagates through different diffractive layers, the information is processed at the same time, similar to the preprocessing of data in human skin before it is transmitted to the brain through the nervous system.

In addition, the researchers also believe that each material reservoir has its own physical problems, and material learning can be used to make the reservoir emerge from the system instead of designing the material matrix into a good reservoir.

Looking forward to the future development path

So, what are the challenges in the future?

Researchers believe that the difficulty lies in the development of effective methods for manufacturing, amplifying and controlling smart substances.

Smart substances must contain dynamic materials with considerable degrees of confocal freedom, mobility, and nano-level component exchange. This means that the interaction between nanoscale components must be weak enough to be manipulated by external stimuli. In addition, such substances must exhibit a certain degree of internal organization of nano-level components, so that feedback and long-term memory elements can be embedded, and in order to fully receive and transmit external input, addressability with spatial and temporal accuracy is required. These requirements may be contradictory to a large extent, and may not be compatible.

Obviously, the key elements of smart materials are easier to implement in different material types, but researchers hope that hybrid solutions can solve the incompatibility problem.

So, what will the road map to smart matter look like? They have an idea.

First, a demonstrator and design rules are needed to develop an adaptive substance with an inherent feedback path. By integrating nano-scale building blocks, the self-assembly and top-down manufacturing of nanostructures can be reconfigurable and adaptable;

Then, it must start with adaptive substances that can handle feedback and develop into substances with learning capabilities ("learning substances"). These materials will be enhanced by embedded memory functions, material-based learning algorithms and sensor interfaces;

In addition, it is also necessary to develop from learning materials to truly intelligent materials, receive input from the environment through sensory interfaces, display the required response through embedded memory and artificial networks, and respond to external stimuli through embedded sensors.

Therefore, the development of smart materials will require coordinated, interdisciplinary and long-term research efforts.

Ultimately, considering that overall performance is the collective response of components and connections, a complete system-level demonstration is necessary to accelerate the use of smart materials. Various technological applications of smart materials are foreseeable, and the collaborative integration with existing AI and neuromorphic hardware will be particularly attractive. In this regard, applications in life sciences and biological cybernetic organisms also require biological Compatible realization.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The most human-like "robot" in the world is itself a human

 If robots have a choice, I don't know if they want to be made by humans. After all, although robots are carrying heavy objects, doing investigations, serving dishes and washing dishes, and want to take care of the tedious tasks of human beings, they are considered too cumbersome and inflexible. And if it is too flexible and smart, it will be judged to make people fearful. Some people are afraid that they will be attacked by robots in the next second.

Of course, if the robot can really make a choice, it will be even more frightening.

In this era when robots become stronger and make people feel flustered, there are people who hope that people can help robots become stronger, and they must use robots to eliminate the loneliness behind humans. Not only to eliminate the loneliness of humans, but also to eliminate the loneliness of the supporters behind the robot.

In this robot restaurant, the waiters are all human

It may be because of the serious aging that Japan's attitude towards robots is much more relaxed. Although less than every household can accept robots and treat them as family members, Japan's acceptance of robots is far higher than other countries.

An obvious example is that other countries' film and television works on robots are "Love, Death and Robots" and "I, Robot", while Japanese film and television works are "My Robot Girlfriend" and "Master Robot". The former is keen to imagine the threat of robots to humans in the future world, while the latter wants to work hard to reconstruct the relationship between humans and robots. The body may be a machine, but the emotions belong to humans.

The uncle disguised as a robot went to the toilet and shocked the people around him. Picture from: "Uncle Robot"

The cafe that just opened in Tokyo in June this year is the best example of "machine body, human heart". This is the result of the project of Avatar Robot Cafe DAWNver.beta. We can also call this cafe the Avatar Cafe.

One of the characteristics of Avatar Cafe is the robot waiter, but unlike other robot cafes/restaurants, its waiters are all controlled by humans.

Although the robot itself has an operating system, humans give orders and the robot completes its tasks. But usually several robots are controlled by one person, and commands are given through the system. The difference of the Avatar Cafe is that the controller behind each robot is a real person, and the exclusive operator of this robot is called the "pilot."

The person lying in the hospital bed is the ``pilot'' behind the robot

An important reason why these "pilots" need to provide services through robots is that they cannot provide coffee services on site. They come from all over Japan. Most of them suffer from diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy. They have limited mobility and are disabled people who have difficulty getting out of their homes.

With Avatar Robot Restaurant, "pilots" can work from home. By home, hospital far programmable system robot, "pilots" can also provide services to customers at the cafe line. A patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis who works at Avatar has also worked as a barista. He can even input data into a computer to provide customized services to make coffee according to customers' preferences.

These robots are 120 cm tall, and the "pilots" can control the computer by moving their eyes and fingertips to control the robot OriHime-D. The robot has a built-in speaker, through which the "pilot" can talk to the guests. Even the "pilot" who cannot speak can also use the artificial voice service to speak.

Promotional poster of Avatar Cafe

Through OriHime-D, people with limited mobility can also see the guests’ movements and expressions at home, and then feed back the voice service from a human perspective. They can even convey their thoughts through the emojis on the robot’s "face" and body movements. Have physical communication with customers.

Before the opening of this coffee shop, the founder of the robot maker Ory Laboratories had long dreamed of using his robot to help people with disabilities work. Therefore, before the Avatar Cafe received enough crowdfunding funds, he was trying to promote the mobile robot OriHime-D to enter more restaurants to provide services.

