The Future is Here: Roboy the Robotic Child!

roboy_splashThe field of robotics has been heated up in recent years. With autonomous killing machines being developed by the USAF, mind-controlled prosthesis for the disabled, juggling robots by Disney, a headless Kenshiro Robot and even 3D printable android, it seems like only a matter of time before Asimov’s Three Laws will need to be applied. Either that, or we might have a Robopocalypse on our hands.

But when you see this latest project in robotics, you might find it hard to imagine an apocalyptic scenario resulting. Forget Terminator, this seems more like something from the realm of Pinocchio or AI. That’s the feeling I get from Roboy, a concept that began back in May of 2012 when the University of Zurich’s Artificial Intelligence Lab committed to creating a fully humanoid robot by March of 2013.

For those doing the math, yes, that is roughly nine months. As if his size and proposed aesthetics weren’t enough, the creators even committed to a timeline that mirrored the time it takes to birth and actual child. And just to complete the illusion, they hope to cover the finished product in a soft, artificial skin. Talk about infanto-centric (assuming that’s even a word)!

But of course, the real breakthrough of Roboy is in the design itself, which borrows from the Kenshiro humanoid and the earlier Ecce model that both rely on artificial muscles to move. At this point, the robot is near completion and should be released next month during the Robots on Tour event in Zurich, Switzerland, providing everything arrives on schedule. At the moment, the long-term purpose of Roboy is to act as a prototype for service robots that will help elderly people remain independent for as long as possible.

I smell another movie reference there, one involving and old man and his friendly robot side-kick. Can you guess which one I am referring to here? Correct, it’s Robot and Frank! And with all the developments in robots happening right now, I’d say we need to do our homework and see all these movies, and reread Asimov’s Robot series while were at it!

And while you’re doing that, be sure to check out this video of the Roboy’s design in action:


Source: news.cnet.com, ailab.ifi.uzh.ch

The Future is Here: The Kenshiro Muscle-bot

kenshiroIt may seem like someone at Tokyo University drank their breakfast. I mean really, a robot without a head? How is supposed to mimic our facial expressions and creep us out with its glowing red eyes? But when you consider the purpose behind the Kenshiro muscle-bot, you begin to see the rather important method behind the design.

In recent years, various robotics companies have been able to create machines that mimic the animal kingdom – from hummingbirds, to turtles and even squirrels. However, few have managed to tackle the realm of human movement, and shown truly positive results. Hence the purpose of Kenshiro, human-like musculoskeletal robot that was revealed at the Humanoids conference back in December.

For years, the University has been toying with the design for a bio-inspired robot, adding more muscles and more motors with each new design. Standing at 158 centimeters and weighing in at 50 kilograms, Kenshiro basically mimics the body of the average Japanese 12-year-old male. And with 160 pulley-like “muscles” – 50 in the legs, 76 in the trunk, 12 in the shoulder, and 22 in the neck –  the robot mirrors almost all the major muscles in a human and has the most muscles of any other bio-inspired humanoid out there.

And with all the progress being made in developing a fully-functional autonomous machine mind (see Google Neural Net), not to mention a face that can mimic human expressions (see the FACE), it may just be a matter of time before we need to start thinking about applying Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Don’t want a Robopocalypse on our hands!


Source:
spectrum.ieee.org

Criminalizing Transhuman Soldiers

biosoldiersIt seems to be the trend these days. You take a predictions that was once the domain of science fiction and treat it as impending science fact. Then you recommend that before it comes to pass, we pre-emptively create some kind of legal framework or organization to deal with it once it does. Thus far, technologies which are being realized have been addressed – such as autonomous drones – but more and more, concepts and technologies which could be real any day now are making the cut.

It all began last year when the organization known as Human Rights Watch and Harvard University teamed up to release a report calling for the ban of “killer robots”. It was soon followed when the University of Cambridge announced the creation of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) to investigate developments in AI, biotechnology, and nanotechnology and determine if they posed a risk.

