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 TED.com 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.

Remote Surgery

The first hour's the most important. Strokes, heart attacks, serious injuries- your odds of surviving any of them dramatically improve if you're able to get medical care within the first hour. With that in mind, meet the ER... 2.o.

FTA: Help could come in the form of a mobile operating theatre, according to a consortium led by non-profit lab SRI International, based in Menlo Park, California. The device, called Trauma Pod, is still in the early stages, but its developers claim it will ultimately be able to retrieve someone from the battlefield, diagnose them, and perform lifesaving procedures while transferring them to hospital.

This, or something quite a bit like it, could also be used on manned mission to Mars or in remote parts of the world where access to hospitals is spotty at best. This also fits into my general thesis about our work force- we'll be able to streamline more and more each day. Still, the days of AI doctors aren't around the corner.

The Swords Other Edge

Tech's frequently a double edged sword. One man's cancer treatment is another's weapon.

FTA: A technique thought to be a promising cancer treatment is also being investigated as the basis for a Taser-like weapon that stuns for longer, New Scientist has learned.

Nano-warfare will be every bit as nasty as chemical warfare. The only upshot is that, in theory, it *could* also be more discriminating. Personally I'd rather deal with cookie-cutter nanobots (nano's that get into your blood and explode) than gas.

Immortality and Naked Mole Rats.

Naked mole rats live nine times longer than similar sized rodents. They also enjoy good health throughout there longs lives owing to cells that are particularly efficient at getting ride of damaged proteins. All in all, pretty remarkable stuff. Understanding why some organisms live longer than others is a crucial step towards prolonging our own quality of life and, eventually, our life spans themselves.

FTA: “Naked mole rats don’t show the usual deterioration of aging, such as menopause or decline in brain function,” said paper co-author Rochelle Buffenstein, Ph.D., professor of physiology at the Barshop Institute and one of the world’s leading experts on aging in naked mole rats. “They demonstrate a healthy longevity that all of us would like to emulate.”

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Coolest Thing About Chickens You'll Read All Day

Que the music. Duh-duh-duh, duh-duh, Duh-duh-duh... FTA: Some of the world's leading paleontologists are attempting to recreate a
dinosaur — or something a lot like a dinosaur — by starting with a chicken embryo and working backward to engineer a "chickenosaurus" or "dinochicken," project leader Jack Horner told Discovery News.

I defy you to tell me you haven't started to hear the music from Jurassic Park play in your head...

The Holodeck

I've been re-watching Star Trek: TNG. I love the show. Watching it now, as an adult, I marvel out how certain episodes have shaped how I feel about various topics. Capt. Picard was unquestionably a role model for me, or, at the least, impacted how I feel an adult should behave.

Changing gears, TNG introduced us, for better of for worse, to the holodeck. The holodeck gave us some of the series best episodes (ok, maybe just hollow pursuits) and some of its worst episodes (most of the other holo-heavy episodes), but however you feel about what its effects on the show's story telling, its difficult to deny the impact that the holodeck, or fully immersive virtually reality, had on the popular consciousness.

Going through some of my Pre-Otaku notes from Facebook, I found this link. No conversation about VR should be without it. The Germans who built it can call it the cyberwalk, if they insist, but we all know what it really is... just a grid of yellow lines away from being the floor of the holodeck.

Muckflash's Robot Love Story

The articles claims are dubious, in my opinion. I can't find anything on the Doctor or the Lab or the Robot prior to this article. The article itself seems to be the only source of this story which is ripping its way through several blogs that I like.

None-the-less, this is the story of a robot programmed to love... but, apparently, not programmed to respect boundries. FTA: The trouble all started when a young female intern began to spend several hours each day with Kenji, testing his systems and loading new software routines. When it came time to leave one evening, however, Kenji refused to let her out of his lab enclosure and used his bulky mechanical body to block her exit and hug her repeatedly. The intern was only able to escape after she had frantically phoned two senior staff members to come and temporarily de-activate Kenji.

Several things bother me about this article, not the least of which is this claim: After some limited environmental conditioning, Kenji first demonstrated love by bonding with a a stuffed doll in his enclosure, which he would embrace for hours at a time. He would then make simple, but insistent, inquiries about the doll if it were out of sight.

Juxtaposed by this: It doesn’t help that Kenji uses only pre-recorded dog and cat noises to communicate and is able to vocalize his love through a 20 watt speaker in his chest.

Other descriptions suggest a robot with ambulatory capacities beyond what are generally seen in even the best androids.

Verdict: Fake.

Bionic Eye

Well, technically, its not bionic exactly, but none-the-less making the blind see is pretty impressive. Hey, didn't we do something special for the last guy that could do that?