Cafe picture

A reporter from the Japan Mainichi Shimbun once went to a local burger restaurant to experience OriHime-D's service. The service behind it was a 24-year-old girl suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. The other party said that she often provides services to elderly customers who are not adapted to the mobile Internet era, and she can introduce them how to buy and how to pay according to the habits of the elderly.

When the elderly feel inconvenient in this cashless coffee shop, it is the people behind the machine who provide the service. If they have been unable to complete the self-service payment, OriHime-D’s eyes will light up green-this means that the pilot is providing services: "You can try to deflect the bar code to the right to make it easier for the machine to read."

Robots providing services at the cash register

She will also make product recommendations from a personal perspective, whether it is based on age or gender, or based on solar terms, these are all subjective recommendations for planting grass. From this perspective, OriHime-D is a robot that "does not need" artificial intelligence, because these are replaced by the pilot behind it.

"Replace" robots with humans and become rigidly needed

Robots were born to do high-risk jobs or do things that humans can’t reach. The original intention of robots was to help humans.

Most of the robot application cases we have seen belong to the field of heavy industry. They carry heavy objects, cut materials, and assemble components. And the most common ones around are the service robots in restaurants, and the sweeping robots at home.

As one of the robots, OriHime-D also undertakes the mission of doing things that humans can't reach. It is difficult to use one person as a spokesperson for the disabled, at least in terms of cost control, this is not a cost-effective business.

The existence of robots makes it possible for these people to be hired. Even though there are more cases that can be used for marketing promotion, it is also very helpful for people who can't get out of the house. Yoshitomi Taro, the initiator of the Avatar Cafe project and the creator of the robot, said:

Of course, there is a possibility of failure at the beginning, but all we have to do is find the cause and improve it. My ultimate goal is to create a hopeful society for people who use wheelchairs or are bedridden due to illness, where they can work and serve others. I want to use this cafe as an opportunity to make cooperation with virtual robots an option for society.

OriHime-D in service

Yoshitoto Taro was often unable to go to school because of illness when he was young, and it was difficult to integrate into the school after he recovered. His inability to communicate with others was his long-term experience. These special experiences made him hope that he could "eliminate loneliness." When he was in college, he therefore proposed the idea of ​​communicating with people through robots, but the deeper and deeper his understanding of artificial intelligence, the more he felt that he was looking for the wrong direction.

In his view, it must be humans, not computer programs, that can reduce the loneliness of others. So he began to connect the lonely and trapped people with ordinary people, allowing them to communicate and create new memories.

In this process, the people behind the robot can communicate with people. They don't need to be trapped in a room of several square meters, and load on the robot to go to work and service. The people being served can also communicate with others. They don't have to face the artificial intelligence and standard templates that answer the questions, because there are real human attendants behind the robots.

Looks like a robot waiter, but actually humans are providing services

China also has similar public welfare platforms for the visually impaired. When the visually impaired encounters difficulties, they can upload the platform for help by taking photos and other methods. People who are not visually impaired can use their eyes and voice to help the visually impaired in 1-2 minutes. In this link, the visually impaired people do not rely on automatic recognition algorithms, but on the connection, help, and communication between people.

This kind of person-to-person communication is probably more important as you think. We introduced in "Anyone Afraid of Being Killed by Robots, Only Japanese" that Japanese nursing homes will purchase certain robots to accompany the elderly. This is true, but beyond that, what Japanese old people still need is love from humans. Robot scholar Marketta Niemelä said:

When I was investigating in Japan, I found that Japanese elderly care institutions rarely purchase a large amount of robotic equipment. On the contrary, people need more care from human beings.

Before the humorous and charming artificial intelligence systems like "Her" have been produced, the world may need more OriHime-D to help the two humans communicate, helping both the server and the served. .

The male protagonist in the movie is in love with artificial intelligence through headphones. Picture from: "Her"

Return to the essence of robots and serve humanity

There is a well-known person in the group that meets the requirements for the use of OriHime-D, and that is Hawking. Also suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Hawking’s work tools are made by the world’s top technology companies. Apple provides facial recognition and eye tracking technology for his wheelchair, Microsoft provides computer systems, and Intel provides A supplementary context awareness toolkit.

But there is only one person in this predicament, Hawking, onlookers marvel at his smart brain, and smart people provide tools to help him continue his research. It is normal for other people in this situation to be ignored. Even if there is an ice bucket challenge for fundraising purposes, it is still difficult for the neglected to get practical help, and it is difficult for them to prove their worth.

The technical support of Hawking wheelchairs is the major technology companies

Robots like OriHime-D may not be as powerful as Hawking's wheelchair, but he brings hope to more sick people.

Through these seemingly stupid robots, it is possible to "go out" to work and communicate with people normally. These initial projects may become one of the selling points of commercial stores, just like small shops like "Bear Claw Coffee", but if you stick to it, this may be a normal future.

Paralyzed runner Adam Gorlitsky can challenge the marathon with the help of exoskeleton; paralyzed patients can use brain-computer interfaces to make up for their own mechanism defects; visually impaired people can also quickly adapt to the Internet world through auxiliary functions such as narration.

Paralyzed runner Adam Gorlitsky broke the world record with the help of exoskeleton

Whether it is a robot or an exoskeleton, these technologies have been given to help human use at the beginning. In today's social progress, the existence of similar technologies may help more neglected niche groups, giving them more opportunities and future.

While Boston Robot Dog and Virgin Atlantic are exploring commercial technology and the boundaries of the universe, there are still people using robots to serve the neglected people, and they want to use robots to help people who cannot move to establish more communication connections. When people are worried about the negative impact of the development of technology, the existence of robots such as OriHime-D still brings people peace of mind and hope.

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