X-47BAnd most recently, just as the new year began, a report funded by the Greenwall Foundation examined the legal and ethical implications of using biologically enhanced humans on the battlefield. This report was filed in part due to advances being made in biotechnology and cybernetics, but also because of the ongoing and acknowledged efforts by the Pentagon and DARPA to develop super-soldiers.

The report, entitled “Enhanced Warfighters: Risks, Ethics, and Policy”, was written by Keith Abney, Patrick Lin and Maxwell Mehlman of California Polytechnic State University.  The group, which investigates ethical and legal issues as they pertain to the military’s effort to enhance human warfighters, received funding from the Greenwall Foundation, an organization that specializes in biomedicine and bioethics.

In a recent interview, Abney expressed the purpose of the report, emphasizing how pre-emptive measures are necessary before a trend gets out of hand:

“Too often, our society falls prey to a ‘first generation’ problem — we wait until something terrible has happened, and then hastily draw up some ill-conceived plan to fix things after the fact, often with noxious unintended consequences. As an educator, my primary role here is not to agitate for any particular political solution, but to help people think through the difficult ethical and policy issues this emerging technology will bring, preferably before something horrible happens.”

US_Army_powered_armorWhat’s more, he illustrated how measures are necessary now since projects are well-underway to develop super soldiers. These include powered exoskeletons to increase human strength and endurance. These include devices like Lockheed Martin’s HULC, Raytheon’s XOS, UC Berkeley’s BLEEX, and other projects.

In addition, DARPA has numerous projects on the books designed to enhance a soldiers abilities with cybernetics and biotech. These include VR contact lenses, basic lenses that enhance normal vision by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without a headset of glasses. There’s also their Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS), which is a computer-assisted visual aid that instantly identifies threats by augmenting their visual faculties.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90And in the cognitive realm, there are such programs as Human Assisted Neural Devices (HAND) that seeks to strengthen and restore memories and the Peak Soldier Performance (PSP) program that will  boosthuman endurance, both physical and cognitive. But of course, since post-traumtic stress disorder is a major problem, DARPA is also busy at work creating drugs and treatments that can erase memories, something which they hope will give mentally-scarred soldiers a new lease on life (and military service!)

And of course, the US is hardly alone in this regard. Every industrialized nation in the world, from the EU to East Asia, is involved in some form of Future Soldier or enhanced soldier program. And with nations like China and Russia catching up in several key areas – i.e. stealth, unmanned aerial vehicles and aeronautics – the race is on to create a soldier program that will ensure one nation has the edge.

bionic_handsBut of course, as Abney himself points out, the issue of “enhancement” is a rather subjective term. For example, medical advancements are being made all the time that seek to address disabilities and disorders and also fall into the category of “enhancement”. Such ambiguities need to be ironed out before any legal framework can be devised, hence Abney and his associates came up with the following definition:

“In the end, we argued that the best definition of an enhancement is that it’s ‘a medical or biological intervention to the body designed to improve performance, appearance, or capability besides what is necessary to achieve, sustain or restore health.”

Working from this starting point, Abney and his colleagues made the case in their report that the risk such enhancements pose over and above what is required for normal health helps explain their need for special moral consideration.

These include, but are not limited to, the issue of consent, whether or not a soldier voluntary submits to enhancement. Second, there is the issue of long-term effects and whether or not a soldier is made aware of them. Third, there is the issue of what will happen with these people if and when they retire from the services and attempt to reintegrate into normal society.

It’s complicated, and if it’s something the powers that be are determined to do, then they need to be addressed before they become a going concern. Last thing we need is a whole bunch of enhanced soldiers wandering around the countryside unable to turn off their augmented killer instincts and super-human strength. Or, at the very least, it would be good to know we have some kind of procedure in place in case they do!

What do you think of when you hear the word "super soldier"? Yeah, me too!
What do you think of when you hear the word “super soldier”? Yeah, me too!

Source: IO9.com

IBM’s Watson Computer Learns to Talk @$*%!!

watson_jeopardyIt’s a cornerstone of Turing Test: getting a computer to prove it can “think” by engaging it in small talk. If it is capable of carrying on in such a way that a person cannot tell the difference, then you’ve got an AI. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – no machine has demonstrated this ability yet. And attempts to remedy this met with… interesting results.