Still this is tech's far from perfect, FTA: The system works with the aid of eyeglasses, which hold a camera mounted on one of the lenses that captures images and sends the information to a video processor, also located on the glasses, according to the description of the technology on Second Sight's Web site. After the video processor converts the images to an electronic signal, a transmitter on the glasses sends that information wirelessly to a receiver attached to the surface of the eye. From there, the information is sent through a tiny cable to an electrode array implanted in the retina, stimulating it to emit electrical pulses. These pulses trigger signals in the retina that travel through the optic nerve to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark spots that correspond to the electrodes stimulated.

It's easy to imagine a day when it won't just be spots of light and dark. As we get better at restoring site, this tech will have other applications as well in AR and VR for example. Very exciting stuff.

'Daddy, why were poets sad?'

'Because they didn't understand protein P11, sweetie.'

FTA: ScienceDaily (Mar. 6, 2009) — It takes weeks or months for the effect of most antidepressants to kick in, time that can feel like an eternity to those who need the drugs the most. But new research suggests that a protein called p11, previously shown to play a role in a person’s susceptibility to depression, activates a serotonin receptor in the brain known for producing a rapid antidepressant response. If scientists could develop drugs to target this receptor, they might produce an effect in as little as two days.

Two days vs. several weeks? Not bad. As usual, I'm not in favor of anti-depressants being administered casually.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

'Daddy, what's a store?'

'History, sweetie, ancient history.'

As a boy, when dragged with my folks to the local mall, I used to take refuge in the videogame stores. (This was, of course, in the days before cell phones, which meant I actually had to be where I said I was going to be when I said I would be there... but that's another story.) I used to look at the video game magazines, browse their new and used titles, and ask questions about release dates... I liked it. It satisfied that primitive hunter-gatherer instinct. It's also dead in the water. One of the few remaining reasons to go to a video game store, to buy used games, is gone.... Amazon is entering the used game market. Oh, Funcoland, we hardly knew ye.

This should surprise no one. The video store, the video game store, the record store... these are all doomed. Also, grocery stores are likely going to continue to trend towards specialization. Freshdirect is just better. And all this, all this is old tech that's replacing what we used to know. We're still seeing the effects of the internet on society. Forget AI, forget Robots- something that I've been using since I was 14 isn't done changing the world yet.

Holy Florking Schnit! Cure For Cancer.... and some other stuff too.

FTA: LA JOLLA, Calif., March 4 (UPI) -- A new type of vaccination could be used to provide instantaneous protection against viruses, bacteria, cancers and virulent toxins, U.S. researchers say.

You want the nutshell version? Chemicals injected into the blood trigger an immune reaction that can be programed. Other chemicals injected into the blood can recognize cancer (or presumably other targets). These other chemicals hook up with antibodies. They then circulate until they get the kill signal from the first chemicals.

Part of the problem with cancer is that our bodies immune system doesn't recognize the cancer as being harmful- or rather, the cancer, being from us, is ignored by our immune system. You could have the second chemical floating round in your blood, hooked up with your antibodies and then, once diagnosised, inject the first chemical which tells the second chemical what its after.

Pretty damn cool stuff.

Gattaca: It begins.

I don't know if the movie spawned the discussion or the discussion spawned the movie. Either way its a series and legitimate problem. If you're not familiar with Gattaca- as a movie I give it a solid B (maybe even B+)- you should check it out. Or, if you prefer, here's a link to the Gattaca argument (also known as the genetic divide).

From that link: Some critics of libertarian transhumanism have focused on its likely socioeconomic consequences in societies in which divisions between rich and poor are on the rise. Bill McKibben, for example, suggests that emerging human enhancement technologies would be disproportionately available to those with greater financial resources, thereby exacerbating the gap between rich and poor and creating a "genetic divide".[95] Lee M. Silver, a biologist and science writer who coined the term "reprogenetics" and supports its applications, has nonetheless expressed concern that these methods could create a two-tiered society of genetically-engineered "haves" and "have nots" if social democratic reforms lag behind implementation of enhancement technologies.[97]

And so it begins...

FTA: A U.S. fertility clinic has announced that within six months it will begin offering couples the option to have tailor-made babies, selecting not only their offspring's gender but also cosmetic traits such as hair and eye color. The Fertility Institutes, an organization which has offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Mexico, says it can provide this service using a procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, according to the New York Daily News.

Today its just hair and eye color. Gender and, perhaps, screening for markers of genetic disorders. Some (and the article does a good job noting) believe that even the eye color is impossible today. But it won't be for long. And when the tech breaks we face the very real possibility of people being improved upon at a rate similar to computers- the very real possibility that a child will be rendered 'obsolete' by children born just a few years after it. Imagine if each year more geniuses where born with higher IQ's than the year before...

Of course its all moot as AI will have bitchwhipped us all by then.

