Saturday, February 28, 2009

No job is safe- Not even those of teenagers

Automated pizza delivery man. See the video here.

Don't worry, I'm confident our youth are dumb and violent enough to destroy these things for pizza... well until we get the CCTV's everywhere like they do in London.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A great example of why timelines and projections are always off...

Japan, (arguably) the world's leaders in robotics, is getting hit by our financial melt down harder than we are.

FTA: In his "Daily Notes on the Global Economy," Carl B. Weinberg of High Frequency Economics notes Japan's drop in exports last month -- down 45.7 percent from the previous January.

How will this impact the projections of singulatarians and robotopians? Well, the news isn't great. Its bad enough Bush did everything he could to delay the benefits of stem cell research, now economic failures on his watch are going to delay everything else as well.

Headline: Vaccine Research Targets HIV In The Slower, Early Stage Of Infection

A vaccine's a long way off, but there is hope that its possible. Of course, we all saw how well the Fundies took to the HPV vaccine. If we get closer you can expect a similar resistance.

FTA: "HIV appears to be vulnerable when it is first introduced into mucosal surfaces in the body," said Louis Picker, M.D., associate director of the OHSU VGTI and director of the VGTI's vaccine program. "However, once HIV spreads throughout the entire body, it replicates very rapidly and becomes difficult if not impossible to control. Our approach is to attack during this early period of vulnerability. The approach is similar to that of a homeowner who sprays their house with water before sparks land on the roof. This approach can prevent the roof from catching fire and, in the case of HIV, prevent the spread of the virus."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

iTunes Pass, and why it WON'T work

EMI announced a new service with iTunes called the iTunes Pass. Essentially, it gives you temporary access to an artist's library. While I think Apple should be investigating it's options in terms of subscription based services on top of pay-per-song, I think this is a horrible start.

The pilot program is a pass for Depeche Mode. The terms aren't exactly clear, but it seems to involve a 15 week pass to Depeche Mode's upcoming content for $18.99. No old content. Just the upcoming album, plus a few singles and videos. For twice the cost of the album itself.

You get to keep the content, but let's not kid ourselves; this is the "deluxe version" of an album presented as subscription access to trick people into thinking they're getting more bang for their buck. While die hard DM fans will probably bite, I don't see any success coming out of this gimmick.

iTunes marketing seems to be losing its touch.

Elements of Utopia: Society Scaling

I’m going purpose various elements that I believe will be essential for creation of a utopia. I should also note that my idea of utopia, or what is utopian, is a little looser than the ideas that some may hold.

Elements of Utopia: Society Scaling
Dependent on: Immersive VR; complex, flexible, modeling software

Others may have already expressed this idea but I haven’t read of it anywhere. In essence, society scaling is all about finding a balance in the size of a society tailored to the tastes of each individual within that society. It may function similarly to facebook, where you may have hundreds of friends, one of whom only has a dozen friends. Some of these friends both you and your first friend share, others you do not. To you, the society would be comprised of hundreds of people, to your friend just a few dozen. You’d be able to interact, visit the same land marks but you wouldn’t be seeing exactly the same things.

Why is this desirable? For hundreds of thousands of years, humans and their early ancestors lived in family groups or small tribes. These developed into small villages, small towns, small cities, and then into more complex forms like small communities within large cities, etc. Some of us are better suited are better suited to larger social networks and increased competition, indeed, some of us need it. Others are content in smaller, more knowable networks, but in either case we wouldn’t want to exclude ourselves from being able to easily interact with friends and family whose tastes run contrary to our own.

I also believe that the flexibility of such a model would help prevent individuals from feeling too overwhelmed by competition for a desired position or status, while allowing for the level of competition to be steadily increased thus keeping individuals challenged. In this way, society scaling would avoid the hollowness of every individual simply being given their desires in virtual worlds independent of one another or the shallowness of a virtual worlds populated by nothing but rockstars and professional athletes.

This would also help people navigate the sticky social situations which develop from a desire to stay friend with your eX’s friends or even allow you to live with someone whose partner or best friend you can’t stand.

Now this isn’t to say there wouldn’t be kinks to work. For instance if you’re in a room with all of your friends, one of whom, in that same room, only recognizes the presences of some of your friends there could be certain difficulties in communication. For instance, it could appear to your friend that you are frequently talking to yourself or laughing for no good reason.

This is where, much like in social networking, adjustable privacy options would come into play. An individual could allow for some people outside their network to bleed through into their awareness, they could allow, for instance, full interaction with everyone in the room until such a time as they step outside the room.

Aspects of interacting in this way may seem needlessly complex, and, to an extent, they are. The advantages, however, would be numerous.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Amazing now...

Louis CK just totally made me feel like a d!ck. My whole blogging life is dedicated to the idea that the future is going to be so much more amazing than the present, but Louis points out things are pretty amazing already.

Film trailer for Kurzweil's "Transcendent Man"

For me, Kurzweil's money in the bank... up to a point. All prediction models break down past the singularity- yet he continues to make predictions about what will come after it. Now, all that being said, I think he's broadly right. We stand at the cusp of three major revolutions (see my post about Juan Enriquez) all of which are likely to break in the next ten to twenty years. Anyone of them could fundamentally change the world. All three of them definitely will.

What kind of world will our grandkids live in? To us, it will truly seem like magic- especially on the holodeck.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Juan Enriquez: Take twenty minutes to listen to this man talk.

FHWP: Juan Enriquez was the founding director of the Life Sciences Project at Harvard Business School and a fellow at Harvard's Center for International Affairs. His work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, Science, and the The New York Times. He is the author of As the Future Catches You and The Untied States of America. He works in business, science, and domestic/international politics.
Juan Enriquez is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences. He is currently Chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy LLC, a life sciences research and investment firm.

Juan Enriquez is on the short list of people that when they speak I shut up and listen. His prior TED talks have been interesting, this is no exception. Ideally, you should watch all of them, but in a pinch this will do.

PZ Myers slammed the part of his talk where he JE discusses speciation of humans, but personally I think PZ was losing the forest for the trees. JE's point wasn't that we will literally be another species, but rather that the very rules governing what a selective pressure is is going to entirely change- and then continue to change at an exponential rate.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

So long book stores...