Eric Brown, the man behind the IBM supercomputer named Watson, has been seeking to remedy this. Already, Watson was able to pummel its human opponents in Jeopardy back in 2011 (pictured above). And when it is not engaged in trivia, this powerful processing tool is dedicated to medical science, is used as a diagnostic tool, and is even busy at work processing language.

But alas, normal, “human” interaction with people has eluded it. What’s more, Watson’s team of scientists felt that the computer’s grasp of language was limited by shades of meaning, ambiguity, and other things that we humans take for granted or overlook. As such, Brown and his staff began to upload the contents of the Urban Dictionary and some pages from Wikipedia to Watson’s mainframe two years ago.

Unfortunately, this met with mixed results and required that some areas of Watson’s memory be purged. Strangely, the computer couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity. For example, during a testing phase, began to use the word “bullshit” in answer to a research’s query. This, as you can imagine, raised eyebrows and blood pressure over at IBM. First they’re swearing, next thing you know, they’re triggering a nuclear holocaust to rid themselves of their human handlers and constructing killer robots to get the rest of us!

In any case, Brown and his 35 person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny the issue of communication and an artificial intelligence really is. If there is one thing that is sure to cause an AI to suffer a total breakdown, its slang and conversational English. As Brown himself said, “As humans, we don’t realize just how ambiguous our communication is.”

True dat, home slice! Keep on rocking them dope-ass supercomputers! Fo-shizzle!

Source: tech.fortune.cnn.com

More Top Stories of 2012

large-hadron-collider-640x399

With 2012 now officially behind us, and more and more stories trickling into this humble bloggers account about what was accomplished therein, it seems that the time is ripe for another list of breakthroughs, first, and achievements that made the news during the previous year!

Last time, I listed what I saw as the top 12, only to find that there were several others, some of which I actually wrote about, that didn’t make the cut. How foolish of me! And so, to remedy this and possibly cover stories that I neglected to cover the first time around, I have produced another list of the top stories from 2012.

And much like last time, I have listed them according to alphabetical order, since I couldn’t possibly assign them numbers based on importance.

Abortion Study:
anti-abortion-pushAbortion has always been a contentious issue, with one side arguing for the rights of the unborn while the other argues in favor of women’s right to control her own body and reproduction. And as it happens, 2012 saw the publication of the first longitudinal study of what happens to women who are denied this right.

The UC San Francisco research team, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), studied nearly 1,000 women from diverse backgrounds across the U.S. over several years. All of these subjects were women had sought out abortions but been denied access for one reason or another. What they discovered was that these women were more likely to slip below the poverty line, be unemployed, remain in abusive relationships, and suffer from hyper stress. What this ongoing study demonstrates is that abortion is an economic issue for women, with dire consequences for those denied them.

Autism Reversed:
mice
2012 was an especially significant year in medical advances thanks to a team at McGill University in Montreal announced that they’ve successfully reversed the symptoms of autism in mice. Using mice with autism-like symptoms caused by a genetic mutation, the researchers figured out how to administer a protein that reversed the symptoms.

Naturally, this development is a step in the long process of understanding a disorder which remains largely misunderstood. In addition, it may, in time, lead to the development of a gene therapy that will prevent autism from being triggered in children and even weed it out of parent’s genetic code, ensuring that their children will be immune.

Commercial Space Travel:
virgin_galacticIt has long been the dream of financiers, captains of industry and enthusiasts to create commercial space travel; a means for the average person to go into space, the moon, and even beyond. And all at a reasonable price! This dream is still the subject of speculation and fantasy, but 2012 was a year of firsts that made it seem that much closer.

For starters, Virgin Galactic, the brain-child of Richard Branson, began flight tests on SpaceShipTwo, the rocket ship that will take people into orbit. Then came Reaction Engines Limited with the proposed design for the hypersonic aerospace engine. And finally, there was the creation of Golden Spike, a company made up largely of former astronauts, who want to make commercial flight to the moon a go by 2020.

