A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

Various personal interests and public info, gesture, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Month: December 2006 Page 1 of 2

Red Sea groupers gesture to invite giant moray eels to hunt

It may be stereotyped, genetically programmed behaviour (as my friend GL felt obliged to point out), but the link my roomie Jenneke sent me is still the best case of gesturing fish I have seen (see earlier observations about the John Dory and the Octopus). In a spectacular study Redouan Bshary, Andrea Hohner, Karim Ait-el-Djoudi, and Hans Fricke show evidence of Interspecific Communicative and Coordinated Hunting between Groupers and Giant Moray Eels in the Red Sea. (PLoS Biology)

Say you organized a hunting party, how would you invite your friend the giant moray eel? (source)

Here are the video’s (PLoS Biology):

Video S1. A Grouper Shaking his Head to Invite a Moray Eel Resting in a Cave (1.1 MB WMV)
Video S2. Grouper and Moray Eel Swimming off Together after the Grouper Signalled (2.0 MB WMV)
Video S3. A Grouper Performing a Headstand Shaking of Its Head above the Hiding Place of a Prey That Escaped the Hunt (2.1 MB WMV)
Video S4. A Moray Approaches the Place Where the Grouper Performs Its Headstand Shaking (2.1 MB WMV)

At first sight it appears clear that here we have a gesturing fish. He shakes his head at a moray eel to invite him to hunt. He makes a movement to elicit a response. Does he intend to communicate? Here we face the only problem with calling the grouper’s behaviour gesturing. Can we ascribe intentions to a grouper, a fairly simple organism?

If you are a strict behaviorist and do not believe that the perception of intentionality should be studied at all, feel free to leave the room now. I am at the moment happy to accept human intentionality, and the same goes for apes, dolphins, dogs, and (why not) fish. In fact, in practice I even ascribe intentions to my computer, my car, and basically anything that moves or is suspiciously standing still 🙂

Don’t tell anyone though, I want to keep my freedom.

Reaction by Frans de Waal (PLoS): Fishy Cooperation
Report (Dutch) at Noorderlicht: Jacht op het Rif

Funding Post-PhD Research

So there I will be in about a year and a half: A PhD in my pocket, a few publications, a small network in academic circles. Then what? My brother-in-law JT is now a fairly succesfull young researcher in live stock genetic assessment (or something like that). He is working in Palermo together with his wife, after his studies in Wageningen.

J-T explained that if I want to become a scientist I basically have two options: (1) hire yourself out to someone who has money, most likely you get a post-doc position in some project, or (2) raise funding for your own research plans. Let me assume for a while that I do want to become a scientist, and not go back to the industry. Raising your own funds is the most attractive option.

It may not be the lazy route, but in the end, if you want to become a scientist you will have to start raising funds some day anyway. So why wait? Benefits of own funding are that you are more independent within a university, it improves your status and jumpstarts an academic career. In my imagination anyway. I do not know much about post-doc positions yet, so a better comparison will require some more input.

So, where can I get such funding? The most obvious financer I can think of is NWO. In a program to renew Dutch science they provide a Veni scholarship on a personal basis to freshly promoted researchers.

From their site: De Veni-subsidievorm biedt pas gepromoveerde onderzoekers de mogelijkheid om gedurende drie jaar hun ideeën verder te ontwikkelen. De subsidie bedraagt maximaal 208.000 euro. In 2007 zal 1 Veni-ronde plaatsvinden. De eerstvolgende deadline is 1 mei 2007. 

You can however only apply when you have finished your PhD (up to max 3 years after that), or if you can hand in proof that your manuscript has been accepted by the committee. If you have a technical subject there is a special procedure (an extra utilisation paragraph). Alternatives for a Veni scholarship?

