Posts Tagged ‘Autism’

Robothespian, the British Robotic Actor

October 25, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece about a performance of Karel Capek’s classic play about a robot rebellion, RUR, at the Czech national library a few years ago by a theatre group, Café Neu Romance, using lego robots. The theatre company was the creation of Vive Les Robots, a Danish company set up to encourage public interest in robots and robotics. I said in the article that I thought it would be good if the play could be performed by full-sized robots, to give it the stature it deserves. I realise, however, that was unlikely given how massively expensive the animatronic technology is, that brings to life robotic puppets like Ry’gel from the SF series Farscape.

One British company, Engineered Arts, has created such a full size mechanical actor. It’s called Robothespian, and there are a number of videos about it on YouTube. The video below shows it, appropriately enough, talking about R.U.R. as part of Café Neu Romance, a robot arts festival, at the Czech National Technical Library in 2012.

Robothespian has also appeared on British breakfast television. In this clip from the Beeb’s Breakfast TV programme from 2014, the two presenters talk about, and sometimes to Robothespian with Dr Nigel Crook of Oxford Brookes University. The robot was created by Engineered Arts as a research project to explore the ways people interact with robots. Crook explains that it can respond to a number of voice commands, and the two presenters ask it questions such as what advantages robots have over human beings. Crook also explains that despite this ability, real intelligence is a long way off, and the problem of giving the robot the ability to hold a genuinely intelligent, wide-ranging conversation is very challenging. So right now, the machine responds giving the answers programmed into it by a human operator.

Robothespian, or Artie, as it is called, from RT – Robothespian – replies to the question about its usefulness that robots can perform simple, repetitive tasks accurately without tiring, or needing to go for breaks. They ask it if it could do their job. Its answer is that it certainly could, as all they do is read from an autocue. So when does it start?

The machine has a range of expressive hand gestures, a moving mouth, and two screens in its head, which show images of eyes. These blink, helping it show a number of expressions. They also show hearts, like those shown in the eyes of cartoon characters to indicate they have fallen in love. The two presenters are, however, advised to stand a few feet away from the robot. Crook explains it is compliant, which means that, unlike an industrial robot, it won’t blindly continue to perform a gesture if it accidentally strikes someone who happens to stand in the way. Similarly, it’s possible to pull the robot’s limbs away from where they’ve settled without damaging it. Nevertheless, the presenters were advised to stand clear of it just in case it accidentally flipped back and struck them.

As well as delivering monologues, Robothespian can also sing, giving a hilarious rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, and do impressions, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Crook explains that it was built to act as a guide at museums, festivals and exhibitions. The two presenters ask about its gender, and are told that it’s creators think of it as male, as it’s been given a male voice.

Also on the show is a little feature about a robot toy, Caspar, which is used in schools to teach autistic children. The toy was being tried out as a teaching tool as autistic people can find it immensely challenging understanding other’s emotions. They also like things in a very set order. Caspar is useful in that its responses, although intended to mimic those of humans, are always the same. For example, when it smiles, that smile is always the same smile every time it makes that expression. And this regularity and constancy of expression is intended to be reassuring and non-threatening, so that the child using it finds it easy, or easier to do so, than more conventional forms of interaction with people.

Robothespian isn’t cheap. Crook explains that it costs about £50,000. Despite this, Engineered Arts have built more than one of them. In this video from last year, 2015, two of them sing, ‘I Am Not A Robot’.

I find robots and robotics interesting, but I am very much aware of the problems they pose. There are the general philosophical issues like human identity and uniqueness – how long before they develop real intelligence and consciousness, start performing sophisticated task like creating art or composing music, or resent at their enslavement and control by humans? There are also the very real social and economic problems caused by their manufacture. The more industry is automated, the more real jobs, that could be performed by people, are lost. The Beeb a few months ago broadcast a documentary which forecast that in the next 15-20 years a third of all jobs could be lost in Britain. You can certainly see it in retail, where a number of companies have replaced human staff with self-service tills, where you scan in yourself the items you want to purchase into the machine, which then takes your money and hands you your change and receipt. If we aren’t careful, this will lead to the emergence of a society very much like that of 2000 AD’s Megacity One. Judge Dredd’s home city has, thanks to robots, a massive unemployment rate of 95% or so. As a result, most people’s lives are marked by boredom and despair, a situation brought home in the classic ‘Judge Dredd’ story, ‘Un-American Graffitti’, featuring Chopper, a teenage lad trying to escape this crushing social malaise through ever more daring pieces of graffiti artwork. 2000 AD and the ‘Dredd’ strip in particular always had a very strong element of satire and social commentary, and this was one of the most outstanding examples of the strip telling an entertaining story while also describing the real situation many of its readers faced for real due to Thatcherism.