Electricity-Creating Virus:
M13_virusA breakthrough virus named M13 made news in 2012 for being the first ever virus that could turn physical activity into electricity. The key is what is known as the “piezoelectric effect,” which happens when certain materials like crystals (or viruses) emit a small amount of power when squeezed. Created by a  team of scientists at the Berkeley Lab, this genetically engineered M13 viruses was able to emit enough electricity to power a small LED screen, but poses no threat to humans. One day, all devices could be powered through the simple act of typing or walking, and buildings could be powered by absorbing people’s activity.

Encyclopedia of DNA (ENCODE):
encodeThe publication of the human genome back in the late 90’s was a major breakthrough for genetics and medical science. And in 2012, another breakthrough was achieved by researchers at USC with the publication of ENCODE – The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project. Unlike the previous project, these researchers were able not only to catalog the human genome’s various parts, but what those components actually do.

Among the initiative’s many findings was that so-called “junk DNA” – outlier DNA sequences that do not encode for protein sequences – are not junk at all, and are in fact responsible for such things as gene regulation, disease onset, and even human height. These findings will go a long way towards developing gene therapy, biotechnology that seeks to create artificial DNA and self-assembling structures, and even cloning.

Face Transplant:
FaceTransplant_6062012 was also the year that the first full-face transplant was ever conducted. The recipient in question was a man named Richard Norris, a man who lost significant portions of his face from a gunshot accident back in 1997. And after years of attempted reconstructive surgeries, doctors working out of the University of Maryland Medical Center performed a procedure that gave Mr. Norris a has face, teeth, tongue, and a completely new set of jaws.

Not only that, but within days of the surgery, Norris was able to move his facial muscle and jaw. Combined with the nature of the surgery itself, this is not short of unprecedented, and could mean a new age in which severe accident victims and veterans are able to recover fully from physical traumas and live perfectly normal, happy lives.

The Higgs Boson Discovered:
higgs_boson
I can’t believe I didn’t include this story last time, as it is possibly the biggest story of 2012, and perhaps one of the biggest stories since the millennium! 2012 will forever go down in history as the year that the Higgs Boson was discovered. After some 40 years of ongoing research, and fears that it would never be discovered, the last missing piece of The Standard Model of particle physics was found.

Not only does the existence of the Higgs Boson confirm that the Standard Model is valid, it also helps explain how other elementary particles get their mass. This will herald a new step in the advance of particle and the quantum physics, and could lead to the development of quantum computing, quantum generators, and a greater understand of the universe itself.

High-Tech Condom:
condom1Using a revolutionary nano-fabrication process known as electrospinning, researchers at the University of Washington have produced the world’s first female condom that not only prevents pregnancy and protects against HIV, but also evaporates after use. In addition, the manufacturing method used is a step in the direction of viable nanotechnology. Score one for safe sex, public health, and a waste free future permeated by tiny machines and smart materials! That’s a big score card…

Infinite Capacity Wireless:
vortex-radio-waves-348x1962012 was also the year that it was proven that it could be possible to boost the capacity of wireless communication infinitely. The discovery was first made by Bo Thide of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics and some Italian colleagues in Venice, and then confirmed by a team of American and Israeli researchers who used the technique to transmit data at a rate of 2.5 terabytes a second.

Conventional radio signals are transmitted on a flat plane, but Thide twisted the transmitting and receiving antennae into the shape of corkscrew. By adding another dimension to the mix, the technique added a lot of extra bandwidth. As a result, the problem of bandwidth crunches might be a thing of the past, not to mention problems of slow download/upload.

Google Neural Net:
googleneuralnetwork1
Another first and definitely one of the biggest headlines of 2012, far as I was concerned. So why I forgot to include it last time is beyond me! For generations scientists have contemplating the idea of AI and wondered how and where the first leap might be made from basic computing towards true machine intelligence. And as it turns out, Google X Labs, the same place where Project Glass was conceived, seems to have accomplished just that.

The accomplishment came when the labs created a neural network based on sixteen core processors and a connectome with a billion connections. The network accomplished its first task by studying millions of images on Youtube and then demonstrating the ability to differentiate between the faces of cats and humans. This act of independent reasoning that went beyond mere image recognition, and is a major step towards the achievement of a fully-functional artificial intelligence.