Do not touch the Hall Object

Alea Iacta Est. I visited Hall Object, the gezellige robot, yesterday. My fears of disillusionment with technology came true, though the artist’s message was clearly well received by the occupants of the Vara/NPS offices. A kind gentleman introduced me to Hall Object and explained he was powering up the batteries at the moment. He confided that ‘Dibbes’ (one of the many nicknames for the cute rabbit with feelers) had not moved in the last two days. And he seemed often not to be functioning, in the sense of not moving or trying to break out of his confining rectangle and then stopping.

Could you restrain from stroking this cuddly stroller? source

The four people I spoke to seemed all to share a certain affection for Hall Object. He was clearly well liked. In the brochure the artist explained that this is what he intended to achieve through perceptions of vulnerability or helplessness.

Sadly enough, the supposed technological sensitivity of the machine had now led to a ban on touching Hall Object. I guess it will now be perceived as not only helpless, but lonely and neglected as well. All the more endearing…

ps. My kids came along as well. My eldest of 4 was a bit afraid of going to see a robot (would it stamp on her?) but was reassured by Hall Object. She continued by virtually ignoring it in favor of playing hide and seek with her brother. Both wanted to feel and pat the nice white rabbit, but were told not to. All in all, it did not interest them much.

Gesture and Speech Recognition RSI

Gesture and speech recognition often promise the world a better, more natural way of interacting with computers. Often speech recognition is sold as a solution for RSI stricken computer users. And, for example, prof. Duane Varana, of the Australasian CRC for Interaction Design (ACID) believes his “gesture recognition device [unlike a mouse] will accommodate natural gestures by the user without risking RSI or strain injury”.

Gesturing: A more natural interaction style? (source)

So, it is a fairly tragic side effect of these technologies that they create new risks of physical injury. Using speech recognition may give you voice strain, which some describe as a serious medical condition affecting the vocal chords and caused by improper or excessive use of the voice. Software coders who suffer RSI and switch to speech recognition to code are mentioned as a risk group for voice strain.

Using gesture recognition, or specifically the Nintendo Wii, may cause aching backs, sore shoulders and even a Wii elbow. It comes from prolonged playing of virtual tennis or bowling when gamers appear to actually use neglected muscles for exensive periods of time… In comparison, gamers have previously been known to develop a Nintendo thumb from thumbing a controller’s buttons. I can only say: the Wii concept is working out. It is a workout for users, and it works out commercially as well. I even saw an add on Dutch national TV just the other day. The Wii is going mainstream.

As far as injuries are concerned: If you bowl or play tennis in reality for 8 hours in a row, do you think you will stay free of injury? Just warm up, play sensibly and not the whole night. Nonsense advice for gamers, I know, but do not complain afterward. A collection of Wii injuries (some real, some imanginary):

www.wiihaveaproblem.com, devoted to Wii trouble.
What injuries do Wii risk?
Bloated Black Eye
Broken TVs, and a hand cut on broken lamp (YouTube, possibly faked).

For more background see also: The Boomer effect: accommodating both aging-related disabilities and computer-related injuries.

The ‘gezellige’ robot

There is a robot that I have fallen in love with. I never saw him but only read a story in a newspaper about him. That leaves me free to project my hopes and desires unto this unwitting machine. His name is Hall Object and, as a robot, it has no practical use whatsoever. Or does it? It makes an impressive but otherwise dull hall of a building more gezellig. My colleague Elif was was reminded of a rabbit called Nabaztag. But while the makers of the world’s first artificial, smart rabbit are doing everything they can to make sure that your Nabaztag is functional as well as cute, Hall Object’s sole purpose is to be in a good or bad mood and react (or not) to other people in the hall:

[Hall Object] can decide to be in an certain mood and act accordingly. When it picks up signals through its sensors – from people passing by for instance – it can come toward you, showing affection, or it can turn away or ignore you and keep to himself. 