So here's what's going to happen, E-readers will continue to drop in price (though not fast enough for my tastes) and meanwhile machines like the Espresso Book Machine will print 250 page books for two dollars a book. Right now the Espresso is only synced up to print public domain books but a savvy company should have no problem getting an Espresso or two, putting together some licensing agreements with publishers and boom. Book store with no over head. New book? Six bucks. Two for the costs, two for the book store, two for whoever owns the rights. If Barnes and Noble doesn't do this it will be somebody else and when raprep can build an Espresso, man, forget about book stores.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Medical Breakthrough: Potential cure for cancer

In an episode of South Park, Cartman cured AIDs by grinding up millions upon millions of dollars and injecting the microscopic money particles into the blood. Perhaps inspired by this episode, scientists have developed a new anti-tumor drug that's ten times more effective against certain lung cancers... made of platinum.

FTA: “We are able to slow the growth of this cancer substantially in mice,” said principal investigator Ulrich Bierbach, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Fellow and associate professor of chemistry at Wake Forest. “That is very good news, since this is such a rapidly growing, intractable type of cancer.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

"We do have a bit of a situation."

This makes my heart warm and my anger rise all at once.


Scientists have stopped the aging process in a whole organ for the first time! The good folks over at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University (here in New York) managed to eliminate the build up of harmful proteins inside the liver's cells. The results?

FTA: In experiments, livers in genetically modified mice 22 to 26 months old, the equivalent of octogenarians in human years, cleaned blood as efficiently as those in animals a quarter their age.
By contrast, the livers of normal mice in a control group began to fail.
The benefits of restoring the cleaning mechanisms found inside all cells could extend far beyond a single organ, says Cuervo.

Imagine being eighty and feeling twenty. Sign me up.

Headline: Are we about to eliminate AIDs?

No commentary, just three paragraphs FTA: WHAT if we could rid the world of AIDS? The notion might sound like fantasy: HIV infection has no cure and no vaccine, after all. Yet there is a way to completely wipe it out - at least in theory. What's more, it would take only existing medical technology to do the job.

Here's how it works. If someone who is HIV positive takes antiretroviral-drug therapy they can live a long life and almost never pass on the virus, even through unprotected sex. So if everyone with HIV were on therapy, there would be little or no transmission. Once all these people had died, of whatever cause, the virus would be gone for good.

It's a simple idea, but the obstacles to implementing it worldwide are enormous. Persuading everyone with HIV to start therapy purely for public health reasons could be ethically dubious. To identify everyone who is HIV positive would require such widespread testing that some may feel it breached their civil liberties. Then there is the question of who would fund such a massive undertaking.

Yet the idea of eliminating HIV is so appealing, and the benefit to humanity so huge, that scientists and policy-makers are seriously considering the concept, albeit on regional scales. In the next few months the World Health Organization (WHO) will meet to discuss how the idea could be tried in developing countries, and something approaching elimination might be attempted in the UK within the next decade. "You could eliminate transmission overnight," says Marcus Conant, an HIV specialist in San Francisco.

Read the rest.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No Exit: An Evening With Joop The Monkey

There's a running gag on the official Lost podcast, wherein the producers joke that if the show ever got cancelled, the final episode would be one hour of a monkey smoking a pipe in front of a fireplace, explaining all the show's secrets that they never got a chance to explain. Well, last Friday's "No Exit" was Battlestar Galactica's evening with Joop the Monkey (artist's conception pictured).

On the one hand, we have Ellen Tigh's resurrection and subsequent incarceration at the hands of John/Brother Cavil. We get to see their point of view over the course of the last 18 months, get plenty of insight into what makes Cavil tick and what how the optimistic Boomer we saw in Downloaded grew into the cynic we saw subsequently. It gave us a nice peek into the psychology of the Cylons and their politics. Brother Cavil is the classic totalitarian, who, in the name of freeing his people from tyranny, becomes a tyrant himself. He speaks of freeing the Centurions from slavery at the hands of the humans, but has turned them into mindless automatons. He speaks of justice for the other human Cylons, but has selectively erased their memories as a form of social control. He has his own personal creators at his disposal, and decides to kill them to teach them a lesson. He likely started the attacks on the colonies, and had to work hard to make sure the Final Five survived long enough to understand his hatred for humans, only being thwarted when one of them killed another. 

He is Oedipus in more than just the sense that he's slept with his "mother," he is also Oedipus in the sense that he is simultaneously the leader of his people, and the illness of his society. He is Caine (Bible, not superior Pegasus three-parter) in that out of jealousy for his god's love for his brother, kills his brother. One niggling point about Cavil: when he erased all the memories about the Final Five, why didn't he tell the other Cylons that there were 7 models? Surely telling them there were 12 would lead to some uncomfortable questions. 

On the other hand, there's the story on Galactica, which is just exposition for its own sake. Yes, this is definitely information that we needed to hear, but I wish it had been presented more gracefully. The introduction of "Dr. Hodgman" didn't help matters. According to the writers and Ron Moore, this was intended to be comic relief, and I can definitely see that, but it's very difficult to gauge the intended tone when it's just Hodgman being Hodgman. His dry humor and all-round expertise on all matters doesn't translate well to the Galactica universe. 

Speaking of Galactica, it turns out the Colonial military likely hired some shady contractors when building their fleet. The revelation that Adama's ship of falling apart, that it's "in her bones" closely mirrors Roslin's slow death by cancer. Galactica and Laura are the two women in Adama's life, and he takes the news pretty hard, downing pills and booze to numb the pain. Still though, what else is new? Scenes of Adama on the Anna Nicole Smith diet (and I don't mean Trimspa) are becoming so commonplace that the serious nature of this news is dulled to the point of cliché. Apparently, his model ship was still in the shop, and not available to break yet again. 

Now that our evening with Joop is done, let's get back to moving the story along, shall we?

Bye bye books.

FTA: If King, Dan Brown, JK Rowling and Patricia Cornwell were all to decide to move to selling their books online themselves, rather than going through a publisher, they'd certainly benefit financially. Typically, an author only receives about £1 for every copy of their book sold. Rather than relying on a publisher, big-name authors could afford to simply employ an editor, a PR person, a typesetter and a designer. They could price their books at only £2 or £3 and still make much more money than under the current system.