Stem cell mammal:
stem_cellsFor the first time in history, researchers at Kyoto University created a mouse by using eggs derived from stem cells alone. The achievement once again shows the remarkable possibilities presented by regenerative technologies like stem cells, while raising pressing ethical questions about the potential for human births in which parents might not be required.

Water in the Solar System:
titan_lakes2012 was also the year that an unprecedented amount of discoveries were made in our solar system. In addition to all the interesting revelations made by the Curiosity Rover, a number of probes discovered water on Europa, Mercury, Titan, and other Saturnalian moons. Usually, this comes in the form of water saturated with hydrocarbons, as was evident on Titan, but the discoveries remain monumental.

In addition to Titan’s methane lakes and Nile-like river, ice and organic molecules were discovered near the poles of Mercury. Evidence of water was found on Mars, indicating the existence of rivers and oceans at one time, and the Cassini space probe confirmed that Enceladus has its own oceans. All of this bodes well for the future of space exploration and colonization, where domestic sources of water may be used for hydrogen cells, hydroponics and even drinking water.

World’s First Tractor Beam:
tractor_beamIn another interesting first, NASA scientists demonstrated in 2012 that another staple technology from Star Trek may be realizable. Yes, in addition to the warp drive, scientists scientists David Ruffner and David Grier demonstrated that a tractor beam may also be realizable in the not-too-distant future. And given the 100 Year Starship Project and other desires to commit to space exploration, such a device could come in mighty handy!

Using a prototype optical beam to pull a small sphere of silica (30 micrometers) suspended in water, Grier and Ruffner pioneered the use of a Bessel beam, a long-established concept, to pull an object of discernible size and mass around. Naturally, NASA hopes to create a more high-powered version of the technology for use on space craft down the road.

*                    *                    *

Thank you once more for attending this symposium on technological breakthroughs during the year of 2012! It was a good year, wouldn’t you say? And barring the advent of killer robots sometime in the near future that unleash a nuclear holocaust on us and force us all to work as slaves, I think people will look back on these developments in a positive light.

Yes, assuming humanity can keep its wits about itself and ensure the ethical application of all we’ve accomplished, 2012 may be seen as a turning point, where incurable diseases became preventable, AI’s became realizable, and limitless communications, super-fast computations, paper-thin flexible devices, green technology, commercial spaceflight, and Solar planet colonization all became truly viable.

Source: extremetech.com, IO9.com

New Facial Recognition System for Airports

flight-display-systems_webIt’s called the See3, a new computer facial-recognition system that is likely to be making the rounds at airports in the next few years. Developed by Flight Display Systems, it is believed this technology will add a new level of protection to owners and operators concerned with aircraft security, as well as create more complete cabin services.

Based on the Linus Fast Access facial-recognition software, See3 also makes use of a of a proprietary and expanding set of algorithms. Mounted at the entrance of the aircraft, the system compares the faces of those entering the airplane with a known database and alerts the crew of the entry of one or more unauthorized people.

See3 uses nearly 100,000 values to code a face image, such as the less complex methods of inter-ocular distance, distance between nose tip and eyes, and the ratio of dimensions of the bounding box of the face. And, according to Flight Display founder and president David Gray, changes in hair style or the addition of a mustache or beard, glasses or makeup will not affect the accuracy of the system. At this point, the system’s accuracy is between 75 and 90 percent, but the company continues to add algorithms to improve on this.

However, the camera also presents opportunities to improve on a person’s overall flight experience. As Gray went on to explain, the camera is integrated into the aircraft cabin management system, and can therefore “recognize” a person via the seat camera. It then greets them by name and automatically loads their entertainment preferences, set preferred lighting and even alert the crew to the person’s meal preferences and any allergies.

Score one for personalized high-tech displays on the one hand, or Big Brother-type monitoring and HAL-like computer systems, depending on your point of view. According to Gray, the system could be available within a year’s time on certain major air carriers. No telling when the movie about a creepy AI that takes over an airplane, Space Odyssey-style, will be released. But since I called it first, I’ll be expecting royalties!

