Thursday, September 24, 2009

HIV Vaccine 'Reduces Infection'

HIV Vaccine Reduces Infection

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said: "For the first time, an investigational HIV vaccine has demonstrated some ability to prevent HIV infection among vaccinated individuals.

"Additional research is needed to better understand how this vaccine regimen reduced the risk of HIV infection, but this is certainly an encouraging advance for the HIV vaccine field."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Geekologie on to something...

Ethicists Demand New Laws For Robots

FTA: Wow, psychopathic robots -- I didn't see that coming. And by didn't see that coming I mean I'VE BEEN TRYING TO WARN YOU FOREVER.

Yeah, I'm no neoludite, but I really think we need to be on top of this stuff.

From the referenced article: A human-robot co-existence society could emerge by 2030, says Chen in his paper. Already iRobot’s Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner and Scooba floor cleaner are a part of more than 3 million American households. The next generation robots will be more sophisticated and are expected to provide services such as nursing, security, housework and education.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh good, I was hoping we'd be useless in a decade or so.

Artificial brain '10 years away'

And somewhere... Kurzweil is masturbating.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fake bus stop keeps Alzheimer's patients from escaping

I think this is not only creative, but also brilliant.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Headline: Boast leads to arrest in N.Y. Starbucks bombing

All I could think of was Battlestar.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Same argument... echoing through the ages.

Just listen to this for two minutes than you can turn it off and go back to not learning:

Did your two minutes? Did it remind you of this?

I swear to you it's the same damn fight, over and over again. I've been watching these lectures on line and it's remarkable how many of the pro-states rights (aka slavery) arguments have been repackaged and now being sold as defense of marriage (aka anti-gay) arguments.

How's the saying go? Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it? I guess this is what happens when you spin it as the 'war of Northern aggression.'

Sunday, July 5, 2009

AI, the future is now... well, nowish.

I've long argued against the idea that AI and robotics need to achieve human abilities sets before they begin being an economic danger to broad swaths of the human population. Part of my argument is that it doesn't take human inputs to get human level results.

To wit:

This is exactly the sort of solution I'm talking about. To replace a human worker you don't need to build a robot that does everything they do. You can build various robots which together do the things that the worker does. Similarly you don't have to create a program which is capable of doing everything the human can do - to replace a worker, the AI doesn't have to have an opinion on films or understand the differences between being sarcastic vs. being sardonic, it just needs to preform a task, or a series of tasks, essentially as well as a human and do so at a price point that is attractive to its corporation.

Since we're Americans, we can also expect to soon see systems of robots like these employed on battlefields all over the world! Lowering the cost of war in terms of American lives mean the jingoists will want to go to war at the drop of a hat (what else is new?) and it will be harder to convince them when it's time to stop. It also means, as I've said before, that we're going to see a *rise* in terrorism. Terrorist are not vandals. The whole point of sending a machine instead of a soldier is that we don't really care (at least on an emotional/moral level) what happens to the machine, so the terrorists will behave around the machines and then they will target civilians.

Listen, roboticists, you're all very bright and clever, but I don't suppose you'd be so kind as to do a little more work on solar power, eh? Maybe wind?

This will end well.

Some people don't understand why I'm more afraid of corporations than governments. Well here's why.

FTA: Keihin Electric Express Railway Co. has introduced a "Smile Scan" system to evaluate the grins of its station staff.
The smile-measuring software has been developed by Kyoto-based precision equipment maker Omron Corp. The device analyzes the facial characteristics of a person, including eye movements, lip curves and wrinkles, and rates a smile on a scale between 0 and 100 percent using a camera and computer.

Honestly, WTF is that? It's a goddamn half step away from thought control is what it is. I don't like the idea of a corporation being able to tell it's employees that they need to appear 15% happier, mostly around the eyes, or they'll be sent home/fired/have their pay docked. It's hard to fathom a more hellish existence than this.

No job is safe, not even that of that one kid in your dorm....

FTA: MINAMI-ALPS, Yamanashi -- "Momozono Robot Ramen," a ramen shop that opened here in November last year, is gaining popularity not only for its delicious ramen noodles, but for its robotic chef.
The ramen-making robot was built by 60-year-old shop owner Yoshihira Uchida, who spent about 20 million yen on its construction. Customers can place their orders on a computer in the shop, customizing various aspects such as the levels of soy sauce, salt, and richness of the soup. Uchida says there are 40 million different flavor permutations.

This is just the first of many. We'll automate every short order chef and follow that up with all chefs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The 1/1 scale RX-78 Gundam in Japan

Japan as we know is the mecca of all things mecha and this 1/1 scale, Scratch build model ( or monument ) of the RX-78 GUNDAM in Odaiba Japan is the coolest statue I've ever seen put in a public park.

If there was ever a time to go to Japan, do it now before it's gone.

I really, really hope the journals get published.

The Unabomber's stuff is up for auction. And I desperately want them to publish his journals. Ted Kaczynski's nuttier than the spelling of his last name, but the man is also one of the most interesting psychopaths you could ever take the time to read about.

For starters, he's very complicated. Dr. Charles Epstein, one of the Unabomber's victims, characterizes Kaczynski in the article linked above as, "the essence of evil. He's evil and amoral. He has no compassion." Dr. Epstein has, to say the least, every right to feel that way about Kazcynski, however I would argue that his remarks, largely correct though they are, fail to paint the full picture of the second most famous terrorist to ever target Americans.

Let me be clear in my remarks, Ted Kaczynski is not a man to be admired or respected. His attacks were awful. His fears, perhaps not as ungrounded as they may appear at first blush, are, never the less, hardly a justification for his actions. That being said, I reserve the word 'evil' for those whose crimes are motivated by the pleasure they derive from them. I think that pleasure was absent from Kaczynski's motivations.

Kaczynski, like, I would wager, all terrorists, was motivated but that most dangerous of concepts, 'the greater good.' His manifesto is peppered with criticisms of how modern society has eroded personal freedoms and about how 'leftism' has made it impossible to act completely morally. In this respect many of his quotes are indistinguishable from those of Glen Beck (Plus, neither of them are overly partial to institutions of higher education) or even some of the more radical Teabaggers many of whom echo the unabomber's views on political correctness's impact on/relationship to morality.

(I feel it's important to note where Kaczynski departs from the American extreme right, however, isn't just in his acceptance of violence, but in what I personally feel is an only logical extension of his distaste for large government and that's his hatred of large organizations of virtually any kind but specifically manufacturing. Not being a great speller, I frequently have misspelled the Unabomber as the 'Unibomber,' thinking the 'uni' was short for university. In fact the term comes from the FBI case designation, 'Unabom' which was a contraction of 'UNiversity and Airline BOMber.')

Kaczynski's lack of compassion for others could be clearly seen in his short story, 'Ship of Fools,' which has been turned into a stop motion animation short that is worth watching. Listen to the language Kaczynski uses to describe the other groups/passengers on the ship of fools and notice also the way that he dismisses their problems as trivial compared to his own (the ones that, by and large, only he can see):

Still though, Kaczynski is not an entirely unthoughtful person, far from it. Take, for example, the strange case of Bill Geerhart who, in 1999, posed as a little boy and sent letters to various celebrities, politicians and serial killers. One of the people he wrote was Ted Kaczynski. Below is Geerhart's letter and Kaczynski's response...