And unfortunately, despite the boom years of the 1990s, the prospect of long-term unemployment and grinding poverty has got worse, due to globalism and the spread of neoliberalism as the dominant political and economic ideology. This will only get worse unless humanity finds ways to manage robotic technology wisely, to create jobs, rather than to the replace them.

ATOS’ Lies: More Commenters Speak Out!

January 11, 2014

Following my post on the suicide of Jacqueline Harris, who took her own life after Atos found her ‘fit for work’, I blogged on my own experience that ATOS will lie about the results of the medical examinations they conduct in order to find them falsely as capable of working. Others have had the same experience, and I posted the stories of two of the commenters to this blog. Since then, others have also commented with their experiences of ATOS lying and doctoring (ha!) the results of their examinations. Or sometimes even missing examinations they were supposed to hold and then blaming the claimant.

Cristina Light described her ATOS interview:

‘The ATOS GP gave me positive scores for all my joints movements without carrying on any examinations, and though he saw me ‘furniture walk’ with great difficulty, and 20/20 for my eyesight, though I can’t read a word without glasses – an ‘exam’ carried out on a Sunday lunchtime that lasted exactly 22 minutes (from 1pm when he knocked on the door to 1:22pm when the door banged behind him), and during which he never wrote but a few notes on a shorthand notebook. I was never given a copy of the report until a week before the appeal deadline. In it I noticed that he mentioned I could not be depressed because I had good eye contact and was articulate, properly dressed (in jimjams!!!) and had nail polish. The tribunal were appalled, and they made a point to note his name and ATOS number. I hope they gave him hell.’

Sam told how ATOS’ lies had not only cost him his benefit, but also his flat. Not surprisingly, his health was seriously damaged and more than once this poor fellow contemplated suicide:

‘I have just waited 15 months for a hearing of my appeal against a O point WCA finding by Atos HCP. At last, this week, it happened.

I was challenging on nine descriptors: the Tribunal only looked at two.

On the basis of their assessment of my case on those two descriptors, the Tribunal decided not even to look at the other seven.

There was no reason to do so… they’d already awarded me 21 points. It took less than 10 minutes.

During the year I lost my flat because, due to the cut in benefit while I awaited my hearing, I could no longer pay the rent. My inability to meet my obligations at my bank cost me penalties of hundreds of pounds and punitive interest. My health crashed. I seriously and continually contemplated suicide.

I am too exhausted and ill to do awt now. However, if I can recover and find the resources, I can assure Tommaz Jay and others that I have every intention of suing DWP, probably Atos and possibly IDS and and Atos HCP for exemplary damages.

I imagine that a few weeks I shall start visiting every site I can think of to seek help and to publicise (to the max).

I hope to show those conscienceless and incompetent social darwinists, and the world, with solid gold knobs on, that in the case of Sam, they made a terrible mistake.

Success will be doing so with such effect that WCA will be so discredited as to be a dead duck.

Pleasure will be doing so during the election period’.

Elizabeth Rogerson told how ATOS falsely declared that the autistic son of one of her friends was fit for work, despite the fact that this young lad has always had to be accompanied to such examinations:

‘I have an autistic friend whose mother attended every meeting with him during his application process for benefits because he can’t look after himself. When his ATOS assessment came up, his mother had a hospital appointment of her own to attend that had been a very long time coming and which she couldn’t miss, so I volunteered to be his responsible adult for the assessment. It seemed fairly innocuous when we were actually there, but he was of course rejected, and one of the points upon which they rejected him was “able to attend meetings alone and unsupervised”, which was an outright lie. He has never, never been to any official meeting without a representative attending with him. He would mentally incapable of doing so, just as he would be mentally incapable of answering any of the questions as they claimed he did. The entire transcript of his interview was a fabrication from start to finish.’