Does he socialize more easily than me? (source)

Since the 26th of october Hall Object lives in the hall of the NPS/VARA-gebouw on the ediapark in Hilversum. It is a work of art by Studio Job. I think it illustrates the only real function robots and other AI gadgets have at the moment: a social function. We find them funny, amazing, or cuddly. We project emotions on them, or even attitudes or intentions. And Hall Object is the perfect object to project stuff on, because he is blanco. An empty thing, doing just enough to be noticed, and leaving spectators free to see and think what they want.

Let us link this to Robot Asimo, who applies gesture technology for social functioning: if you wave at him, he waves back (see video). It is simple but effective. A little bit of acknowledgement of our human existence immediately sparks our imagination: “If it can see that I am here, it may have an attitude toward me. He may be watching me. He might react to what I will do. He may not like it? etc. etc.”

Asimo responds to several gestures (source Plyojump.com) and events he picks up:

  • Asimo follows a person, then stops when when it hears a command and sees a hand gesture.
  • Asimov watches a person point to where it is supposed to go, confirms by speaking, and walks over.
  • Listening to two speakers, Asimov swivels its head to face the person who just spoke.
  • Encountering two moving people, Asimov stops walking to let them pass, then resumes walking.
  • Seeing two stationary people, Asimov walks around them to its destination.
  • When the person waves, Asimov waves back.
  • With two people speaking, Asimov only listens to the one it recognizes.

In my opinion, this is the only viable application of gesture recognition technology I can foresee for the near future, apart from some niche applications and motion sensing in gaming. If a robot catches my gestures and my speech (or even my emotions) it can start to live in the same world as I do. I will no longer have to sit down and enter his realm.

Frankly, now I am in doubt. Should I visit Hall Object or stay away? I live in Hilversum, so he is only a short bike ride away. But it seems I can only lose from this encounter. Will my wonderfull illusions of a gezellige robot survive the confrontation with an actual machine, with the many flaws it will inevitably display upon close inspection? I’ll keep you posted…

Paul Ekman on Recognition of Emotions

In a long interview in Dutch popular science journal Psychologie of today, Paul Ekman ends with the following statement: (source)

“Often people think I am a magician who can read minds. But I really can not do that. Just by paying attention really well, by being very secure, and by putting all the pieces of the puzzle [facial expression, head and eye movements, gestures, context, and story consistency] together I can make a statement about my strong impression about someone’s real motives. That’s all.”

I think that is a very fair and true statement from the founder discoverer of Mankind’s universal facial expression of emotions. There was also a test. I managed to score 7 out of 7 from pictures of a girl enacting basic emotions. And still I do not consider myself a good judge of other people’s emotional state.

As I am typing this, I wonder if my wife is cross with me over something I neglected to do… …She does seem to ignore me… But that might be because she is tired… or maybe she is simply concentrating on her movie… I tried to read her frowning face, But it’s simply too familiar I failed to catch her feelings there, perhaps she’ll fan them to me later?

Kofi Annan Gesture Collage

Kofi Annan has been the Secretary-General of the United Nations since 1997 and will stop at the end of this year. You can read about his accomplishements in his Bio or at Wikipedia.

What concerns me are of course his gestures. How does he gesture when he is talking, addressing a crowd, or attending a meeting?

One of his last speeches, December 10 in the UK.

It think I can safely say Mr. Annan is not a big gesturer. He seems very much in control of his gestures. In fact, his entire bearing, his speaking as well as his gesturing always appear thoughtful and studied, though not in a boring way. His most frequent gesture? Kofi Annan often folds his hands together, either with the fingers of two flat hands opposed or with the fingers intertwined (whenever he makes reference to ‘together’ I think).

One more thing: Over the years there have been countless headlines featuring ‘Kofi Annan’ and ‘gesture’. These were almost exclusively about him making ‘a gesture of goodwill’, ‘a gesture of confidence’, or ‘a gesture of support’. In other words, he often spoke words that were perceived by the general public as communicating more than just the literal meaning. People paid attention to the message and the attitude underlying his words and actions. In this sense he resembles the Pope.