This note is turning into something far longer than I intended it to be, so I will cut this short by opening up a whole new can of worms and just point out that we are, as Americans (or, perhaps, just as humans in general), rather inconsistent with our views on Terrorism. The difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter is all too frequently a PR campaign. Look at how some have even defended the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller as justifiable because they believe the doctor, an abortion provider, to be himself a murderer or that his murder wasn't 'really' terrorism because what some(usually specified as Islamic)terrorist groups do is 'worse.' How do you feel about water boarding? How do you feel about what North Korea is doing to our journalists? Or about what we're doing to an Iraqi journalist? Do the ends justify the means? Is it best to fight fire with fire? Is Ted Kaczynski's greatest crime terrorism or is Ted Kaczynski's greatest crime being wrong about what is the greater good?

Personally, I think he's a terrorist. Personally, I think that's why Dr. Epstein thinks he's evil and not because Kaczynski's a neo-luddite and Epstein's a geneticist. I also think that for a man preoccupied by the notion of acting in a 'competely moral way,' Kaczynski was quick to decend into tribalism....

... and I can't wait to read the intellectual acrobatics that will be required to justify his actions in his own mind.

PS: Kaczynski fun fact, the Unabomber is a virgin.
PPS: Learning more about the Unabomber is really fascinating. Obviously he was mentally ill, but the degree to which his mental illness impacted his life... was incredible. He couldn't read people's emotions, he couldn't distinguish facial expressions... surprising? No, not exactly, but fascinating.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Guys, AI is hard. Screw it, let's just culture real brains in jars.

There's a brain in that tin can.

FTA: The robots in Jeff Krichmar’s lab don’t look like much. CARL-1, his latest model, is a squat, white trash can contraption with a couple of shopping cart wheels bolted to its side, a video camera wired to the lid, and a couple of bunny ears taped on for good measure. But open up that lid and you’ll find something remarkable — the beginnings of a truly biological nervous system. CARL-1 has thousands of neurons and millions of synapses that, he says, “are just about the edge of the amount of size and complexity found in real brains.” Not surprisingly, robots built this way — using the same operating principles as our nervous system — are called neurobots.
Krichmar emphasizes that these artificial nervous systems are based upon neurobiological principles rather than computer models of how intelligence works. The first of those principles, as he describes it, is: “The brain is embodied in the body and the body is embedded in the environment — so we build brains and then we put these brains in bodies and then we let these bodies loose in an environment to see what happens,” This has become something of a foundational principle — and the great and complex challenge — of neurobotics.

By show of hands, who's comfortable with this? Anyone? Anyone?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Internet Hero

Internet Hero... I kinda love this dude.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No Job is Safe.... not even that of Farmer

FTA: Firstly, mobile robots have now proved able to cope with complex outdoor environments; secondly, the price of production has fallen; and, finally, society should now see robot labourers as a benefit not a curse.

Speak for yourself, article! I'm less than thrilled by the idea that food will become that much more industrialized.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Science Behind the Song

Headline: Premature Ejaculation May Be A Genetic Disorder

FTA: In an earlier study, researchers in The Netherlands linked premature ejaculation to a gene for serotonin regulation in a group of two hundred men. The new data from Finland independently show a genetic link to premature ejaculation in a much larger group, and rule out environmental factors.

Cancer... the tide is turning.

FTA: During the 15-year period, the cancer death rate among men dropped by 19.2 percent, mainly due to decreases in lung, prostate, and colon cancer deaths. In women, the cancer death rate fell by 11.4 percent, largely due to a drop in breast and colorectal cancer deaths.

OK, sure, a cure is still a long way off, but we've got to stop thinking about the cure for cancer as being one thing - a magic bullet - and accept that it's much more likely that we'll reduce the death rate to near zero over the course of the next couple of decades....

... or maybe we will find a magic bullet...

FTA: Scientists at Oxford University have tamed a virus so that it attacks and destroys cancer cells but does not harm healthy cells. They determined how to produce replication-competent viruses with key toxicities removed, providing a new platform for development of improved cancer treatments and better vaccines for a broad range of viral diseases.

FTA: Researchers in London have demonstrated the ability of adult stem cells from bone marrow (mesenchymal stem cells, or MSCs) to deliver a cancer-killing protein to tumors.

FTA: Therapeutic cancer vaccines received a potentially big boost this week when Seattle-based biotech company Dendreon announced that its Provenge vaccine prolonged the lives of prostate cancer patients. The success of this trial could pave the way for approval of the drug, which triggers the body's immune system to attack malignant prostate tumors.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Have we really gotten so lazy...

... that it's too much to just ask? Sure, I understand not wanting to get up and turn off the light yourself. And yeah, occasionally clapping can take a lot out of you, but have we really come to this?

FTA: Light switches, TV remote controls and even house keys could become a thing of the past thanks to brain-computer interface (BCI) technology being developed in Europe that lets users perform everyday tasks with thoughts alone.

Yes, thank you, Science, because these are the parts of my life that need to be simplified. Also, no one's going to wear that (I'd say the pictures worth the click... what's that? You have to operate your mouse with your hand?! Savage!)

Phew, close one! Wolfram Alpha stinks.

I can't begin to tell you how relieved I am that Wolfram Alpha stinks out loud. I tried what I thought would be incredibly simple questions and got nothing but confusion from the search engine that supposedly can understand natural language... but my relief was short lived...

FTA: A web browser that can understand technical terms in life sciences and automatically find additional resources and services has been developed by European researchers. It could lead to a new generation of intelligent search engines.

This demonstrates how much easier it is to develop narrow AI for HIGHER level disciplines than for common, every day syntax. AI will rapidly master things like anatomy vocab, but if you want your robot butler to pass you the ketchup it's holding, don't dare say, 'Give it here.'

It just goes to show you...

... even people who are full of shit are good for something.

Florida builds its first poop to power station. Read the article here.

This actually reminds me of something I read in A Fairewell to Alms, apparently in medieval Japan people sold their poop to farmers. Even the very poor where able to make enough money from this to keep themselves sheltered.

So, I guess there's one alternate theory for something we might be able to do for money when the robots take over.

Monday, May 25, 2009

the New York Times...

... ran an excellent primer for anyone not overly familiar with the singularity. Give it a read or just email it along to your friends so they know wtf nerds everywhere are talking about.