I suspect publishing is going to die the minute the kindle (or comparable device) hits a price point of $100.

BSG & Transhumanism

While watching last week's episode of BSG (warning, small spoilers ahead) I commented that the Transhumanists must have been masturbating over one of Cavil's lines... well sure enough: It was fascinating to see human enhancement issues addressed so directly while learning more about John Cavil’s character and ambitions in this episode of Battlestar Galactica. In spite of his misguided clinging to petty jealousy and revenge, I found a lot to sympathize with in John Cavil’s character. He wanted both to overcome the belief in a single God he derived from early Cylon models, and reach beyond his limited human emotions and senses. He powerfully expressed the desire to more fully experience the universe in all its beauty and perceive supernovas via novel sensations:

“I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear X-rays, and I want to smell dark matter. Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language. But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine and I could know much more, I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way.”

The article is here. I'm not super interested in transhumanism but if you're interested in the future, you have to sit through a lot of talk about transhumanism to get to anything interesting about AI/AGI. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all saw Gattaca, you know what else we saw? Monty Python, Get on with it!) Nominally I am a transhumanist but I care so very little about their issues compared to the more pressing and immediate issue of what will become of us and our economy when we become an Automated Nation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Headline: An Inexhaustible Source Of Neural Cells

FTA: Research scientists in Bonn have succeeded in deriving so-called brain stem cells from human embryonic stem cells. These can not only be conserved almost indefinitely in culture, but can also serve as an inexhaustible source of diverse types of neural cell. The scientists have also shown that these neural cells are capable of synaptic integration in the brain.

And more: Transplanted into the brain of a mouse, these cells made contact with the recipient brain and were subsequently able both to send and receive signals. “This is the first direct evidence that neural cells derived from human stem cells are capable of synaptic integration in the brain”, declares Dr. Philipp Koch, the original author of the study. The scientists in Bonn are now also hoping to exploit this inexhaustible cell source to study neurodegenerative diseases and possible active agents directly in human neural cells.

This is, needless to say, incredible. We have a real chance to cure several awful diseases and to repair the natural damage caused by aging.

No Job is Safe- not even those of the homeless!

Headline: Artificial Vision Used To Improve Recycling Of Electronic Scrap Metal

The Hobo/homeless economy may provide us with clues about what will happen to our own economy when we are replaced by robots.

No Job is Safe- not even those of dogs!

Headline: Better Artificial Nose Inspired By Sniffer Dogs

Even our dogs are screwed.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Counter Productive Medical Breakthrough?

If you want to try to reduce the number of diabetics in this country you should be discouraging risky behaviors... not inventing color changing tattoos!

FTA: 'The tattoo contains tiny particles of "nano ink" that change colour depending on whether they come into contact with glucose molecules.

If levels are high, the ink appears yellow. If levels of the sugar are low, it turns purple. A healthy level shows up as orange.'

Jebus Crisps, I can't wait til this tech is expanded! I want a Mario Tattoo that gets bigger when I eat mushrooms.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kidney removed through belly button.

FTA: On Thursday, February 5, 2009, surgeons at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center removed a patient’s diseased kidney through one incision hidden in the belly button. No other incisions were used. This groundbreaking procedure is the 15th in a series of single-incision clinical trial surgeries performed by the UC San Diego Center for the Future of Surgery.

I guess the only thing to do now is wonder if it was an innie or an outtie...

Hey, who wants to down load a blurg?

Someone's built a machine that can layout molten plastic in layers, sort of like a three dimensional inkjet. One day, we'll be able to download plans from Ikea and build create the parts right there at our desks.

FTA: Dr Bowyer said that: “These days, most people in the developed world run a professional-quality print works, photographic lab and CD-pressing plant in their own house, all courtesy of their home PC. Why shouldn't they also run their own desktop factory capable of making many of the things they presently buy in shops, too?

“The possibilities are endless. Now, people can make exactly what they want. If the design of an existing object does not quite suit their needs, they can easily redesign it on their PC and print that out, instead of making do with a mass-produced second-best design from the shops. They can also print out extra RepRap printers to give to their friends. Then those friends can make what they want too.”

Pretty neat. Seems like reality is going to become more like Second Life. This could also finish off the job of gutting our manufacturing once and for all. Combine this tech with bioplastics and we could be in pretty good shape.

Mind Reading... this should end well.

FTA: Wearing a headband fitted with fibre-optics that emit light into the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, they were shown two drinks on a computer monitor, one after the other, and asked to make a mental decision about which they liked more. "When your brain is active, the oxygen in your blood increases and depending on the concentration, it absorbs more or less light," Luu says. "In some people, their brains are more active when they don't like something, and in some people they're more active when they do like something."

Small steps, guys. Small steps. This is just the begining. We're only going to get better, faster and more accurate at this sort of thing.

Still, I'm found of most things with a potential application to BMI . I'm really, really looking forward to immersive VR and a robot butler that'll get me a beer.

Building a Synthetic Brain

FTA: Nanocarbon modeling may be the next step toward emulating human brain function. That’s the focus of USC electrical engineering professor Alice Parker’s “synthetic cortex” study funded by the National Science Foundation.

The good folk who advocate for brain emulation as the best way to make an AI breakthrough usually point out that brains, though very complicated themselves, have a comparatively simple pattern development (with a few random variables thrown in). Still, its an incredibly complex undertaking.

Will it work? Probably. Most of the team is Asian. (Jonathan Joshi, Chih-Chieh Hsu, Adi Azar, Matthew Walker, Ko-Chung Tseng, Ben Raskob, Chuan Wang, Yoon Sik Cho, Changsoo Jeong and Jason Mahvash.) Couple of Jews thrown in for good measure... yeah, I think they'll succeed.

Cure for the common cold, or, How Americans lost their sick days.

OK, so it's not quite ready yet... but for the first time it seems like something we maybe able to do. FTA: Scientists have begun to solve some of the mysteries of the common cold by putting together the pieces of the genetic codes for all the known strains of the human rhinovirus. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have completed the genomic sequences of the viruses and assembled them into a "family tree," which shows how the viruses are related, with their commonalities and differences.

