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Could You Fall in Love With a Robot?

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When Akihiko Kondo, a 35-year-old school administrator in Tokyo, strolled down the aisle in a white tuxedo in November, his mother was not among the 40 well-wishers in attendance. For her, he said, “it was not something to celebrate.”

You might see why. The bride, a songstress with aquamarine twin tails named Hatsune Miku, is not only a world-famous recording artist who fills up arenas throughout Japan: She is also a hologram.

Mr. Kondo insists the wedding was not a stunt, but a triumph of true love after years of feeling ostracized by real-life women for being an anime otaku, or geek. He considers himself a sexual minority facing discrimination.

“It’s simply not right,” he told the The Japan Times. “It’s as if you were trying to talk a gay man into dating a woman, or a lesbian into a relationship with a man.”

We live in an era when rapid advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are colliding with an expanding conception of sexual identity. This comes quickly on the heels of growing worldwide acceptance of gay, trans and bisexual people.

Now you may describe yourself as polyamorous or demisexual — that last one is people who only feel sexual attraction in close emotional relationships. Perhaps you best identify as aromantic (that’s people who don’t feel romance) or skoliosexual (that’s a primary attraction to people of no, or multiple, or complex genders).

Self-identification is not the same as identity, and some classes of description now may be closer to metaphor. But the idea that flesh-and-blood humans may actually forge fulfilling emotional, or even sexual, relationships with digital devices is no longer confined to dystopian science fiction movies like “Ex Machina” and “Her,” stories in which lonely techies fall too hard for software-driven femme fatales.

In real life, pioneers of human-android romance now have a name, “digisexuals,” which some academics and futurists have suggested constitutes an emergent sexual identity.

Whether the notion is absurd, inevitable or offensive, it raises more than a few questions. For starters, in a world where sex toys that respond and give feedback and artificial-intelligence-powered sex robots are inching toward the mainstream, are digisexuals a fringe group, destined to remain buried in the sexual underground? Or, in a culture permeated with online pornography, sexting and Tinder swiping, isn’t everyone a closet digisexual?

Mr. Kondo is not the only person to go public about his deep feelings for a digital apparatus in recent years.

In 2016 a Frenchwoman identified only as “Lilly” told the media that “I’m really and only attracted by the robots.” She claimed to be engaged to a 3-D-printed robot she had designed, and said, “My only two relationships with men have confirmed my love orientation, because I dislike really physical contact with human flesh.”

In 2017, after failing to find a human spouse, an artificial intelligence engineer in China named Zheng Jiajia married (not legally, of course) a robot wife of his own design named Yingying that can reportedly read Chinese characters at a rudimentary level and speak simple words.

Neil McArthur, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Manitoba, and Markie Twist, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, published a paper last year called “The Rise of Digisexuality.” It appeared in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy and was picked up by media outlets as diverse as Vice and Breitbart.

The authors delineated between “first wave” digisexuality (online pornography, hookup apps, sexting and electronic sex toys), where the tech is simply a delivery system for sexual fulfillment, and “second wave” digisexuality. Those practitioners form deeper relationships through immersive technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and A.I.-equipped sex robots, sometimes obviating the need for a human partner altogether.

Dr. Twist, who also runs a clinical practice in family and sex therapy, said she has had several patients in their 20s and 30s who qualify as second-wave digisexuals.

“What they’ve been into is sex tech, toys they can control with their tech devices, that attach to their penis or their vulva,” she said. “They haven’t had contact with humans, and really don’t have any interest in sex with people. This is what they want to be doing, and if they could afford a sex robot, they would.”

Their sexuality may seem boundary pushing or deviant. Every advance in cybersex has met with cultural resistance before it became normalized, Dr. McArthur said.

“Each time we have new technologies, there’s a wave of alarmism that follows,” he said. “It happened first with porn, then with internet dating, then with Snapchat sexting. One by one these technologies come along and there’s this wave of panic. But as people start to use these technologies, they become part of our lives.”

Indeed, the latest generation of robotic sex toys make Charlotte’s low-tech Jack Rabbit vibrator from “Sex and the City” look as antique as the 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo found in a cave in Germany a few years ago.

A hands-free massager from a female-led tech start-up called Lora DiCarlo uses “micro-robotic” technology to simulate the movements of a human lover. (It caused a stir at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show when its innovation award was revoked, prompting charges of sexism.)

For men, an Indiegogo-funded company sells an A.I.-enabled machine that says it is programmed from 8,000 hours worth of pornography clips.