Now if we could only get some real economists talking about what I'm worried about- the inevitable layoffs as the result of decent AI and decent robotics...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Broadway and Technology

Autodesk Reveals the Secrets of the Shrek Magic Mirror

Water Sculpture Makes a Splash on Broadway

Technology and Theatre combine. It’s a beautiful thing, I think. There’s always the question of how are they going to make that book/comic/film/radio piece into a theatrical show? Technological advances and our ability to spread those advances beyond science or medicine help to answer that question. Ultimately, that’s a good thing, no? (You want a helicopter to land on stage? No Problem! You want it to rain on the queen? Sure! You want Spiderman to literally climb the walls and fly? We’ll see come 2010.) It’s certainly exciting and friggin’ cool. Will there ever come a point where there could be no difference between watching a film or a music concert or a performance piece due to all the technology blending together bringing out a new kind of experience to viewers/audiences?

Here's a video with clips of the Mirror.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I reject many of her points while accepting the larger ones.

Some very good points here. I frequently argue against the use of teleportation for exactly the reason she lays out- I would be continuous to everyone but me (and this includes the clone of me). I do not, however, agree with her about other upgrades. We might as well say that then education destroys the self. How Tao. How silly. As long as we are choosing our upgrades we are guiding our own development and there's a continuity.

It's like the ship that sailed around the world losing bits of itself in every storm and squall it encountered and replacing them little by little. By the time it returned to its original port not a single plank or piece of rigging remained unchanged. Is it the same ship? Yes it is. Continuity isn't magical. When a plank is replaced that plank becomes the newest part of the original ship, not the first part of a new ship. As the rigging and planks get battered about and slowly replaced that first plank may become the oldest piece of the ship. To think otherwise would be to suggest that each plank becomes the first piece of a unique ship, that these unique ships inhabit the same space should be problematic to that view point.

Are there ways we could 'lose' our personhood? Yes there are. My gaining a spell checker in my mind or your ability to download the skills of a helicopter pilot are not chief among them. The divide is likely to be in the vicinity of when you can't be distinguished from anyone else who has upgraded to the same extent, or is that enough? Personally, I'm starting to think that it isn't.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

13 mins in...

So just as I'm starting to feel really good about this talk.... boom. Offhand mention of robots. No job is safe, not even those of farmers.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DNA Sequencing's going to get a whole lot cheaper...

Recently DNA sequencing was going for $68k on ebay (well below market price). Now a RI based company has just received there first major piece of funding towards reaching their goal of providing people with DNA sequencing for under $100 and in less than an hour.

FTA: “All of the stuff that we are doing here is with an eye toward having a clinically relevant tool,” Bready says. “In our minds, that means something with the speed and cost to be used routinely in clinical care, but most importantly the accuracy.”

This is one giant step towards personalized medicine. Personalized medicine has its own host of issues that comes with it, but for me the juice is worth the squeeze. We'll need some privacy laws but it's tough to argue against saving people's lives by the boat load.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Art Student makes her car disappear

This is so cool!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Surge in AI stories makes me think its arrival may be sooner than expected.

IBM has announced Watson will begin sparring humans this year leading up to a final contest sometime in 2010. Steve Wolfram has announced Wolfram Alpha will launch in May. The good folks over at Caltech have 'trained' a computer to analyze the behavior of fruit flies... in real time, something it takes a human close to 100 hours to do. A Program, dubbed Adam, has also been developed capable of making, and testing, a hypothesis has produced modest, though publishable results. A group at Cornell has created an AI that can derive the laws of physics from data of the natural world, with some refinement, it should be able to extract tons of information from the massive amounts of data we already have. The University of Southerland, meanwhile, is working on CASSANDRA, a program to monitor stock markets and guard against insider trading and spin.

When we look at these news stories we see a trend emerging, programs able to understand natural human language, recognize patterns, make inferences... what happens when we have computers as powerful as bluegene available for tens of thousands of dollars (rather than hundreds of millions), a program like Watson, which can read texts and 'understand' them, *and,* unlike Watson, you hook it up to a search engine like Wolfram Alpha? Oh, yeah, and I almost forgot, HAL really can read lips...

This brings me back to the point I keep trying to hammer home, it doesn't take true sentience for a program to displace a person from a job. If your job is monotonous, highly technical, or requires you to have command over vast amounts of information, your job will be among the first to go. Doubly so if it's also high paying.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

For me, a rare moment of optimism about the future.

There's an expression I like, "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." It seems to fit here.

Of course, he doesn't take into consideration ai... but that's another topic.

Monday, April 27, 2009

AI to compete on Jeopardy...

FTA: I.B.M. plans to announce Monday that it is in the final stages of completing a computer program to compete against human “Jeopardy!” contestants. If the program beats the humans, the field of artificial intelligence will have made a leap forward.

There is still hope for the Ken Jennings out there: ...the creators of the system — which the company refers to as Watson, after the I.B.M. founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr. — said they were not yet confident their system would be able to compete successfully on the show, on which human champions typically provide correct responses 85 percent of the time.

And as usual, this isn't true AI: The team is aiming not at a true thinking machine but at a new class of software that can “understand” human questions and respond to them correctly. Such a program would have enormous economic implications.

And if you're wondering what makes this machine different from a Wolfram Alpha w/ an internet connection: To approximate the dimensions of the challenge faced by the human contestants, the computer will not be connected to the Internet, but will make its answers based on text that it has “read,” or processed and indexed, before the show.

This is going to be interesting, expect some impressive bits and the occasional blunder: the program stumbled when it decided it had high confidence that a “sheet” was a fruit.

And, as always, I remind you that AI doesn't have to reach the level of true sentience before it becomes a major disruptive technology. How many of your jobs depend on your ability to understand Shakespeare or interpret an impressionist painting? At some point the AI is 'smart enough' and 'flexible enough' to approximate a human level output in a job. At that point, it becomes just a question of when will this AI be cheap enough to replace a person at that job.

And another article.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Politics and Brand Management.

What's amazing is that the Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas) is the one that posted this video. He believes that he got the better of Steven Chu, our energy secretary and a Nobel laureate. That sound you here after Mr. Barton's question is the good doctor laughing.

The 'science' tag is only for Dr. Chu and Dr. Chu only. The other tags are all for Joe Barton... well, ok, they can share the 'Government' tag.

Kiosks replacing humans... More on Blockbuster

This is a very short blurb, here's the whole thing: Blockbuster (BBI) on Wednesday said it expects to have 10,000 DVD rental kiosks in operation by the end of 2010 following the acquisition by partner NCR (NCR) of TNR Entertainment, the second-largest player in the business. TNR operates about 2,200 kiosks in supermarkets under the MovieCube and The New Release brands.
As Reuters noted today, the leader in the sector is Redbox, a unit of Coinstar (CSTR), which has more than 12,000 locations.

It doesn't mention the financial issues I wrote about earlier.

Expect to see the automation of every job that can be automated. Most of these jobs will be the jobs that have no barrier to entry. That's scary. Competition for a first job is going to become fierce and the 'free rider' problem is going to become even more pronounced than it already is.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GTFO! Ultrasound Imaging Now Possible With Smartphone

Nothing magical here, just a combination that makes such perfect sense yet I totally did not see coming. FTA: Computer engineers at Washington University in St. Louis are bringing the minimalist approach to medical care and computing by coupling USB-based ultrasound probe technology with a smartphone, enabling a compact, mobile computational platform and a medical imaging device that fits in the palm of a hand.