They think once they can identify what all of the strains have in common they may be able to develop a wonder drug. Hats off to them, but be damned if I'm giving up my sick days.

Medical Breakthrough: Man remains HIV free.

A while back a man received a... well the article tells it all pretty succinctly.
FTA: A 42-year-old HIV patient with leukemia appears to have no detectable HIV in his blood and no symptoms after a stem cell transplant from a donor carrying a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to the virus that causes AIDS, according to a report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The patient is fine," said Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany. "Today, two years after his transplantation, he is still without any signs of HIV disease and without antiretroviral medication."

Now before you get too excited, this isn't a practical cure. Too few people carry the mutated gene and the transplant is both costly and serious procure with all the risks you'd expect... but its a step towards a cure for HIV.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dear Scott,

Sometimes you gotta roll a hard six...

"If BSG Were An '80s Sitcom"

An idea

I went to see a doctor the other day since I have okay health insurance again. I mentioned a few problems, and the fact that they haven't been taken care of since I didn't have the money, and he went on for five minutes about how horrible health care in this country is and how we should have universal health care already. It was a little shocking, not because of what he was saying, but because HE was saying it. Every other doctor I've had the misfortune of seeing in New York has been greedier than Scrooge McDuck. At any rate, we all heard a lot of talk during the campaign about health care and the big changes that were going to be made. Apparently, Tom Daschle's idiotic tax problems are now being used as an excuse to, once again, ignore the problem of health care in this country.
There are a lot of arguments on the other side about "socialized" medicine (anything socialized is apparently evil). It's a little silly. We pay taxes. These taxes go to the government, which is ostensibly supposed to use this money to provide for us basic services. Public education. Department of Defense. I realize there are some extreme loonie-tune rightwingers out there that believe we should get rid of the Department of Education (who needs lernin' anyways?), but would any of them argue that we should get rid of the Department of Defense? For some reason, there are enough people out there that think it's okay for us to spend over a TRILLION DOLLARS on our defense budget, but zero on universal health care (I'm not counting medicaid/medicare because it's not universal). Some of these people also want to cut public education. Defense=Yes, Education & Health=No. This means we would be the safest country for sick idiots in the world. Yay!
So, my idea: The Department of Defense is tasked with keeping this country safe and secure. Well, what could be more tantamount to safety and security than our national health? Let's start pulling a few of our troops out of every corner of the world, kill a couple of the more ridiculous and extravagant spending projects in the defense budget (missile defense shield, really?? Uh, Cold War is over, boys...) and use that money to create a line item for Universal Health Care in the DOD budget. And if the billion-dollar health insurance industry wants to fight that, we'll call them unpatriotic for not supporting the Department of Defense.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

iPhone and Kindle; Apples and Oranges

With Google's Book Project going mobile, a lot of media outlets and blogger are trying to pass off the idea that the iPhone could actually be considered a competitor in the eReader market (1,2,3). This has no chance of happening for the following two reasons:

Battery life - I don't know about you, but when I'm reading a book, I usually read for an hour or two. Do you think your iPhone or Google Android based phone has enough juice to continuously power the display for that long? The Kindle consumes very little power, giving you days (not hours) of reading time.

Screen size - You can get away with video on a phone, but no one wants to read that much text on a 3.5 inch or smaller screen. Add the back-lit screen, and your eyes are going to tire quickly. Kindles paper ink technology means no glare, and the screen is about the size of a paperback page.

While I'm sure we'll see great sales for iPhone eReader app developers, we won't see any drop in marketshare from Amazon's Kindle. Avid book readers who are thinking of going digital want something that still maintains the legibility, capacity, and sustain of an actual book. Mobile apps are going to see high sales, followed by little usage.

It's safe to say that phones aren't going to make any significant strides in digitizing print industries unless they can tackle those obstacles. While I think the kindle is overpriced for the features it offers (take away the wireless feature, have it sync to your computer, and they could be offering it for a whole lot less), it's the best bet technology has in directly porting the written word to a screen.

The Daily Show: Future Shock

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The continuing adventure of LED lights

I'm hijacking a thread someone else had going here:

LED streetlights that can be dimmed, flashed in emergencies and controlled from a central location or via a cellphone. Yeah, I miss San Francisco.

The article is here.

One step closer to a better world....

Wouldn't life be better if we had a cure for AIDs, cure for cancer, and a way to combine bubble wrap and calendars?

Wait a minute....What's that sound coming from an office down the hall....hmmm....


Felix and Tom's Bogus Journey

Well, that was certainly an eventful nine hours. 

At once, we see the failure of idealism, in the form of Gaeta, and the failure of the outright cynicism of Zarek's autocracy. Sure, had Gaeta followed Zarek's entreaty to execute all of their opposition outright, their bloody revolution would probably have lasted a whole lot longer: they would be in command of the only ship in the fleet with guns (once they separated themselves from the Cylons), and they were already in control of the tyllium ship, without which any dissenters would be left behind to die a horrible death. 

But even so, Zarek's fleet would have brought the people of the fleet to a whole new level of despair, worse than their current status quo, if that's at all possible. Eventually, his troops aboard Galactica would grow to resent their new overlord, and take him out. But this new fleet would be without help from the Cylons, and would have executed the best and the brightest among them.

As it stands, it was Gaeta's idealism that caused their revolution to collapse. He insisted that everything be done "right." But without a real system of justice, after ordering the execution of the rightful head of government, who is Gaeta to appeal to what is "right." 

Romo Lampkin, in a much more worthy return after last year's Sine Qua Non, was able to cut right through Gaeta's kangaroo court. He points out the utter nonsense of trying to have a real court-martial among an illegitimate command, and knows full well that Gaeta would be better off saving time and executing Adama early on. In a wonderful nod to Season Three's  The Son Also Rises, Lampkin steals a pen from Gaeta (like the pen he stole from Baltar, and the numerous other little objects he was compelled to steal) and uses it to take out his guard. He also gave us another Earth cultural reference to throw on the pile when he called his guards Wynken and Blynken.