Angie Bennetton’s comment describes how ATOS keeps moving the goalposts by cancelling their examination of her at the last moment, and falsely claiming that she has not attended assessments. Again, the motive appears to prevent her from claiming benefit:

‘My complaint about ATOS is currently with the independent case examiner, but I’m not optimistic that anything good will ever come of it. My migration from IB to ESA started almost exactly 2 years ago and I’ve yet to have an assessment – we’re up to 13 appointments and counting. Almost invariably they’re cancelled at the last minute or later by ATOS or the doctor simply doesn’t turn up. ATOS have said so far that the doctor did turn up but I wasn’t in, but can’t explain how the letter telling me this arrived in the post half an hour before the appointment time. They said I refused to be assessed and that I’ve refused to attend the assessment centre. This is despite abundant letters and emails begging them to get this over with and repeated confirmation that they won’t let me in to the assessment centre anyway as ‘I’m too disabled’. They have also made up appointments which I failed to attend but for which they are unable to supply any evidence of informing me about them, then retracted the allegation when challenged. Finally, they have admitted that they knew from the outset that I should be in the Support Group but felt a face to face assessment would be in my best interests. Why? Their best interests more likely – so that they can trip me up with trick questions and find me fit for work and get paid for doing an unnecessary assessment.’

May Jones described how ATOs ignored her serious disabilities to concentrate on the her minor afflictions in order to find her fit for work. What is particularly disgusting here is the official inaction in response to the letter she wrote to ATOS and the DWP complaining about the wrongful conduct of her examination. It was only after she contacted the GMC that action was taken at last. Their punishment to the ATOS assessor is, however, clearly in adequate for the seriousness of his offence. They have simply banned him from carrying out any further assessments, while in fact his conduct in them raises grave questions about his whole integrity as a doctor.

‘ I was asked to have a medical by a DWP tribunal because they couldn’t decide (?) (I couldn’t attend).
The Atos GP ignored all but the minor disability and wrote a report about that.
The Tribunal disallowed me benefits based on this report.
I complained to Atos who upheld my complaint and said they notified DWP straight away.
DWP did nothing, didn’t contact me, the Tribunal service also ignored my letters.
Was ill for a while then, but eventually made a complaint to GMC about this GP. They also upheld my complaint. The only action they took was to stop him doing DWP/ATOS medicals.
If I had lied on a benefit form I’m likely end up in court.
These ‘GP’s’ are a disgrace to the profession and should also be in court or jailed.
DWP refuse to tell me how many others were refused benefits because of this discredited GP.
Think I’ll try a no win no fee solicitor.
Something MUST be done -they make health so much worse, I was thinking about topping myself for a while – I decided to fight back instead; some people can’t.’

She has also given the results of a Friend of Information Request regarding complaints to the GMC about ATOS and their doctors. These are disgusting, in that they show not only how many complaints have been formally submitted, but also that the great majority of them have been dismissed by the GMC. It seems that the deliberate falsification of results, in order to deprive someone of their income, leaving them often homeless and suicidal, are in general not seen as a serious issue by the Council. This in itself should be a major issue, as it has been in the past when the Council has allowed doctors guilty of serious negligence or even crime, such as the sexual assault of their female patients, to continue to practice.

‘complaints to GMC about Atos/DWP ‘doctors’ -Freedom of Info request.
From 2009 – 2013 GMC investigated 149 complaints (cases).
These cases relate to 126 doctors (as a doctor can have more than one case against him)
15 cases still under investigation.
The outcome of the remaining 134 cases:
Closed 120 (no action)
Closed with advice 10 (tut tut)
Warnings: 3 (slap on wrist??)
Undertakings:1 (?slap and tut tut??)

Please remember, a complaint must be os a pretty serious nature before GMC even investigate or create a case.
So out of all these ‘doctors’ most are still collecting their fat fee’s while lying through their teeth.

I suppose I was fortunate, the discredited doctor I complained about can’t do any more harm.’

It is abundantly clear that all too many people have had ATOS lie and fabricate the results of their examinations, in order to get the DWP to deprive them of benefits. I’ve no doubt too that this is done according to the covert instructions of the DWP itself, in order that they can fulfil the quotas they have set of removing as many people as possible from the benefits system. The result has been enormous suffering, deprivation, and, in all too many cases, the claimants’ death.

ATOS must be stopped and held responsible, and the deliberate manipulation of the benefits system and the secret quotas and policies of the DWP and their master, Ian Duncan Smith, exposed, discredited and abolished.

