Teaching Human Failings To Robots, That’​s The Hard Part

Roger-Pol Droit

PARIS â€" Try to imagine that an intelligent robot is out to kill you. It remembers all your passwords and has access to all your data. Equipped with facial recognition technology, it can identify you wherever you go, even though you have no idea what it looks like.

This nightmare is actually possible. Drone assassins are no longer relegated to the world of science fiction: They’re part of today's range of readily available weapons.

Whether hostile or friendly, robots are increasing in number and growing more independent and powerful. In some retirement homes, cousins of Buddy, Nao or Pepper, the star creations of the Aldebaran Robotics company, are already providing companionship and services to needy people.

In factories, robots control a large part of the manufacturing process. They're also present in schools, hospitals, restaurants and libraries.

Thirty-one million robots of every kind are expected to be on the market between 2014 and 2017, according to the robotics trade union. They're already well-known to the general public: thanks to Deep Blue, which beat Garry Kasparov at chess 20 years ago; Watson winner at Jeopardy in 2011; and AlphaGo humiliated a Go master this past March. More recently still, Tay, Google's conversational robot, became anti-Semitic and xenophobic after just a few hours interacting on Twitter, showing how quickly it could adapt to the spirit of the times.

Yet all this is not necessarily cause for alarm. In 1940, Isaac Asimov, the science-fiction writer who explored these questions before anyone else, explained how a robot designed to look after a small child was infinitely more reliable than a human nanny.

That doesn't prevent a vast number of new questions from emerging, provoking an onslaught of work, speculation, hypotheses and the establishment of various models. A large portion of this research concerns our relationship with these intelligent machines â€" whether they are human-like in appearance or not â€" the empathy they can elicit (as demonstrated, notably, by Serge Tisseron), and their legal, moral and philosophical rights.

For they are no longer inert objects, although they’re not really people, either. They're clearly not beings endowed with sensitivity, but all the same, they can make decisions and they possess a kind of autonomy and independence.

Feelings are foreign

Examining their legal and moral status is also necessary for practical reasons. When a robot causes an accident, who is responsible: its creator, or its owner?

Another aspect, less frequently discussed, is perhaps even more relevant. It concerns all that must be instilled in artificially intelligent machines about human behavior to avoid misunderstandings, or even catastrophes. And there's nothing simple about that, because these machines have no concept of physical sensation, nor of what it is to be aware, to have feelings, desires, drive. All the elements that constitute our physical existence (being hot or cold, feeling hungry or tired) and our psychological state of being (dreaming, imagining, hoping, feeling, wanting) are totally foreign to robots.

Even the simple act of making a mistake, so universal to humans, is incomprehensible for robots. As our interactions with them become more intense and more important, this difference between our worlds poses a challenge.

And so we must explain human nature to robots. That involves devising ways to make our frailties, shortcomings, and conventions, as well as basic aspects of our sensitivity, an integral part of these artificial beings.

While this project has already begun, it's still in its infancy. It's also turning out to be rather complicated, as ethical standards are so frequently at odds from one group of people to the next. Most decisions presuppose the act of prioritizing one principle over another. Not to mention the irrational side of humanity, which involves taking risks, or demonstrating the audacity that urgent situations often require.

"The instant of decision is madness," Kierkegaard said, expressing the notion that our actions are never purely based on the weighing of outcomes.

And so, to teach human nature to robots would be to teach them approximation and uneasy compromises, but also the roll of the dice, the irrational side of things, a splash of randomness. This robot education is underway. But engineers still have some heavy lifting to do, if anyone is left who understands such an old-world image.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]


Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.


Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.



China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.


7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.


​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.

Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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