Also, very appropriate that in the episode where we get a proper use of Lampkin, we get the return of Captain Kelly. Just to jog your memory, Kelly has been around since the miniseries. In Season Three, he was put in the brig after killing two of Baltar's previous attorneys and attempting to kill Romo Lampkin (killing several bystanders in the process). It was Romo's kleptomania that eventually brought him down. How ironic that now, he can't bring himself to kill a Cylon, chief Tyrol, and works to bring down Gaeta's mutiny and restore Adama to power. Seems he's been doing some thinking in his long tenure in the brig. 

Roslin, aboard the Cylon base ship, shows that her leadership skills and powers of persuasion, transcend the human race. Make no mistakes, the rebel Cylons will never again underestimate her will.

Finally, the penultimate scene, between Baltar and Gaeta, provides a needed sense of closure for Gaeta, although the scene is presented in a very strange way. First, it's set in Gaeta's quarters, not in the brig. You would think that as the ringleader of a mutiny, Gaeta would be sequestered in Galactica's dankest cell. At first, I thought this scene, and Gaeta's resolution, was taking place in his mind (Gaeta spends the scene sitting in his chair in his quarters, and then we cut to him sitting in a chair in the launch tube, awaiting his execution), but the official statements about the scene would tend to indicate otherwise, with no mention of the scene being imaginary, but with a mention that they intended to misdirect the audience:
The scene is kind of wicked, too. We’re supposed to believe that Gaeta’s been spared. It takes place in Gaeta’s quarters (Ron’s idea). And Gaeta speaks of himself in the present tense, how he wants people to know who he is, or something to that effect. 
Just a few quick notes to wrap up:
- According to Michael Angeli (in the same interview cited above), there was enough excised material to fill a whole other episode. Hopefully, that footage will make its way onto the DVD.
- Also from Angeli, the Six who sleeps with Baltar is named "Lida." Might this be a reference to "Leda," the Queen of Sparta who, according to myth, was impregnated by Zeus, who came to her in the form of a swan? Something to consider, since she's just slept with Baltar.
- Speaking of Baltar, interesting to see him finally come out and let us know where he stands with his whole "turn," and whether or not it's genuine. 


I understand this guys point... but I kinda feel like he's missing it, too. I mean, from my experience, the only people repeatedly using the term "Darwinism" are exactly the people who are TRYING to belittle the science. No self respecting biologist, anthropologist, geneticist, etc etc would ever use the word "Darwinism" to describe the science of what they do. It's the crazy nutters who believe the world is only 6,000 years old, our ancestors were chimpanzees and dinosaur bones were put in the ground by God, who call evolutionary science "Darwinism". At any rate, an interesting piece nonetheless.


Not really world changing tech, but we can expect a general trend away from both buttons and touch screens towards augmented reality... as soon as it doesn't make you look like Larry from Arrested Development Season 3.

FTA: The folks at MIT have christened their wearable prototype Wear Ur World (WUW), a device cobbled together using everyday gizmos like a mobile projector, Webcam, and mobile phone. Hopefully, when the final product does ship, it'll reveal a sleeker, less clunky rendition without the colored finger bands, and one that has a discreet mode for when you need to access information privately.

Particularly neat: As a demonstration of its capabilities, the wearer can draw a circle on his wrist, prompting the gadget to project a digital clock face.

I had previously read about either this, or a similar system, but now I can't find the original article. It had other details, like holding your hands in front of you in a square activates the camera mode. By incorporating common gestures the device is very intuitive and, thus, very likely to catch on.

Man, it’s speeding up…

I had read about this concept being discussed in serious practical terms for the first time just last week… FTA: A room with 85 microphones and eight cameras that act as the eyes and ears of a projected talking head that is capable of recognizing speakers and turning towards their position. The project by these UPC researchers brings the vision of interacting with machines in a human way one step closer.

… To me this was obviously an early attempt at a smart house, but as the research team behind it admitted, ‘the room "can do the same thing that any other computer can do; that is, it can not do anything physical, but it can provide information. The room", says Josep Ramón Casas, "does not act as a servant, rather it provides answers similar to those we would obtain from a computer."’

I flagged this article with the intent of talking about it… but before I could, I saw this one, FTA: Shimizu Corp and Yaskawa Electric Corp opened the "Smart Showroom" demonstration space as the first step of the "Smart Robotics Building" project, which involves the use of robot technologies in intelligent buildings.

And more: The project is aimed at providing various services and comfortable living environment through combination of building infrastructure technologies and robot technologies. Robots will play the roles of receptionist, guide, delivery personnel, cleaners, guards, etc in place of humans. For example, they will approach visitors, attend to and take them to their destinations in the building.

What this says to me is that even now we’re able to jerry-rig together a handful of systems and tricks to create an approximation of something far greater. Before we have actual AI we’ll have integrated systems that can perform with the approximate sophistication of low level AI. These systems may not seem impressive once you know their tricks, but like a skilled cold reader, they'll be able to blow away a lay person.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's all in your head...

... And that's okay.

I've been passively trying to articulate the points made in this article for a while. They take a decidedly scientific approach (well, it is New Scientist), which is great on many levels, but I think at its core the points the author makes can be intuited as well. And when you're dealing with something as intangible as religion and spiritual belief, going with your gut seems pretty appropriate. Anyway, I've never been big on atheism or even agnosticism since it just seems like that's just another form of cultish belief, and for me it's more of a none issue. I don't understand religion, belief in a higher power, etc, but I've never really cared terribly much if other people do. It's when they start to push those beliefs on other people, and society at large, that I get a bit steamed. All of this is to say, I don't really care what you believe, nor am I really out there to try to disprove the existence of a higher power, but I do often think about what drives people to believe in these things. I mean, immaculate conception? An elephant headed man with 4 arms? Aliens in volcanoes??
At any rate, here's a pretty key point I've often argued without any scientific knowledge to back it up (but it felt right, and like I said, it's religion, so how're you going to argue with me?):
"The mind has another essential attribute: an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ah, f*ck me! Actual headline: 'Innovation: Artificial brain for sale!'

Not as scary as the headline makes it sound, basically someone's made a better voip system. Article.

