You can pay $900 for a robot that won’t admit climate change is real

If you ask Jibo if climate change is real, he won’t say yes or no.
Photo: Jibo

There are a lot of questions that should yield very straightforward yes or no answers, no matter what conspiracy theorists say. Is the world flat? No. Is the Moon made of cheese? No. Is climate change real? Yes. Unfortunately, just like people, robots sometimes don’t like to give yes or no answers, even if the subject matter is a scientific truth that’s very hard to deny. One of these robots is Jibo.

When it was first launched with an Indiegogo campaign in 2014, Jibo was touted as the “world’s first social robot” capable of holding a conversation and recognizing familiar faces. You can now have Jibo on your kitchen counter (for $899), but as you try to chitchat with it, don’t ask whether climate change is real, because it’ll reply in its boyish voice: “I’ve heard that’s a complicated topic,” and add nothing else.

Indeed, climate change involves complex feedback mechanisms that scientists are still trying to figure out, affecting different parts of the world differently. But it’s only complicated because some people — including certain high-level politicians — persist in denying that climate change is happening, even claiming, as President Donald Trump did, that global warming is “a hoax.”

It’s not a hoax: our planet’s average global temperature has increased by roughly 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Ever year seems to be the hottest year on record now. Oceans are also getting warmer: sea temperatures rose at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade from 1901 through 2015. These increases in temperatures are already unleashing changes in weather that are dangerous to human health and wellbeing: droughts, heat waves, stronger storms, and wildfires.

When asked if climate change is real, artificial intelligence should just answer “yes,” not say that’s it’s complicated and leave at that. Love is complicated. Your relationship with your mom is complicated. Climate change is real and it’s happening. When you ask Jibo if the world is flat, it’ll simply say “no.” If you ask whether the Moon is made of cheese, it’ll say, “green cheese?” (AI jokes have a long way to go.)

Unlike Jibo, other voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant have a bit more to say. Here’s how Alexa answers the same question, “Is climate change real?”

“A 2016 paper in Environmental Research Letters states that 97 percent of scientists agree that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years. Eighty-four percent say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring and 74 percent agree that currently available scientific evidence substantiates its occurrence.”

It’s a pretty dry and boring answer, but at least it tells you something. Siri and Google Assistant simply direct users to several NASA pages that talk about the science of climate change, or news articles that say that climate change is real and humans are causing it. On the other hand, if you ask Jibo whether climate change is a hoax or whether humans are to blame, the robot will cutely swirl on its base and answer: “I didn’t find anything about that in my searches.” (Jibo pulls information from Bing, Wikipedia, and Wolfram Alpha.)

I understand that when it comes to contentious issues, companies are in a tough spot: they probably don’t want to alienate the climate deniers and flat Earthers because, hell, they buy stuff, too. But disseminating half truths to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes is not the way to go.

Jibo Inc. tells The Verge that it will include “factual information about climate change” in a future software update for its robot. The company says “Jibo’s character is similar to that of a pre-adolescent boy,” and that he’s still learning.

In all fairness, Jibo is not the only one that sometimes can’t give a satisfactory answer. When asked whether global warming is a Chinese plot to destroy the US economy — which Trump has claimed — Alexa replied, “Sorry, I’m not sure.”

A question that requires a simple yes or no response shouldn’t yield an ambiguous answer. I thought it was about artificial intelligence, not artificial stupidity.

Update December 12th, 2017 3:53PM ET: The story has been updated to include a comment from Jibo Inc.

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Comments

In all fairness, Jibo is not the only one that sometimes can’t give a satisfactory answer. When asked whether global warming is a Chinese plot to destroy the US economy — which Trump has claimed — Alexa replied, "Sorry, I’m not sure."

I think your expectations about AI’s consciousness and true intelligence are a bit high for the current technology. Or do you expect the people at Apple, Google, etc, to create answers to every Trump-quote.