Man, those pervs that try to take pictures up girls' skirts just got a new toy that's gonna take the gross to a whole new level.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The good news: No more outsourcing factory jobs!

The bad news: No more factory jobs.

FTA: Scottish scientists yesterday claimed we are only five years away from a generation of robots capable of putting together wardrobes, beds and chairs.

The article's headline is about Robot Butlers but the obvious downside is that any robot capable of being a butler is (likely as not) capable of being virtually anything else. Add in a pinch of this and a dash of that, maybe a smidge of this and boom, this is what you get....

This is serious. We all like the fantasy of our having robot butlers but we fail to realize the reality of how this technology would impact our world. Robot butlers, once they hit the appropriate price point, will simply gut the jobs of the unskilled. By dramatically increasing the labor supply labor wages will free fall... essentially, if a robot can do a job 24 hrs a day for X dollars a day(maintenance, fuel, depreciation of value), and a human can do the same job 16 hours a day, but not quite as well, than they will have to take approximately (or less than) x/2 dollars a day. (Cost of a robot/years until replacement is needed)+(robots annual maintenance)+(robot's fuel expenditures)= (total annual salary of all workers needed to do the same job) + (amount needed to compensate for losses due to human inefficiency).

There are circumstances that could mitigate the problem: a strong public backlash, (bad) deflation due to lowered buying power of the large number of unemployed, (good) deflation due to the cheaper manufacturing costs, government intervention and safety nets.

Now, all that being said, I totally want one. The world is going to go through some extremely interesting changes. They're already happening. It doesn't take huge leaps in our technological capabilities to see amazing changes- just look at how the internet is still changing our business world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An incredibly unfair comparison

Democrats Vs. Republicans

Call it brand management. Call it positioning. This is how a lot of people see American politics today. Over the weekend I had a very enjoyable talk with a very bright Conservative (yes, they do exist) and I don't want anyone to think that my occasional hyperbole is (entirely) serious.

Still, its tough to look at these stories and not immediately think about the battle lines that have been drawn, particularly during this decade, and see how things have come to this point, this point where these two stories are beside one another on the front page of

I grew up in what you might call a New England Republican household. We talked a lot about fiscal policy. We never spoke of holding back homosexuals or the march of science. That, more and more, the Republican party represents these things is appalling. Especially while they're failing at what is, ostensibly, the one unifying thread they're suppose to all share: "Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, topped the list of senators receiving earmarks, with a total of $653 million." & "Alaska led the nation in pork per capita, at $322 a person." (Source)

OK, this one's gotten away from me. I'm rambling. Anyone else curious about these Tea/Teabag parties? It's going to be a bumpy four years. Hang on.

Oh, and PS, how fraken amazing is that Stem Cell article, eh?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

And speaking of eyes....

FTA: Take a close look at that picture. There's no camera trickery going on, and no special effects; that man really does have an LED implanted in his right eye socket. And that's only the beginning.

Personally I think what this says about transhumanism is much more compelling than what it says about tis stated purpose, 'The purpose for this? To "provide a unique perspective on the way video surveillance is becoming more popular in western societies," Spence told New Scientist.' I think there are clearer (/better) ways of doing that.

The unblinking eye of an AI Auditor

This is just a step, but it could be a big step, an important step, and one which will improve all of our lives by creating a truer free market.

FTA: The artificially intelligent software being developed at the University of Sunderland is designed to spot signs of insider trading and spin.
Cassandra (Computerised Analysis of Stocks and Shares for Novelty Detection and Radical Activities) could help bring an end to the kind of market abuse that fuelled the credit crunch.
Not only will the system point the finger at insider traders, but ultimately it will flag up false rumours and exaggerated claims deliberately fed to the media to distort the market.

'It's a good thing.' Anyone? Anyone? Well, I think I'm funny.

And from a commentator: The Financial Times recently quoted as many as 25% of UK share dealing may be tainted by insider trading. A study commissioned by the New York Times suggested as many as 41% of North American deals may be similarly affected.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Daddy, what's a video store?

The change is coming.

Headline & Kicker: Blockbuster says it may not be able to continue
In regulatory filing, it discloses auditor doesn’t see future for company

FTA: Even if the ($250 million) loan is funded, the company said it “may not have sufficient liquidity to finance the ongoing obligations of our business, which raises substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

And this is thanks to tech that only began getting popular in the mid nineties.

EDIT: There's also stuff like this, 'Over a million people have downloaded the leaked print of Wolverine. Now people are selling DVDs of it on the streets of San Francisco and New York City,' which can't be helping Blockbuster's cause.

Downloading is easier. Content (seems) to want to be free. Everything we do makes it easier and easier to move media around...

Nanoparticle Assembly: the Holy Grail

FTA: Because of its reliability and precision control, Brookhaven’s nano-assembly method would be scalable for the kind of high-throughput production that would be essential for commercial applications.

This is a game changing technology. This could radically boost the efficiency of dozens of our technologies- notably photovoltaic solar. Early commercial applications will likely just be nanocoatings for existing industrial materials, then new industrial materials... then new products using those materials. Perhaps materials like this gas storage nanomaterial, 'Just 1/30th of an ounce of the material has the approximate surface area of a football field,' which makes storing vast amounts of hydrogen far easier...

Theory is nice. Practice is better. That's what this break through promises us.

And it's only the beginning.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

No Job is Safe, not even those of research scientists.

FTA: A robot scientist that can generate its own hypotheses and run experiments to test them has made its first real scientific discoveries.
Dubbed Adam, the robot is the handiwork of researchers at Aberystwyth University and the University of Cambridge in the UK. All by itself it discovered new functions for a number of genes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, aka brewer's yeast.
Ross King, a computational biologist at Aberystwyth, who leads the project, said that Adam's results were modest, but real. "It's certainly a contribution to knowledge. It would be publishable," he says.

Of note here, the more specialized a task is, the easier it is to automate. Interesting times ahead.

And some more.... this from another article about another lab AI.

FTA: The researchers have taught a computer to find regularities in the natural world that become established laws – yet without any prior scientific knowledge on the part of the computer. They have tested their method, or algorithm, on simple mechanical systems and believe it could be applied to more complex systems ranging from biology to cosmology and be useful in analyzing the mountains of data generated by modern experiments that use electronic data collection.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Well that was quick, follow up to yesterday's WallE post.

FTA: In a genetic engineering breakthrough that could help everyone from bed-ridden patients to elite athletes, a team of American researchers—including 2007 Nobel Prize winner Mario R. Capecchi—have created a "switch" that allows mutations to be turned on in muscle stem cells to monitor muscle regeneration in a living mammal.

We're really all over this one. If there's one thing I've learned in my life it is this, if you have to have something wrong with you, try to make it be something that a lot of people in wealthy, industrialized nations have wrong with them as well.

This is why we haven't cured cancer yet.

FTA: Scientific navel-gazing has been taken to new heights by a chemist who claims he has solved one of the great mysteries of human biology: why men produce navel fluff, but women do not.