Gesture and Speech Recognition RSI

Gesture and speech recognition often promise the world a better, more natural way of interacting with computers. Often speech recognition is sold as a solution for RSI stricken computer users. And, for example, prof. Duane Varana, of the Australasian CRC for Interaction Design (ACID) believes his “gesture recognition device [unlike a mouse] will accommodate natural gestures by the user without risking RSI or strain injury”.

Gesturing: A more natural interaction style? (source)

So, it is a fairly tragic side effect of these technologies that they create new risks of physical injury. Using speech recognition may give you voice strain, which some describe as a serious medical condition affecting the vocal chords and caused by improper or excessive use of the voice.

Software coders who suffer RSI and switch to speech recognition to code are mentioned as a risk group for voice strain. Using gesture recognition, or specifically the Nintendo Wii, may cause aching backs, sore shoulders and even a Wii elbow. It comes from prolonged playing of virtual tennis or bowling when gamers appear to actually use neglected muscles for exensive periods of time…

In comparison, gamers have previously been known to develop a Nintendo thumb from thumbing a controller’s buttons. I can only say: the Wii concept is working out. It is a workout for users, and it works out commercially as well. I even saw an add on Dutch national TV just the other day.

The Wii is going mainstream. As far as injuries are concerned: If you bowl or play tennis in reality for 8 hours in a row, do you think you will stay free of injury? Just warm up, play sensibly and not the whole night. Nonsense advice for gamers, I know, but do not complain afterward.

A collection of Wii injuries (some real, some imanginary): – www.wiihaveaproblem.com, devoted to Wii trouble. – What injuries do Wii risk? – Bloated Black EyeBroken TVs, and a hand cut on broken lamp (YouTube, possibly faked).

For more background see also: The Boomer effect: accommodating both aging-related disabilities and computer-related injuries.

Zach Randolph fined $133.333 for finger to fans

Yep, it’s another basketballer giving the finger to the crowd. One more for the collection of insulting gestures caught on camera. This one is recent though (news of December 10). Trail Blazers’ Zach Randolph fouled out and as he walked off the court, he made an “obscene gesture” toward fans behind the scorer’s table.

Is that enough for a $133,333 fine?

His club suspended him for one game-day without pay (equalling a fine of $133,333, or 1/90th of his annual salary of $12 million). Have you ever heard of a higher fine for the finger?

I do not have one in my collection of fines, but there have been jail sentences for gestures, but those are mostly for threatening gestures.

ps. Funny how American news sites never say he gave the finger, or flipped the bird. It is always a vague “obscene gesture”. As though writing it down amount to saying “Fuck You!” out loud.

Rita Verdonk Pouts her Lips

The lip-pout (see the Nonverbal Dictionary) is a near universal sign of sulkiness. In the Netherlands our minister Rita Verdonk was stripped from her responsibility for immigration (a topic on which she is a notorious hawk) after the elections brought about a leftish majority for a general pardon. During the press conference she displayed a nice example of pouting. Although I think it is mixed with lip-compression which is more anger-related. Perhaps she has trouble deciding whether she is angry or disappointed?

(sources: GeenStijlNonverbal Dictionary)

Many of the nonverbal cues in the dictionary of David B. Givens are explained in neurological terms, and tied to emotional states. That gives them a halo of uncontrollability and universality. I am not too sure about that. I think we can definitely pout or purse or lips whenever we want to as an intentional display of feelings (that we may or may not actually have). In that case it is a gesture. Whether we can stop our lips from pouting when we are disappointed is another matter, but I would be surprised if we couldn’t. In that sense, not pouting or sulking when we are disappointed can be a gesture as well. If Rita would not pout it would be a gesture of statesmanship. A sign that she can function as a minister, disregarding her personal opinions on matters and carrying out democratic policies. But then again, she may actually wish to display this angry pouting hoping to generate sympathy. Perhaps she is working the crowds for the next elections?

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