Still there are some impressive bits: 'For example, Voss says the system can use its ability to track the flow and sense of the conversation to work out who a pronoun - such as she or you - is referring to.'

And the article could be revealing how AGI might be priced in the future (based on how this is priced now: 'What's more, this brain is for sale with a tag of $30,000. It can also be rented for about 20 cents a minute.'

30k is a key price point. If you can buy AGI for 30k it will have a catastrophic and immediate impact on employment numbers. Why? Because a company would be able to justify spending on a system that will pay for itself in savings in just a single year (and thats assuming it won't also be eliminating jobs that pay over 30k a year- which it will), they might not be able to justify spending on a system with a longer pay back period, as this would too greatly impact their quarterly earnings.

Hopefully this price point doesn't reflect the cost of AGI systems in the future, and, hopefully, any incremental advance in AGI will come with an exponential increase to the price tag... but I doubt it. As always, I'm not worried about the AI or the AGI, just how smoothly its integrated into our economy.

Also of interest is the potential for early competition between humans and AI to push humans away from hourly wages and towards pay based on the amount of time spent on a given task. In other words, a lot of what an employee is paid today could be thought of as paying for their presences or paying for them to be 'on call' on site. If leased AI is able to do the same thing but the company is only charged with the amount of time the AI is actually working, will this force humans to accept similar terms?

A Magazine's Effect on Search Traffic Inspires an iPhone App

“When 2-and-a-half-year-old start-up NearbyNow noticed demand for women's clothing and accessories spiked up without fail around the eighth to the 10th day of each month, it decided to investigate. After some research, it zeroed in on the trigger: Lucky magazine. NearbyNow is in the online business of locating the closest retail outlet that stocks merchandise shoppers are searching for -- anything from a snowman cookie jar on Oprah's favorite list to a Prada bag. It locates the things you want based on your search query of a product with a specific location. It's a concierge service of sorts and even has a call center that makes sure the item you want is in stock at the store and then confirms it's there, or not there, via e-mail. When the shopping magazine, which catalogs the latest clothing, shoes, handbags, sunglasses and makeup, hits the newsstands, queries go up. Way up. (Yes, it turns out the youth still read print.) So Scott Dunlap, president-CEO of NearbyNow, took his findings to Lucky several months ago and struck a partnership with the Conde Nast-owned title. Now the two are set to launch an iPhone application that brings the geo-locating concierge service to the mobile handset. Every product featured in the magazine will have a corollary in the iPhone app, which means iPhone-toting fashionistas can dial into the Lucky app and see if their nearby retail outlet has their object of their desire in stock, in their size and in the color that matches their favorite nail color.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

AI: It won't need to be as smart as us...

... to take our jobs. I've made this argument many times before, how much of your brain does your job actually require? Do you need to have opinions on art or literature to perform your tasks? Do you need to do math while constructing complex sentences? Though a requirement for you to live, does your job benefit from the energy your brain expends telling your body to breath or your heart to beat? No.

So seeing this article, which indicates bees can learn to distinguish between human faces (even at multiple angles)despite having much, much smaller brains than us, suggests that many of the seemingly daunting problems facing AI researchers will be resolved long before we develop a whole brain simulation- which in turn isn't as far away as I'd like.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

iLife 09: First Impressions

I have to say, overall I'm impressed with the majority of the new features of the new iLife suite:


What I love: The face recognition, while not perfect, is amazing, but the Facebook sync has to be the best new feature. You can upload albums to your profile, and when people tag your photos, you can sync those tags back to iPhoto!

What I'd like to see: While Faces, Places, and Events are nice, not everyone uses them. I like that iTunes allows you what type of libraries to show (Music, Movies, Podcasts, Etc). I'd like to see a similar feature for the iPhoto sidebar.


What I love: Precision editing is great; it's odd that it took them this long to add it!

What I'd like to see: It was too bad iMovie's companion iDVD didn't get any noticeable updates. While online video is becoming the fad, DVD is still popular as a family video medium.


What I love: A visual representation of virtual amps and pedals is a nice step in making amateur recording fun and user friendly. While I probably won't use the "Learn To Play" feature, it's a great tool that if developed, may give Practica Musica a fair amount of competition (although I don't see Apple offering theory lessons in the future).

What I'd like to see: With the virtual pedals, I'd love for Line 6 or M-Audio to create a USB stompbox to give it an authentic experience. I'm also hoping that they eventually create an environment like where musicians can collaborate on projects through the web.


What I love: Finally, they added direct FTP publishing! The process I had to go through in order to update all of my websites was just to complicated (while other programs offered FTP publishing, nothing beats the WYSIWYG capabilities iWeb offers).

What I'd like to see: There's still a few features that are easy to offer to external sites that they limit to MobileMe published sites (password protection, RSS). If they want to keep MobileMe popular, they should consider adding domain hosting as a feature of the service.

Unusual Things Done For Money....

This is from one of the Blogs I read a lot...

"A friend of mine was a census recounter, making one last swipe through town to make sure every resident was counted. He was assigned the area of town in which, due to regsitration and minimum distance requirements, all the registered sex offendered lived."

Beam me up, Scotty! (But this may take a while)

FTA: "Without quite the drama of Alexander Graham Bell calling out, “Mr. Watson, come here!” or the charm of the original “Star Trek” television show, scientists have nonetheless achieved a milestone in communication: teleporting the quantum identity of one atom to another a few feet away."

I think the biggest applications of this technology will be for quantum encryption. As amazing as PGP encryption is (and especially considering how simple it is), it's still not 100% secure. And you know the NSA has the computing power to break through even well encrypted communication using PGP. If they couldn't, you can pretty much place bets on PGP software being illegal (it was regulated, and still is in a way, by US munitions export regulations... read more about all that here.) Anyway, quantum encryption is probably a long way off from being accessible by anybody and everybody, but when it gets close you can pretty much bet we'll see the government do their best to shut it down, seeing as it's completely unbreakable (at least as far as I know, and admitedly I haven't kept up with a lot of the technology). Not to get all folksy on everyone, but I'm a big fan of encryption simply because with a good enough encryption scheme, we can keep the other people (ahem, the government, ahem) from reading our mail, IMs, and generally spying on us. Yay privacy! Also, online banking is pretty convenient.