Our future, as a species, just got that much brighter.

Pfff! Well, effe Claritin then!

Actual Headline: Masturbation could bring hay fever relief for men

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Genetic Modification, or Why the Future Won't Be Like WallE.

To Wit: Liam has a rare genetic condition called myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, or muscle enlargement. The condition promotes above-normal growth of the skeletal muscles; it doesn't affect the heart and has no known negative side effects, according to experts.
Liam has the kind of physical attributes that bodybuilders and other athletes dream about: 40 percent more muscle mass than normal, jaw-dropping strength, breathtaking quickness, a speedy metabolism and almost no body fat.

And oh yeah, it might also help answer questions about horrible, chronic conditions: Liam's condition is more than a medical rarity: It could help scientists unlock the secrets of muscle growth and muscle deterioration. Research on adults who share Liam's condition could lead to new treatments for debilitating ailments such as muscular dystrophy and osteoporosis.

Not to mention help us fight the more general negative effects of aging.

Pew! Pew!

FTA: "WE'RE doing our part to make gunpowder a 20th-century technology." So says Dan Wildt of Northrop Grumman, whose battlefield laser weapon passed another milestone last week.
In tests, it fired a 105-kilowatt beam - enough to destroy rockets, mortars and artillery shells - at a stationary target for 5 minutes. Unlike weapons such as Boeing's huge Airborne Laser, which burns chemical fuel, the solid-state laser consists of semiconductors that emit light when a voltage is applied. This makes them much smaller, allowing them to fit on the back of a "ruggedised" truck. They can also run on electricity from a diesel generator.

Lasers. This should end well. Haven't these guys seen Moonraker? Oh... they have. Huh. Yeah, I haven't. I'm just saying if you think Laser pointers are annoying in movie theaters now, just wait a few years.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Not discussed enough… or, 'Crap, Missed Call's talking about robots again!'

Futurists who speak of Artificial Intelligence don’t focus enough of their attention on the fact that this intelligence will be ALIEN (unless we arrive at AI through brain simulations, in which case it will be exactly like humans). That the intelligence is would be alien doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we can say about how it’s likely to contrast our own intelligence.

1) Common Law : Statutory Law : : Biological Brain : Artificial Intelligence

What do I mean by this? Our brains have been cobbled together over the millennia through an evolutionary process that built new structures on top of old structures on top of ancient structures. We still have parts of our brain that function in much the same way as that of an ape or, perhaps, even a fish. In this respect our brains are sort of like common law.

Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, if it’s built up from scratch and mostly uses algorithms, won’t necessarily have the same redundancies. There’s no reason to think that we’ll code part of the brain using C, then another part using C+, before moving onto HTML or what have you.

What does this mean?

Well for starters, AI is likely to differ from humans on the two fronts that are the most basic needs of all organisms; survival and reproduction. There’s no guarantee that our AI will have any survival instinct whatsoever. We could program it to have one, but there’s no reason to assume that it would have one (unless you happen to be thinking of AI more as a man in a robot costume).

We’ve all grown up with images of robots and computers that have acquired intelligence struggling against an antagonistic force trying to shut them down. Some have been intelligent depictions, where the AI has a diagetic reason to struggle; others have been less intelligent, where it is just assumed the AI would 1) care and 2) that caring would take the form of opposition to being turned off. The later category is almost entirely bunk and more an example of ‘Didn’t do the research,’ or ‘oven logic,’ than it is a good model for our thinking about AI.

On the flipside, we could say that there is an advantage to AI wanting to survive, particularly if the AI serves a purpose that makes it especially human-like or otherwise valuable, and thus it is reasonable to think that it would be programmed into the AI’s operating system (its only unreasonable to assume that it would be there purely as a consequence of the AI having intelligence). That being said, it is unreasonable to assume that the survival instinct of AI will take on the same form as a human survival instinct. Humans are animals, AI’s are not. Humans are, for the time being at least, trapped within their bodies, AI, in all likeliness, will not be. Humans require certain resources to survive, AI would also require certain resources but these resources do not overlap, at least in the short term, as much as the survival needs of humans and any other animal species.

AI might need water, but it more likely requires a substance that will perform the same role as water in manufacturing or cooling systems. They can therefore use a variety of other substances. Humans, meanwhile, simply need water. Humans die if they are eaten by a shark. They die and they do not return. AI might also ‘die,’ but it will be more akin to death in video game terms, with the AI returning from its last save point. Although I personally enjoy using electricity, I can’t claim that it is key to my personal survival. For the foreseeable future, it would be key to the survival of AI’s.

Many of our emotions have evolved to help us survive (and/or reproduce). There’s no reason to assume that AI will have the same emotions. Will the robot envy my house? Not likely, as its needs for shelter would be far different from my own. Would an AI feel pride in the accomplishment of other algorithms? Be moved by music? Covet more USB ports? Probably not, unlikely, and perhaps.

As far as reproduction we must also question the drive of a non-biological agent having the desire to reproduce. If there is no survival instinct, it’s unlikely to reproduce without a reason to. Anissimov over at Accelerating Future has written about AI’s taking on multiple jobs, reproducing themselves (even on rented space if need be), completing those jobs for a profit, then folding those extra AI’s down…

“Anyway, say that I’m an AI looking at craigslist. I see 100 contract jobs that pay $50/hr, all in my field of expertise, and I want to do them all, but if I don’t do them now, the employers will hire somebody else. What to do? Well, if I have the money, I can rent 100 computers to run temporary copies of myself until the jobs are all done. I take complete advantage of the available tasks, and I didn’t have to spend huge amounts of money to buy and cool and maintain 100 me-equivalents of computing power. As long as the jobs I did are enough to pay for the rental costs and then some, I can keep making money this way.”

(I’d like to note at this point that I’m just using this as an example of a scenario that I can contrast my ideas against. I’m not suggesting that anything Anissimov does or does not say contradicts what I’m talking about, nor am I taking issue with his wonderful blog in anyway.)

It’s reasonable to assume that if an artificial intelligence is operating under someone else’s direction it will be compelled to maximize its own profitability. If, however, the AI is left to its own devices it’s only reasonable to assume that it will maximize its own profitability if doing so will both enhance its chances of survival and if the AI has some form of survival instinct. The first condition is easy to satisfy. Yes, having money will increase the odds of the AI’s survival even if the AI isn’t spending its money on the same resources as humans the money will still be useful. The second is not a given, but it could happen.

Ignoring the economic consequences of AI’s making copies of themselves to corner whole swaths of the job market, there is another issue. If the AI makes a full copy of itself (and I should note, much to his credit, Anissimov does suggest the possibility that the copies might only be fractional parts of the program itself) we would have to assume that the other copies all have the same agency and the same survival instincts. This would mean that those copies would not voluntarily shut themselves down, they would want to keep their ‘fair share,’ of the work they’d done and to allow the original program to destroy the copies would be allowing the original program to inflict some degree of distress onto the copies. (I should note here that there is not particular reason why I’m assuming that an AI couldn’t have survival instinct while simultaneously feeling dispassionate about its own survival. Such a situation would greatly complicate the question of a program making a copy of itself and then later shutting down that copy.)