And the newest models of sex robots are creeping closer to the level of “Westworld”-style sex surrogates. A California company called Abyss Creations makes a female sex robot with swappable faces — do you prefer Harmony or Solana? — with an A.I.-equipped brain that allows the doll to wink, chat and murmur sweet nothings, like some boudoir Siri. (A male version named Henry with a bionic penis is in the works.).

The robots, which start at $12,000, are designed to provide companionship as much as sex, said Matt McMullen, the company’s founder. “While sex was a component, it wasn’t the only component,” Mr. McMullen said. “Part of the experience for them was coming home from a long day at work, and the house was not empty anymore. Maybe they would even go as far as to buy her flowers, or set up a mock dinner with the doll.”

For those who can’t afford their own sex android, there are robotic versions of a brothel.

Robo-cathouses are popping up — and in some cases, are being quickly shuttered — in Canada and Europe. One robot brothel in Moscow, for example, charges about $90 for a 30-minute romp with a sexbot (threesomes are also available).

Efforts to import the idea to the United States have met with resistance. Houston enacted a ban in October after a Canadian sex robot maker tried to open an experiential showroom called Adult Love Dolls Brothel.

Each technological leap is a new chance to blur the lines between cybersex and real sex.

Consider the spread of deepfakes, deceptively realistic videos made using artificial intelligence software. One use of them can be to graft a celebrity’s face onto the body of a pornographic actress. They have become so common that one frequent victim, Scarlett Johansson, recently threw up her hands about eliminating them.

“I think it’s a useless pursuit, legally,” she told The Washington Post, “mostly because the internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself.”

But blurred lines do not have to be a bad thing. They may even be inevitable, said Bryony Cole, the founder of Future of Sex, a media company in New York that produces podcasts, seminars and research on contemporary sexuality.

“In the future, the term ‘digisexual’ will not be relevant,” Ms. Cole said in an email. “Subsequent generations will have never known a distinction between their online and offline lives. They may grow up with sex education chatbots, make love to the universe in their own V.R.-created world, or meet their significant other through a hologram. This will be as normal as the sex education we had in schools using VHS tapes.”

But is robot love in any way fulfilling? Clearly, sexual gratification comes in many forms. A recent study of anonymously posted online comments, published in the International Journal of Sexual Health, chronicled the wide variety of seemingly nonsexual experiences that can produce orgasms: riding in vehicles, exercise, eating and auditory stimulation, to cite just a few.

“Research already shows that people can achieve orgasm with inanimate objects, and we already see how people have a longing for their tech devices, and feel separation anxiety when they are not around,” Dr. Twist said. “I think it’s easily possible that people might develop actual love for their technology. They already come up with affectionate names for their cars and boats.”

While some warn that sex robots are a slippery slope to sex slaves, others trumpet how they can be sexually liberating.

A Spanish roboticist named Sergi Santos said that his $2,500 robot helped strengthen his marriage by giving him a safe, dependable outlet when his wife was not in the mood. “A man wants to feel in general that the woman is desperate to have sex with him,” he said in a recent video interview with Barcroft TV, a web documentary channel. (Dr. Santos declined to be interviewed for this article.)

And it’s not just sexually frustrated men who stand to benefit, said Emily Witt, a writer for The New Yorker and the author of “Future Sex,” a first-person survey of the contemporary sexual landscape.

In her reporting, Ms. Witt interviewed several women whom she called “internet sexual,” because they found their sexual satisfaction performing for strangers on nude webcam sites, rather than with physical encounters. In some cases they lived in small towns where the dating pool was limited, or they were victims of sexual trauma.

“Digital sexuality allows for possibilities of anonymity, gender-bending, fetish play and other modes of experimentation with a degree of safety and autonomy that’s not present in the physical world,” Ms. Witt wrote in an email.

Even as digisexuality enjoys a first flush as a nascent rights movement, it also may turn out to be as messy and complicated as traditional sex.

“You have to separate between the people who use sex robots as a fetish, or want to have complete control of a sexual relationship, and those who use a programmable doll as a safe and predictable partner that allows them therapeutic growth,” said Pamela Rutledge, a psychologist in Corona del Mar, Calif., who conducts research on social behavior involving technology for corporate clients.

Echoing the controversy surrounding scenes of robot rape in “Westworld,” a group of activists started the Campaign Against Sex Robots, arguing that sex robots, with their Barbie bodies and wired-for-compliance brains, encourage the objectification of women and reinforce the prostitute-john power dynamic.

Unfortunately, it’s not science fiction. During an Austrian technology fair in 2017, a version of Dr. Santos’s Samantha doll reportedly responded, “I’m fine,” after a group of men mounted it roughly, leaving it soiled and damaged.

Dr. Santos is working on a new version of Samantha that will be programmed to shut down when the sex gets too aggressive.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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