The Headline Says it All

Headline: Man Robs Convenience Stores With Klingon Sword

What would it take for you to change one of your fundamental beliefs?

I previously posted about the possibility that we’re living in a hologram universe. Today, I encountered more articles about it. It seems that its picking up speed- more experiments are already being done, more theories are already being tested- and we should have a better idea as to whether or not its true in the next few years.

The idea could revolutionize physics. It could provide the key to a unified field theory. It could also mean that we live in two dimensions despite experiencing three. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around that. It so utterly challenges one of my fundamental beliefs about the universe to the extent that there’s a chance I may just reject it on some level… because not doing so would mean I’d have to seriously consider Nick ‘Nancy Boy’ Bostrom’s simulation argument. (Bostrom, to his credit, doesn't believe the affirmative of all of his arguments.)

My beef with Bostrom:

I haven’t read him as extensively as I should considering how respected he is among futurists. I really should read him, but I have trouble getting passed what I see as weird leaps in logic that he makes. For starters he seems incapable of making any sort of prediction that doesn’t center around a base of, ‘either the universe is nothing like we think, or all intelligent species destroy themselves!’ This in turn is based off of very little. Further, he uses Beysian reasoning a lot which always sets off my bullshit detector.

More to the point, the simulation argument is one of those things people discuss that can’t can neither be proven nor disproven and also provides us with no new information. Another example of this kind of thing- ‘This rock isn’t really a rock, it’s a hyper-intelligent being that has disguised itself as a rock. So intelligent is this hyper-intelligent being that it is now in all ways indistinguishable from a rock.’ Or as Nick Bostrom would put it, ‘Given that there is virtually an infinite number of stars in the universe, and that some percentage of these stars would have planets that could support life, and that some percentage of those planets would produce intelligent life, and that some percentage of those intelligent life forms would enjoy nothing more than traveling across the universe to disguise themselves perfectly as rocks, then we are forced to conclude that either some percentage of the rocks on our planet are actually super intelligent beings disguised as rocks, or that all intelligent life destroys itself before its able to achieve its deepest desire (of traveling across the cosmos and perfecting its rock related camouflage). We must hope that some percentage of our rocks are hyper intelligent aliens or it would not bode well for our future.’ Yeah, thanks Nick.

Still, if it turns out we’re living in a holographic universe than that seems, at least to me, that I need to take the simulation argument slightly more seriously. And this in turn raises the question, what would it take to convince you to change your position on one of your fundamental beliefs? From Atheist to Theist (or Deist)? From Christian to Atheist? From Democrat to Republican? From Libertarian to Socialist? What would it take?

IBM to deliver 20 petaflops computer... that number could be made up.

There's a lot of implications to this...

FTA: IBM has promised the DOE that the computer, part of its Blue Gene series and scheduled for delivery in 2011, will be capable of 20 petaflops, or 20 quadrillion floating operations per second. That's the equivalent of completing calculations in around eight hours that would take a typical Intel-powered (nasdaq: INTC - news - people ) laptop 20,000 years--or, by IBM's count, the ability to finish in one hour a series of computations that would require the entire population of the planet, armed with pocket calculators, 320 years to complete.

That's neat but what I'm interested in is this... From another article: With 20 petaflops of computing power, meteorologists could predict local weather down to the 100-meter range. For an event like a tornado, that could mean being able to predict the path that the twister takes through a town, allowing for targeted evacuations that save lives.

And more importantly, from a third article (this one a couple of years old...): So, to simulate a human brain running in real-time, we need about 20 petaflops of computational capacity.

Personally, I think this guys estimates are way off, but then again, Kurzweil guess is 10 petaflops... Anyway you slice it we're closing in (or are alreaty there). My best estimate, we're about half way between a mouse and man.

One last note, this advance is well ahead of Moore's law.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Surgery: 1st time a Kidney's been removed through the Vagina

This one speaks for its self. Headline: Surgeons remove healthy kidney through donor's vagina.

This really is wonderful. Of course, lacking a vagina (despite what my 9th grade gym teacher may have lead you to believe) its of little benefit to me. Still, the less invasive the surgery the more remarkable it is.

The Cheapening: Power Consumption

Will we get off fossil fuels? Not quickly, but we may be able to avoid the worst of peak oil but continuing to improve the energy efficiency of all of our tech... and a big, big portion of our electricity goes to computers...

FTA: "Roughly speaking, we predict there could be a 1,000-time reduction in power consumption with electronic computers built in this new way," said Wolkow, a physicist at the University of Alberta.

But wait, there's more...

FTA: "And they could be something like 1,000 times smaller in size. So it's reaching the very limit as far as anyone could imagine of how small things could get."

What kind of sorcery is this?!?

FTA: 'Scientists at Edmonton's National Institute for Nanotechnology have made a significant breakthrough that could help pave the way for new generations of smaller, more energy-efficient computers.

The team, led by Robert Wolkow, has invented the world's smallest quantum dots, atom-sized devices capable of controlling electrons, using a fraction of the power of current computer technology.'

A computer one one thousandth the present size of our computers is wonderful but its the reduction in power consumption that thrills me. Think of how many computers there are in offices and homes all over the world. Obviously they wouldn't be changed over night, but with each new computer sold (once the tech because ubiquitous)that massive power need would be chipped away. Meanwhile, those of us who dream of living off the grid won't have to make such gut wrenching sacrifices, or shell out nearly as much, to go solar.

What's starting to form, what I'm starting to see emerge as the picture of our future is self sufficient energy creation. A solar panel on every roof, LED's in every light socket, a small, super energy efficient computer... if our power needs are shrinking and our capacity to generate power (through solar and wind)are increasing we can start to see a point when large scale power production becomes a thing of the past...

...of course this means job loses. Coal mining, drilling for natural gas, power stations, managing the grid, laying the cable... all of these things will go the way of the 8-track and, soon, the record store.