"I think your expectations about AI’s consciousness"

There is no such thing as "AI consciousness".

Thats why I said her expectations of current AI whas a bit too high.

I’m not even sure that Alexa’s answer is satisfactory.

"A 2016 paper in Environmental Research Letters states that 97 percent of scientists agree that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years. Eighty-four percent say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring and 74 percent agree that currently available scientific evidence substantiates its occurrence."

Let’s take a look at the source material:

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002

The 97% value understates that 96.7% of scientists not only believe that (1) "When compared with pre-1800’s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen…" but they also say in the affirmative that (2) "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?"

Suggesting that only "74 percent agree that currently available scientific evidence substantiates its occurrence" is troubling, because there’s nowhere in the entire publication that actually demonstrates that. The closest is the Stenhouse study of American Meterological Society members where "78% agreed that the cause of global warming over the past 150 years was mostly human, with an additional 10% (for a total of 88%) indicating the warming was caused equally by human activities and natural causes. An additional 6% answered ‘I do not believe we know enough to determine the degree of human causation.’" The authors clearly subtracted that 6% value from the 78% to get a rounded 73% that they used in their summary table.

However, even that 73% value that included a lot of very cautious language was the sampling from the entire membership. For those who’s expertise was specifically climate science, and those who actually publish papers, the number leapt up to 93%!

In fact, in every single study, as the level of expertise and in-depth knowledge of the subject increases, so does the confidence in human-caused climate change. In the "more knowledgeable" category, the very lowest confidence interval was 83.5%, and the average value was well over 90%.

The single greatest indicator of whether you believe climate change is real seems to be that you study climate science!

"Eliminating less published scientists from both these samples resulted in consensus values of 90% and 97%–98% for Verheggen et al (2014) and Anderegg et al (2010), respectively. Tol’s (2016) conflation of unrepresentative non-expert sub-samples and samples of climate experts is a misrepresentation of the results of previous studies, including those published by a number of coauthors of this paper."

Anyway, I totally agree with the thesis of this article, but I think that even pointing to Alexa’s answer as a more complete picture does a disservice to the real scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change.

It is an overwhelming consensus.

Fortunately, science is not determined by taking a poll of opinions. It doesn’t matter if 99% of whoever thinks something is causing something else, it means squat to reality, and they could still be wrong. Only an actual experiment or correctly predicting something can explain/support the hypothesis.

"If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong." – Feynman.

Where are the experiments or correct predictions?

Where are the experiments or correct predictions?

In the thousands of published papers written by the thousands of scientists who are part of the 97% consensus.

"thousands" is meaningless if none of them are actual experiments or correct predictions.

Please list one ACTUAL EXPERIMENT from the ‘thousands’ and then we can talk. Otherwise you are still hiding behind consensus logic…which is unscientific.

Would you even be able to understand the abstract on a peer-reviewed publication on climate change? What would listing it help?

Stop distracting. List it.

Sorry to reply so late but if you wanted some raw data here is some http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/
Trying to gauge the average temperature is a terrible way to try and measure global warming. The temperature of a glass of ice water doesn’t change much, but you can see over time that the ice is melting. Similarly our polar ice caps are slowly diminishing. This is the easiest way to see climate change is an issue. Also there has been an increase in average sea levels due to the caps melting. It’s barely noticeable, but think just how much water it would take to get the sea levels to rise just one inch. There is plenty of information available that shows climate change is indeed happening and global warming is a real thing, but the average person will choose to deny it exists because that’s just far easier.

Thanks for the data, there is plenty of NSIDC data and facts listed here for your reference. I don’t disagree that climate change is happening, and global warming could be a real thing. But, polar ice caps come and go, naturally. Where is the proof that using fossil fuels is causing them to melt? I have yet to see anyone post a convincing argument for this. A ‘consensus’ is not something that supports a scientific fact, it only supports what we should do about the facts, regardless of what the facts are. So, let’s stick to the facts.