Resisting the Tories War on the Disabled: Revive the Spirit of Ian Dury

December 21, 2013

One of the many problems confronting Left-wing campaigners against the Coalition’s war on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled is how to get our message across. The mainstream, mass-media are dominated by the Right, and the government has shown itself prepared to push through legislation stifling political debate and criticism of its policies through its Lobbying and Transparency Bill and attempt to censor the internet under the pretext of protecting children from pornography. There is also the perennial problem of public apathy. Many people in this country have no interest or awareness of political issues, and are seemingly all too content to accept blandly what they read in the papers.

It occurred to me, however, that one way of getting the message across about the government’s absolute and murderous contempt for the disabled was to bring back some of the combative spirit of Ian Dury, and in particular his use of music to challenge the condescension and complacency towards the disabled and their problems shown by Mrs Thatcher’s government. In 1981 Dury caused a massive controversy with the release of his record, Spasticus Autisticus. This had the refrain ‘I’m Spasticus! Autisticus!’ Many disabled people and organistions were outraged at what they felt was him mocking their condition. The Spastics Society were particularly angry, and strongly objected to what they saw as an insulting reference to the disease. Faced with such strong and angry objections to the song, the BBC banned it, thus ending Dury’s chart career.

It may have looked to some that Drury was sneering at the disabled, but the reality was the complete opposite. Dury himself was disabled, and had a withered arm and leg due to contracting polio from his local swimming pool as a child. In a TV interview Dury stated that he was prompted to write the song after the government declared that 1981 would be the Year of the Disabled. He was angry at the possibility that this would mean that there would be an official celebration of the disabled and much talk and debate about how to help them, after which everything would remain exactly the same. He therefore released Spasticus Autisticus as a protest. Despite opposition from some, many more understood what he was trying to do and fully supported him.

Here’s the section on the controversy from Channel 4’s Top Ten X-Rated. It has comments from the great man himself, as well as Tim Yeo, the former head of the Spastics Society, amongst others. Whovians will spot amongst them Nabil Shaban, who played the horribly slimy and oleaginous galactic yuppy Sil in the Colin Baker Dr Who stories ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp’. Shaban himself is a disabled with brittle bone disease. He’s part of disabled theatre company, and has appeared in, amongst other things, Ben Jonson’s Volpone. A few years ago he also presented a programme on Channel 4 putting forward his theory that the great Viking warlord, Ivar the Boneless, also suffered from the disease. Warning: Shaban makes some very earthy comments about certain biological functions during the show, which probably aren’t particularly shocking unless you’re a Tory MP wishing to ban everything. Nevertheless, as they say, viewer discretion is advised.

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Here’s a piece from Granada TV at the time reporting the controversy with an interview with Dury himself. Apart from talking about the song, he also recites the ‘Busman’s Prayer’. This is a funny, inoffensive parody of the Lord’s Prayer, in which certain words and phrases are replaced by some of the place names in London that sound a bit similar.

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Now I certainly don’t blame the Spastics Society for so vehemently objecting to the song. ‘Spastic’, and its various forms was a very nasty playground insult, as Dury himself states in one of the interview. It was one of the reasons why he went into music and formed the band, so he could confront people with the reality of physical disability and challenge their attitudes simply by appearing on stage as their frontman. The 1980s were a decade in which several protest songs appeared by musicians and performers angry at what Thatcher was doing to the country. Now that the Coalition is intent on copying her, and even trying to outdo her in the harshness of their policies, I think it would be extremely good indeed if a few bands took up the cause and released a few tracks attacking Cameron, Clegg and the rest of them in their turn. This certainly does include following Dury in particular and savagely criticising the government for its policies towards the disabled, that have resulted in enormous, degrading poverty and despair, which has horrifically led some to end their lives.

‘Spasticus Autisticus’ is a song that should only really be performed by disabled people themselves, just to be absolutely clear that it’s the condition that’s being attacked, not the sufferers, and to avoid patronising them. Apart from this, I think the time is right for anyone, whether they’re disabled themselves, or have friends or relatives that are, to follow in Dury’s footsteps and release a track tackling the government for its vile policies towards the poor and disabled. If there are any bands out there doing so, please let me know, and I’ll be glad to publicise you here in my own small way. Especially if you’re performing in the Bristol, Gloucestershire, or Somerset are, or anywhere in Wales.

On a more cheerful note, one of Dury’s best-known songs was ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’. Here it is, also taken from Youtube.

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