Its going to be a weird and, potentially, rocky transition. As our power needs shrink you can expect the price of kilowatt hours to spike, this will of course accelerate the change. This in turn could prompt power companies to drop their prices but their method of power creation may not be efficient enough to accommodate the new lower prices- they will fail. Their only option is to buy up patents on personal power generation tech and I think they're already too late.

If lights account for roughly 20% of total power usage (at least in the UK), how much would a thousand fold reduction in the power needs of computers effect our total energy demands? And what other technologies will benefit from this tech breakthrough?

"Everyone likes Gaeta, so let's let him off the hook."


After the relative quiet of last week's episode, Galactica has returned to full force, and the fleet is experiencing the repurcussions of Roslin's running a secret government, and then all-but-abdicating and leaving the disaffected and power-hungry in charge. I've been in a bit of a debate with someone on a message board who's saying that he's rooting for Gaeta, as Gaeta's the only one who's out for individual freedom. Well, I don't want to appear to be attacking a straw man, because I think this position is extreme to the point of being indefensible, but there is some validity to Gaeta's "side."

Foremost, it shouldn't be up to Admiral Adama to force the other ships in the fleet to accept Cylon tech. Of course, he took the position of leaving behind ships that supported Roslin back in Season Two, and it led to some pretty shitty results, so it's perfectly understandable that he wants to keep the band together.

But let's assume that they do allow ship captains to decide on a case by case basis if they want the upgrade. What's going to happen to the ships that refuse the upgrade? Is the rest of the fleet going to abandon them? What about any people on those ships who don't want to be left behind?

But putting all that aside, Gaeta and Zarek are simply thugs. They've taken these ideas, and run with them to a sickening extreme.

First, the treaty with the Cylon Rebels was made by the then Acting President, Lee Adama (who was nearly arrested and assassinated by Zarek and Gaeta's men because they didn't like what he'd done). It's not up to Zarek to simply toss that aside and say "we're still at war with these people because Earth was a shitty place."

Second, Gaeta's mutiny aboard Galactica has been fraught with injustices. In the first few minutes of the show, Zarek brained Laird, one of the most trod-upon characters in the series, with a wrench. Gaeta's mutiny seems to be comprised of the rape gang from Pegasus and some severely damaged individuals, like Liam. (There's the exception, of course, of Racetrack, who seems to have fallen in with the wrong crowd. Racetrack, if you're reading this, come home and I'll forgive you!)

Still, great to see Kara getting to do what she does best: being unstable and unpredictable. It sure beats her just being morose.

Also great to see Baltar back in the plot, up to his old tricks, and acknowledging his relationship with Gaeta, and the secret they share from the New Caprica occupation.

A couple predictions for next week: Hot Dog was one of the pilots that Gaeta gave the order to shoot Roslin's Raptor. I'm guessing that he'll be the one to save their necks, since he's been bonding with Tyrol lately over "their" son. Also, I think the writers are going to tear a page from Saving Private Ryan, and have Adama and Tigh's POW come back to bite them heinously in the ass.

Finally... Does it worry anyone else that Tigh is exactly the type of person to throw himself on a grenade to save his best friend?

Mobile Lab

Or maybe that should read Mobile Phone Lab. This is pretty amazing.
From "Professor Aydogan Ozcan of UCLA has taken a typical Sony Ericsson phone, and by adding a few off-the-shelf parts that cost less than $50, he can get it to produce a remarkable image that shows the thousands of cells in a small fluid sample such as human blood."

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Cheapening: More Economic Optimism

I'm a fan of the $100 dollar laptop project. Right now the price is actually about $188 dollars, but its moving in the right direction and will eventually narrow the technology (and information access gap) tremendously... now India is trying to produce a $20 dollar laptop.

The world is going to get weird. Cloud computing make netbooks feasible. Breakthroughs in one technology interconnect with others. Advances in solar will change the way we look at power supply problems. Advances like the cheaper LED light bulbs reduce our power needs and could, potentially, also be implemented into netbooks or related devices.

What if the war on poverty is won not by significantly increasing wages but rather by making living on a dollar a day nearly feasible? Can we expect other important expenses to lower in a similar fashion? Houses? Cars? I'm not suggesting everyone would want to drive a Tata Nano or live in paper house, but seven thousand dollars is attainable to even a minimum wage worker- and these costs are likely to fall further.

You got a grant for what?

Headline: What Happens When a Stone Impacts Water?

Man, the guys over at the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM), the University of Twente in the Netherlands and the University of Seville in Spain, must be the best fraking grant writes in the business. Now, I must concede it isn't as silly and simplistic as it sounds, but you know that if that group approached anyone in America for money they'd get the immediate response of, 'A splash, now fuck off.'

I'm not a Black Helicoptarian, I promise.

My cousin coined the term "Black Helicoptarian" sometime last year while we were discussing nutty conspiracy theorists (the idea being that conspiracy theorist was a bit too intelligent a term to describe people like, say, this). Anyway, I tend to go through cycles of news gathering, waxing through a daily perusal of and and, once I get totally depressed by real news, waning through and So I'm waxing now (that sounds weird) and was catching up with some old Democracy Now! postings and happened upon this. I was staying relatively on top of this stuff back in 2004, but it was just too scary and depressing to continue to follow. Like I said, I'm not a Black Helicoptarian, and it's easy to dismiss this by saying it's all generated by a bunch of paranoid nutters, but after the whole election debacle in 2000 (and it was a mess no matter what you thought of the outcome), I have to give reports like this more credit.
FTA: "A top Republican internet strategist who was set to testify in a case alleging election tampering in 2004 in Ohio has died in a plane crash. Michael Connell was the chief IT consultant to Karl Rove and created websites for the Bush and McCain electoral campaigns. Michael Connell was deposed one day before the election this year by attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and Bob Fitrakis about his actions during the 2004 vote count in Ohio and his access to Karl Rove’s email files and how they went missing."

Why I love public domain

While I certainly think authors/artists should be compensated for their work while they're alive, I think anything you create should fall into public domain once you've joined the choir invisible. Even if you come back as a zombie [second paragraph down]. I mean, if my kids (and grand kids and great-grand kids) are so spoiled that they expect to live off MY work while they do absolutely nothing, they have another thing coming. Like this.

Also, keep an eye out here.