Damn, wrong already!

Headline: First Virtual Reality Technology To Let You See, Hear, Smell, Taste And Touch

FTA: ScienceDaily (Mar. 4, 2009) — The first virtual reality headset that can stimulate all five senses has been developed. What was it really like to live in Ancient Egypt? What did the streets there actually look, sound and smell like? For decades, Virtual Reality has held out the hope that, one day, we might be able visit all kinds of places and periods as 'virtual' tourists.

The article's headline and lead paragraph over sell it a little. Really research teams from the Universities of York and Warwick have pinpointed what *needs* to be done. Still there are some very interesting bits such as:

"Smell will be generated electronically via a new technique being pioneered by Alan Chalmers and his team at Warwick which will deliver a pre-determined smell recipe on-demand. Taste and smell are closely linked but we intend to provide a texture sensation relating to something being in the mouth. Tactile devices will provide touch."

and then there was this line: There has been considerable public debate on health & safety as well as on ethical issues surrounding Real Virtuality, since this kind of technology fundamentally involves immersing users in virtual environments that separate them from the real world.

Really? Considerable you say? And where has this debate taken place? Oh... right... Europe. Yeah we prefer not to think of you socialist pinkos here in the Amurica! This is a perfect example of why I hate so many of my countrymen. They're slowing us down.

And a second link about the same break through.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kindle for iPhone - Great App, but not a Primary Reading Device

Amazon recently introduced a Kindle application for the iPhone, and will reportedly be creating a similar app for other mobile platforms in the near future. I think this is an awesome idea, but as I've said in a previous post, this will not become popular as a primary reading device.

Why do I like it? Reference. I'm not going to buy the latest great novel and read it on my tiny phone, but I did purchase the complete works of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. I might also buy a French/English Dictionary, and other reference books that I would find use for while on the road and away from my computer, kindle device, or a physical book.

But like most free apps, I see a surge of downloads once it's been released, followed by little usage. This will primarily find continued use from people who like to use it as a reference library, or those who own a Kindle and iPhone, and like having access to their kindle purchases without toting the device with them at all times.

Being the consumer technology geek I am, I will be both types of people once I can justify the purchase of a Kindle.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My completely unsubstantiated opinions

The Future Will Come in this Order:
1) Cure for Cancer is announced. A real cure. None of this chemo, 85% survival rate Bullshit. I'm talking out patient procedure. I'm talking you miss half a day of work, max, getting your lung cancer cleared up.
2) The Nano revolution. Robots in the Fucking Blood.
3) Robots running a handful of narrow AI programs gut the armed forces. (I mean GUT it. Its begun, but this will change the face of the army- no more lame commercials.)
4) People understand what I mean by AR. Early AR, though not as awesome as it will be in a couple of years, is handy and, relatively, cheap.
5) RapRep's common. The idea of buying plastic crap from Walmart becomes unthinkable.
6) Better RapRep's. Things are starting to seem like Star Trek... and by that I mean TNG, none of that Enterprise BS. (Honestly, a Southern chief engineer? What're we building a theme park?)
7) Fully immersive VR. Likely it will have become technically feasible before this point, but this is when those alpha consumer types will start buying it. I would, in all honesty, rather have this than literate children. As dumb as my kids would be, effe 'em, I'm going to Hawaii be back in an hour.
8) Aubrey De Grey seems less crazy (provided he's either a) shaved or b) purchased some reasonable clothes). Life extension finally all comes together. By this point Doctors will have done wonders replacing or even reversing the aging process of organs, but til this point it's been confined to the stopping light in a frozen bromide matrix field of science- neat tricks but not much good to us commoners.
9) The Cubs win the World Series.
10) Strong AI. Deal with it nerds! It's coming last!

How did I reach these conclusions? I read every science headline I can find. I built the order based on the amount of ink each topic gets. The one exception, Life Extension, could easily happen sooner, after all, curing cancer is, in a way, life extension. Everything health related becomes a form of life extension.

AI, and particularly strong AI, just doesn't make a lot of headlines. In fact, it makes very, very few. Because, near as I can tell, there isn't a lot directly happening. Still, for me, the stuff I'm worried about doesn't take strong AI...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Do you know 31 people?

Then chances are you know someone in prison, on probation or on parole. That's right, according to a new Pew Study, 1 in 31 Americans is in prison, on probation or on parole. That, in scientific terms, is totally fucked up. That means 1 in 31 Americans is a criminal, which would mean we're worse than Australia and, again, that's totally fucked up. Of course, 1 in 31 Americans is not a criminal (or shouldn't really be considered one), and this just goes to show how screwed up our priorities are. According to this article, prison spending outpaces "education, transportation and public spending". And yet, "the study found that despite increased spending on prisons, recidivism rates remained largely unchanged."