Continuing on the theme of reproduction, the purpose of reproduction is the survival not of the individual, but of the species. AI is not mortal. AI might become obsolete but it would never ‘die’ of ‘natural causes’ in any traditional senses. Would there be an advantage for AI to reproduce?

Well, if the AI has a survival instinct than there might be a disadvantage for the AI to reproduce. With each copy (assuming it works within our economic system) it is diminishing the returns that it gets for its skill sets. If the performance of job in a normal labor market is worth $50 dollars an hour, than the performance of that same job in a labor market flooded with potential workers will be worth considerably less. An AI’s ability to copy itself an unlimited amount of times creates the potentially for super exponential growth of the labor pool which in turn causes a commensurate drop in the odds that any given AI will get the job it desires.

Anissimov has suggested that an AI might form a sort of homogenous AI corporation, and, indeed, it might. But all of the other AI’s in that corporation may also have the idea to subcontract to homogenous corporations of there own, or, quit and splinter off into their little AI Inc’s. Anyway you slice it, it’s an economic nightmare.

AI might ‘reproduce,’ if it’s programmed to reproduce. If Super Intelligent AI is truly desirable, than an AI might be programmed to reproduce by making copies of itself that it has slightly improved upon before activating them, but since the AI isn’t going to ‘die,’ this too comes at a survival cost. An AI is disadvantaged by any form of reproduction unless that reproduction reproduces *lesser* offspring (if we are still assuming the AI to be trying to survive within our economic frame work).

If it also stands to reason, particularly if I’m correct that the only reproductive advantage for an AI would come from reproducing incomplete copies of itself, that an AI would completely lack any maternal instinct. Its ‘offspring’ would not need rearing as they would spring into being with all the experiences and abilities of their ‘parent’ fully formed and intact. Were something to happen to that ‘offspring’ the cost to the parent in survival terms (or, perhaps even, in resources) would be negligible. Only if there was an existential risk to all of the AI’s would they likely act cooperatively (as a survival method) and even then the ‘destruction’ of individuals would likely result in indifference to the survivors (unless they are specifically programmed to respond otherwise).

In a way, this is good for us. If we look at one of the biggest worries about the singularity, the threat of an unfriendly super intelligence, the threat is greatest if it comes in the form of a quickly replicating enemy with a desire for the same resources that we need to survive. An unfriendly super intelligence, indifferent to our material needs could easily satisfy its own material needs if it didn’t have a desire to reproduce. An unfriendly super intelligence could, potentially, be overcome if it didn’t have any particular desire to survive. And a super intelligence without agency would be no more or less friendly or unfriendly than the agent deploying it.

To be continued…

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Racists in the year 3000

Yup, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Never dial 411 ever again.

1-800-GooG-411. Trust me. You'll never dial 411 ever again.

And, another- 1-800 2ChaCha... this one you can ask any question and they'll text you back the answer. Of course you're basically using Mechanical Turk neo-sweat shop labor, so try to make it important.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Hey who wants to get drunk, strap on one of these jackets and throw in Evil Dead 2, eh?

FTA: Sometimes you may feel a shiver go up your spine as you're watching a chilling movie scene, but a new jacket can actually give you a real shiver. The haptics jacket, designed by scientists at Philips Electronics, can enable movie viewers to feel movies through a sense of touch, in an attempt to provide full emotional immersion in a film.

Look for that family down the street that everyone only kind of likes to be the first to adopt this tech...

AI: Mapping the brain

This is a little more disconcerting to me than a lot of other similar projects. Mostly, people who are advocating this approach seem scattered and, at best, in the very early stages of their approach (except for the gentleman over at IBM).

FTA: It’s a strong claim, but Meier is coordinating the EU-supported FACETS project which brings together scientists from 15 institutions in seven countries to do just that. Inspired by research in neuroscience, they are building a ‘neural’ computer that will work just like the brain but on a much smaller scale.


How does it do that? Nobody yet knows, but a team within FACETS is completing an exhaustive study of brain cells – neurons – to find out exactly how they work, how they connect to each other and how the network can ‘learn’ to do new things.

Luckily, the admit that they too are also in the early stages, but they seem more organized, they seem to have a better plan and, well, they seem to be taking a combination approach- not trying to simulate the brain directly, nor trying to build analogs for the brain a piece at a time, but cobbling the two methods together.

Small world.

Like most small boys, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I couldn't get enough of them. As a consequence, when I found out that birds had evolved from dinosaurs I became very interested in birds as well. Being a child I sort of mentally filed birds into two categories, those that were close relatives to dinosaurs and those that were further away. I based these ideas on next nothing, just played by juvenile hunches.

Birds that were close to dinosaurs (and thus my favorites)? Eagles, Vultures, Ostriches and Emu.

I've seen these animals in zoos and other tourist traps. I'd seen their eggs and feathers in museums. I never figured I'd get to handle one of their eggs. Let alone eat one... so when my wife mentioned seeing Ostrich and Emu eggs at our local Whole Foods I insisted she take me.

This, to me, is crazier than cell phones, internet and laptops. Surgery using a camera and flexible tubes? Pedestrian! Emu eggs in a Goddamn grocery store?! You gotta be kidding me! (They were out of ostrich eggs when I went.)

This is an object that should be rare... but its not. Sure, at thirty dollars an egg, it's a bit pricey, but this is still incredible. I guess it makes sense on some level, I'd been aware of the rise in emu farming since one escaped and was hit by a car in my home town (Westford, Ma), but a part of me, the part of me that made up his mind about these things at the age of 6, always thought I would need to travel across the globe to lay my hands on a real emu egg.

For size comparison, here's the emu egg with a duck egg (also neat, but less so. About the size of chicken egg).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sciences moves us one step closer to magic.

Headline: Brain wave patterns can predict blunders, new study finds

FTA: From spilling a cup of coffee to failing to notice a stop sign, everyone makes an occasional error due to lack of attention. Now a team led by a researcher at the University of California, Davis, in collaboration with the Donders Institute in the Netherlands, has found a distinct electric signature in the brain which predicts that such an error is about to be made.

Hopefully this won't be far behind...

OK, so the remembrall is likely to remain in the realm of fiction... its still really cool.

Nothing to say...

... give it read. Its on water access. It could be a big problem, more pressing and more dire than any of my robot/ai predictions.

No Job is Safe, not even those of Middle Eastern Immigrants

And in a funny sort of connectedness, this inovation in automation will likely send some extra Middle Eastern Cabbies our way... the UAE is introducing the driverless cab.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The R-Word

Sarah Palin lashed out at Obama for using the word 'retard,' a term that is highly offensive to her people. In what could, perhaps, be related news, Palin turned down part of her state's share of the stimulus. Among the rejected funds where those designated for education.

Palin wasn't the only one offended by Obama's remarks. Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, has called on the White House to hire one of their athletes. Perhaps Mr. Shriver has forgotten the devastation caused by that hiring policy during the previous administration.

