WhatsApp has temporarily suspended giving parent company Facebook information about users in Europe for ad targeting, responding to concerns there over privacy, a source close to the matter said Tuesday. Conversations with officials in Europe over the past few months resulted in the social network deciding to only tapping into WhatsApp user data there for purposes such as fighting spam, according to the source. The break was described as an effort to give regulators time to share privacy concerns and for Facebook to consider ways to address them. German data protection authorities in September cited privacy concerns when they blocked Facebook from collecting subscriber data from WhatsApp there. "It has to be (the users') decision whether they want to connect their account with Facebook," Hamburg's Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information Johannes Caspar said at the time.
One of the trademarks that distinguishes robots from humans is the ability to reproduce. This dividing between man and machine just got blurrier. Researchers in Amsterdam have created robots that can mate and spawn offspring through a process similar to human reproduction. Robots have created quite a stir in the media recently, as more and more machines take on human tasks. Some estimates suggest automation could take over half of the work force.
Once considered the subject of our imagination, best left in the realm of science fiction, robots are now a growing technology that is rapidly changing our world. We have become accustomed to seeing them on our TV screens in cartoons such as The Jetsons (1962-1988) or in films such as Big Hero 6 (2014), Elysium (2013) or Robot and Frank (2012). Whether they are helping surgeons with keyhole surgery, manufacturing medicine or assisting the elderly, it is clear that robots have left the realm of science fiction and are a reality that may soon be coming to a home or health facility near us. There are clear benefits to using robots as seen by countries such as Japan where robots now help care for its ageing population. Biocentre and other sources have suggested that robots could help meet practical care needs, provide round-the-clock monitoring and support for patients and much needed respite for caregivers, and even provide a form of basic companionship for people with no supportive network either from the death of loved ones, family breakdown or changing social/family patterns.
Isaac Asimov gave us the basic rules of good robot behaviour: don't harm humans, obey orders and protect yourself. Now the British Standards Institute has issued a more official version aimed at helping designers create ethically sound robots. The document, BS8611 Robots and robotic devices, is written in the dry language of a health and safety manual, but the undesirable scenarios it highlights could be taken directly from fiction. Robot deception, robot addiction and the possibility of self-learning systems exceeding their remits are all noted as hazards that manufacturers should consider. Welcoming the guidelines at the Social Robotics and AI conference in Oxford, Alan Winfield, a professor of robotics at the University of the West of England, said they represented "the first step towards embedding ethical values into robotics and AI".
The European Union is currently considering the need to redefine the legal status of robots, with a draft report last week suggesting that autonomous bots might, in the future, be granted the status of "electronic persons" -- a legal definition that confers certain "rights and obligations." It sounds like science fiction and that's because it is: any engineer will tell you we're a long way from seeing robot marches for civil rights. For a start, this is only a draft report. It's not actual legislation, and is only a series of recommendations for the EU's law-making body -- they could always ignore it completely. And although parts of the report are a bit odd (Frankenstein's monster, the Greek myth of Pygmalion, and the Golem of Prague are all referenced in the first paragraph alone), at its core it's interested in the rights of people, not the rights of robots.