NSIDC ‘raw data’ is not the same thing as an experiment. We are talking about how science is done and how you prove something. Please list an actual experiment. I have asked 3 times now, and all people have done is try to deflect.

List an experiment that shows something tangible.

Fortunately, science is not determined by taking a poll of opinions.

Ah no science is what each of those experts did before taking a poll. The poll is just a means of public communication.
If 9/10 doctors determined you had cancer, and 1/10 said it’s just your feng shui was out of wack…who would you believe?
Neither of course, you would just look at the evidence and decide for yourself. Anyone can be an expert.

It doesn’t matter if 99% of whoever

But…are experts in a field the same as "whoever"?
Like are there any other experts you would disagree with in their field?
Maybe mechanics? 9/10 say your radiator is stuffed and you say bs?
What about your computer? 9/10 IT experts say your MOBO has fried and you say, where’s the experiments to confirm this!?

Where are the experiments or correct predictions?

Oh my, I just did a google search for peer reviewed climate change articles and I also couldn’t find any. Definitely a hoax.

The poll is just a means of public communication.

But, that’s not how you are using it. It’s being used as a means to communicate that if you don’t believe in a consensus, then you are a ‘denier’.

If 9/10 doctors said (in 1998) that you will be dead from cancer the following year, and it’s now 2017 and you are still being told you will be dead next year…would still believe those doctors?

The mechanics and IT experts will have something that the climate scientists don’t have..evidence! Here’s your broken radiator. Here’s your blown MOBO.

Where is your evidence that the climate is broken??

Thank god. I don’t wanna pay 900 bucks for a robot who thinks like a hipster writing in your macbook air while drinking Frappuccino in a mission to save the world from Trump.

Don’t worry, just crawl back into your troll cave and the snowflakes can’t get you

thinks like a hipster writing in your macbook air

Or like, a scientist with a PhD, whose work is reviewed by equally qualified peers and who has years of experience. Scientists and hipsters R dum.

That’s funny, because I don’t want to purchase a $900 robot that sounds like a Trump supporter.

But why wouldn’t you want to make your living room great again?

Especially when I can call my local Republican representative for free to say the same thing.

"97 percent of scientists agree"

Why would I care what a chemical engineer or a microbiologist thinks about climate change?

Fortunately, it’s the chemical engineers and geologists who are the only ones that are uncertain about climate change. Probably because they know they don’t understand it.

The higher the level of expertise in climate and atmospheric science, the higher the confidence and consensus in anthropogenic climate change. That’s the conclusion in every meta analysis that’s ever been performed.

Fortunately, it’s the chemical engineers and geologists who are the only ones that are uncertain about climate change. Probably because they know they don’t understand it.

I am sorry but if anyone understands climate change its a geologist. Part of a geologist’s job is knowing what conditions on the Earth were like in the past. One thing that every geologist knows is that climate plays a huge role in forming the depositional environments for sediments(especially chemical sediments like carbonates), and that tectonic processes also dictate the climate. As a result, a good geologist should know the climate and atmospheric content of every single epoch in earth’s history, and the processes that lead to those conditions. By virtue of knowing that, a good geologist also knows every major transgressive and regressive sea-level change that has taken place through time, as well as all the flora and fauna that were around to experience them.

Understanding climate science is key to a geologist understanding what took place in the past (particularly sedimentologists).Understanding the past then helps us to make predictions for the future.

-Geologist

But that has little to do with the human-caused warming. It’s no longer just about the natural factors that changed the climate for the rest of the history.

It has everything to do with human caused warming. How can one make that assertion without first knowing how the climate behaves normally without humans? The basic crux of anthropogenic climate change is laying out the variables for background level climate change and then plugging in the ones that involve human influence to see if there is in any diversion from the norm.

And the fact is, the OP implied that a geologist would know nothing about climate science which is completely false. Geology is an environmental science that involves learning all the facets of the processes that take place on this planet.

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