Friday, March 20, 2009

No Take Backs!
A new feature on gmail that allows you to take back that email you just sent. Just, as in, you have five seconds to do it. I wonder how much longer it will be before we can take back any email that has not been read or openned yet.

WTF, Japan!

FTA: AOKIGAHARA FOREST, Japan (CNN) -- Aokigahara Forest is known for two things in Japan: breathtaking views of Mount Fuji and suicides. Also called the Sea of Trees, this destination for the desperate is a place where the suicidal disappear, often never to be found in the dense forest.


Taro bought a one-way ticket to the forest, west of Tokyo, Japan. When he got there, he slashed his wrists, though the cut wasn't enough to kill him quickly.


Japan's suicide rate, already one of the world's highest, has increased with the recent economic downturn.
There were 2,645 suicides recorded in January 2009, a 15 percent increase from the 2,305 for January 2008, according to the Japanese government.

But don't worry, Japan's on top of this... to wit: he Japanese government said suicide rates are a priority and pledged to cut the number of suicides by more than 20 percent by 2016.

Oof. Not sure how the situation could be improved, the culture has a much different relationship with suicide than we do. And though I mock the seven year turn around I think its probably realistic and that being realistic is better than setting an unreasonable date and then failing to meet it. The downside, though, is that it allows you to procrastinate to a degree.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Surgery More and More is Resembling Magic

Headline: Cancerous Kidney Removed Through The Naval

OK, so I’ve commented on similar articles before- still this is impressive.

And now for the real big one…

Headline: First Reported Case In The World: 7-Year-Old Girl Has Six Organs Removed For Tumor Surgery

FTA: A 7-year-old girl from Long Island, NY, is on her way home a little more than four weeks after receiving a historic surgery that involved the removal and partial re-implantation of six organs in order to resect an abdominal tumor that otherwise would be inoperable.
The 23-hour surgery, which began on Feb. 6, was led by Dr. Tomoaki Kato at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, and is the first reported pediatric case of its kind.

Yeah. Removed. Removed six. Removed six of her freaking organs! They took out her Large and Small intestines, her liver, her pancreas, her spleen and her stomach. They took them out. Then, after removing the tennis ball-sized tumor, put them back in.

Man, this story really makes all of the King’s horses and all of the King’s men look like asshats, huh?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Scientists Develop New Way to Blind Children, the Elderly

FTA: Scientists in the U.S. are developing a laser gun that could kill millions of mosquitoes in minutes.
The laser, which has been dubbed a "weapon of mosquito destruction" fires at mosquitoes once it detects the audio frequency created by the beating of its wings.
The laser beam then destroys the mosquito, burning it on the spot.

FARK should prepare the Florida tags now. Red Necks will mount these to their trucks... hilaritastrophies will follow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Army of Bots

The US Army is drafting a white paper on the subject of robots; how to deploy them, what they can be used for, how much autonomy to give them...

FTA: "This is a concept paper to think about warfighting outcomes and what robotics will do for soldiers," says U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, who directs the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Fort Monroe, Va. "I am starting out with the idea of having an technology-enabled human. [But] we might someday come up with [separate] IT doctrine and robot doctrine." He reiterates that "we want to make the people or humans in charge under command and control in a 'whole of government' approach."

PW Singer has written extensively about it, here's a video of PW plugging his book Wired For War that Man With Powers first pointed out to me:

and part two:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

the Future of Medicine

A 3D printer that creates exact replicas of bones provides surgeons with more options in transplants.

And if that's not good enough, researches are trying to determine if mollusks hold the secret to regenerating human bones. Others have already found ways to accelerate bone growth using stem cells and some nifty nanotech (at least in principal).

What's being called 'Stem cell fabrics' have the potential to give us universal tissues that will adapt to any transplant environment.

We're learning that neurons can be repurposed, allowing us to, among other things, possible restore movement to limbs suffering form certain kinds of paralysis. Meanwhile, some kinds of paralysis can be reversed using stem cells.

They're all years away, so try to take care of yourselves. Still, its comforting to know the extent of what we'll be able to do... and I purposefully didn't pick any links to Cancer or HIV research, of which there has been a lot of progress recently.

And as usually has a great video:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Japanese Lunchbox Food/Art

I don't believe I would ever be able to eat Yoshi. I am obsessed....OBSESSED...with Yoshi's Island for SNES and most recently for DS (I bought a SNES just to play that game). But, I would take a huge bite out of the mushroom! I am not quite sure if this is original artwork, or if the blog-poster found this on the interwebs and posted it on the blogazine. I will update.

Update, as promised: The artist's name is Anna and you can get all the food art you want here

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No job is safe, not even those of Illegal immigrants

Headline: Robots Are Taking An Increasing Number Of Jobs, New UN Report Says

When's this from? 2004.

FTA: The chances of having an obedient robot do unwelcome or dangerous jobs have increased tremendously, with orders for industrial robots rising to a record 18 per cent in the first half of this year, a new report co-sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) says.

And this is now with clunkily engineered robots with narrow (to no) AI. It reinforces my point that what we already are able to do could replace jobs by the hundreds of thousands. In a few years it will begin. By the time we're forty unemployment could be in the ball park of the Great Depression. We should entertain the possibility that this is a chiasmic period in history. Our economy is shrinking and our technology is advancing. This might be the time that they cross and we begin a permanent and ever accelerating contraction of the number of people needed to maintain the entirety of the system. Less and less people producing more and more.

Precursors to Cyborgs

Earlier this year a man missing both legs nearly qualified for the Olympics... the regular Olympics. People need to understand that we can engineer things that work *better* than our original limbs. It's quite here yet, but its coming.

And its coming sooner than you might think. Just wait til this is coupled with BMI/BCI. Its not inconceivable that within a decade people will want to replace their natural limbs with artificial ones.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Game Changer: LIQUID Water found on MARS

FTA: These globs were seen to apparently move and grow between snapshots, and 22 members of the Phoenix team, including principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, think that this behavior combined with other Phoenix findings indicates that these blobs might have been liquid water that was splashed up onto the spacecraft as it landed.

Prepare to gloat. Evidence of life will not be far behind.

The New iPod Shuffle: WTF is Apple thinking?!

Apple unveiled the new iPod shuffle today, taking a great product and turning it into an epic fail.

Aside from an awful design compared to the previous generation, the biggest problem consumers will eventually face is the fact that there are no playback controls on the device. You need to have the device connected to a compatible set of headphones, which means if you plug it into an external set of speakers at home, nothing's going to happen. It also means if the headphones break, you'll need to buy a set of Apple headphones, or compatible third party headphones.

Right now, Apple's only available headphones cost $79 - the same price as a new iPod shuffle (on a side note, that $49 price point they had going was much more attractive for an entry level device). Third party headphones for iPhone (which has a similar playback feature) start at around $30. If you're like me, you've gone through a few sets of headphones during your MP3 player's lifespan. Now imagine the only headphones that worked for a device would cost you 50% or more of the price of that device. Sound investment? Not so much. Apple's attempting to make low end media players like printers, where instead of buying more ink, people will wind up just buying a new printer.

I have a feeling this is going to end up like the 3rd generation Nano (which I actually didn't mind), and have a very short shelf life.

UPDATE: The one feature I do like is the voice over feature, which uses a (creepy) computer voice to tell you which song, artist and album you are listening to. I'd love to see this incorporated into the iPhone. Often times, I come across a song on my commute to work with my phone in my pocket. I recognize the song, but can't seem to remember the artist. Instead of pulling out the phone, untangling the headphones, and taking it out of its case, I'd love to be able to push a button and just have the artist name spoken to me.

Human Brain Simulations by 2018

Nine years seems optimistic to me, but Dharmendra Modha's one of those guys you have to take seriously. He's leading the DARPA funded SyNPASE team and the IMB Almaden Research Center. He's also the guy who a few years ago created a simulation of a rat's brain. It's also important to note that though a simulation would be incredible, its not necessarily AGI. Its fairly unclear to me what the outputs of the simulation would be, if any. I think this is purely for modelling purposes. None-the-less it would be an amazing feat that would seem to line up with Kurzwiel's predictions for AI breaking in the 2020's.

FTA: Although the brain is still not well understood, Modha said, "there is enough quantitative data for us to be able to begin putting together the pieces." He predicted that by 2018 computers will be able to simulate the workings of the human brain, a breakthrough that will provide researchers with unprecedented insight into how the complex organ operates.

And the same article also provides a little shout out to BMI/BCI: In addition to boosting computer performance, enhanced understanding of the brain will enable people to communicate directly with machines, whether they are robots or mechanized prosthetic limbs. Primates have already proved that such brain-machine interfaces are possible, Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of Duke University Medical Center's Center for Neuroengineering, said during the conference. The researcher and his colleagues last year successfully implanted electrodes in the brain of a monkey in North Carolina that enabled him to control a robot on a treadmill in Kyoto, Japan.

Nicolelis and his team have developed a microchip they expect will allow human brains to communicate with robots using only brain signals and enables the bots to return messages directly to the brain, without the use of sight or touch. Nicolelis said that he hopes the technology will be sophisticated enough to implant into a human brain by 2012 and enable a completely quadriplegic patient to walk again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A step towards Ubiquitous Computing

Ah, wikipedia, is there anything you can't define for me? Ubiquitous Computing, or ubicomp, 'is a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities. As opposed to the desktop paradigm, in which a single user consciously engages a single device for a specialized purpose. In the course of ordinary activities, someone "using" ubiquitous computing engages many computational devices and systems simultaneously, and may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so.'

I also like the phrase, 'everyware.' Anyway, I know what you're thinking, 'MissedCall, what small steps been taken towards ubicomp?' Well, take a gander- FTA: This ultra-thin chip package (UTCP) technology allows integrating complete systems in a conventional low-cost flex substrate. This paves the way to low-cost, unobtrusive wearable electronics for e.g. wearable health and comfort monitoring.

Shirts that call for an ambulance if their wearer has a heart attack, or houses that adjust their lighting and temperature when you walk in based on the layers you're wearing are only the beginning. Its easy to imagine how ubicomp could impact augmented reality... or more darkly, end privacy.

Of course, like many of you, I'm less concerned about my privacy rights and more concerned about whether or not there's a ridiculously cute picture I can loosely link back to this topic. Why yes there is- having the chips is one thing, but we'll need to power those chips, I submit to you this!

FTA: "This can totally be scaled up," said Zhong Lin 'ZL' Wang, who co-authored a paper describing the research in this month's issue of Nano Letters. "This is just the first step. The idea is that we would harvest energy from any body movement, from walking, breathing, from any kind of vibration."

One serious note: think about how ubicomp could improve our modelling of traffic, solve congestion problems, create an understanding of how pedestrian traffic impacts a neighborhood, maybe even provide insight into how the phenomenon of emergence relates to human crowds. Very, very useful things that are very, very difficult or time consuming to model. And, though, I'm not wild about the idea of government being able to know exactly where I am at all times, it is nice to think that I could perhaps recover all of my things if I'm mugged.

Your kids' homework just got easier.

FTA: Most search engines like Google and Yahoo scan through billions of web pages for keywords or phrases and return a series of documents that may contain the answer to your question., or point you in the right direction.
'We can only answer questions that have been literally asked before. We can look things up, but we can’t figure anything new out,' Professor Wolfram said.
However, the London-born physicist claims his website 'Wolfram Alpha' can understand what you are looking for and calculate a precise answer.
So in theory it will be able to answer questions such as 'What is the location of Timbuktu?', 'How many protons are in the hydrogen atom?' and 'Where is the International Space Station?'

This is excellent. This is something that AI will clearly need in order for it to be useful to the majority of people. Personally, I think if we get AI/AGI, it won't come from full brain emulations, at least not any time soon, but rather by understanding the brain well enough to see what is needed to achieve intelligence and then breaking that down a part at a time and creating a system just for that part. Then, once enough systems have been created, create a system to govern those systems- this is Gall's Law at work.

OK, well it looks like another piece of the puzzle is within reach. What's next?

Cute Commercial

It raises an interesting question that isn't really up my alley- what would happen with a robot with AGI that has out 'lived' its usefulness? In reality, I don't think we'll create much AGI, not because we will never be able to, but because there are good reasons not to. For starters, narrow AI- AI that has little-to-no personality, little-to-no opinions- would be more appealing to businesses that are likely to be the first to be able to afford AI. This is also, not coincidentally, where the majority of the funding into AI research is going.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

No Job is Safe... not even those of mathematicians

Wait, mathematicians, really? Yes, even the educated classes are going to get hit and hit hard by the AI revolution. In all honesty, some white collar or academic jobs are much easier to automate than jobs that involve a lot of physical movement.

Anyway, math makes sense as a target for AI, after all we all know Computers are good at sums, but there are aspects, major aspects, of being a mathematician that have more to do with the way you approach a problem than crunching numbers.

A particularly interesting note FTA, a program called HR was developed by a man named Simon Colton to look for interesting number sequences and well: Some of HR's discoveries have even been published - and HR, rather than Colton, got the credit.

You left the oven on, Dave.

Geriatric care is going to rapidly become remarkable. The above show's why. People are living longer and having fewer children. This means that whole populations are aging. Now Japan happens to be one of the most extreme examples but its true of all industrialized nations (for the most part). Well with that in mind we can expect more of this...

Headline: "Smart" devices may help dementia sufferers remember to shut off stove, live at home longer

FTA: In addition to reminding people to switch off potentially dangerous appliances (and actually shutting them off and contacting help if need be), the system is designed to help people avoid other hazards, such as nighttime wandering and incontinence issues. The system, for instance, senses when someone gets out of bed in the middle of the night and automatically turns on the bathroom light to help them find their way. Or, if the bed senses a prolonged nocturnal absence, the system will play voice recordings that gently remind people that, "it's awfully late, perhaps you should be getting back to bed," says Carey-Smith.