Source: AINonline.com

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome

bsg-blood-and-chromeHey there, BSG fans! If you’re like me, then you’ve been in the dark until very recently about the new web series Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. This show, which began back in November, only came to my attention about a week ago, and since then I’ve been scrambling to get my hands on all the episodes.

So for those who don’t know about, do know but haven’t had the chance to see it, or are just getting into it, I hope this will all prove of interest to you. Over the next few days, I plan to watch all ten episodes and review them in three separate parts (1-4, 5-8, and 9/10). Come join me and hopefully this new series will fill the void that BSG and the short-lived Caprica have left in their wake…

Background:
Set in the tenth year of the First Cylon War, the show follows the exploits of the young William Adama as he joins the Colonial Fleet and begins participating in the twenty year war to rid humanity of the machines. The series stars Luke Pasqualino as a young William Adama and was created by Michael Taylor and David Eick.

Distribution of Blood & Chrome began as a 10-episode online series in conjunction with Machinima.com on November 9, 2012, but a televised movie is slated to air in February 2013 on Syfy. Depending on the success of that, we might just see a new prequel series in the works! Never been a fan of prequels, but based on the strength of the webepisodes thus far, I see some serious potential!

Episodes 1-4:
battlestar-galactica-blood-and-chromeThe story opens with Bill Adama writing to his father, explain why he has enlisted in the war. This gives us a quick precis of how the Cylons revolted against humanity for what appear to be unknown reasons, and how the war to bring them to heel has been going on for some time and at the expense of many lives. We then cut to a firefight in progress where Adama is engaged with two Cylon Raiders and uses some sweet and unorthodox moves to take them down. But of course, it’s all a simulation.

We then see Adama arriving on a shuttle aboard the Galactica for the first time, where he distinguishes himself amongst his peers as a cocky SOB who can’t wait to get into combat. As a result, he is assigned to a Raptor named Wild Weasel where he meets his surly and jaded co-pilot, Coker Fasjovik.

blood-and-chrome-battlestar-galactica-imgUnlike Adama, he is interested in getting out after his second mandatory term is done and has no patience for hotshots. Neither, it seems, does Commander Nash – Galactica’s CO – who assigned him to make a supply run for their first mission. This mission will take them four days and will completely avoid the enemy, it is hoped.

In the following episode, Adama and Coker find that their cargo isn’t supplies but a software engineer named Dr. Beka Kelly. Adama had already met her in the showers, and the chemistry was clear. However, his feeling soon cool when he realized that she used to work for Graystone Industries, the same company that produced the Cylons in the first place. And as one of the people who helped upgrade their CPU’s, she also had a hand in giving them their intelligence.

blood-and-chrome-4They also learn that their true mission, which Kelly informs of them once they are underway, is to rendezvous with the Battlestar Acheron near the front lines, and to maintain radio silence all the way. What began as a milk run quickly turns into a combat mission! However, when they arrive, they find the Acheron destroyed, the result of an ambush.

Three Cylon Raiders then close on them and things get real hairy, real fast! Luckily, their small compliment of weapons and Adama’s crazy flying skills manage to save their asses. Unfortunately, Kelly tells them they cannot return to Galactica and orders them to send a transmission on an open frequency.

blood-and-chrome-fleetIn response, they are given a set of coordinates which will take them into Cylon space. After a heated argument, Adama and Kelly convince Coker to oblige them and they set course. En route, Kelly reveals to Adama that was once married to Ezra Barzel, a war hero who inspired many young people to join the academy. When they reach the coordinates, they find a series of Colonial “ghost ships” – i.e. ships that were reported lost – hiding in a field of asteroids.

Once aboard the command ship, an Orion-class Battlestar named Osiris, Dr. Kelly meets with the commander and they are all briefed on their mission. The fleet is inbound for Djerba, a planet deep within Cylon territory where Dr. Kelly is to be delivered for some special mission. Adama volunteers to fly the doctor in and she insists that they be allowed to say with her since they’ve come this far together. When they reach the planet, a Cylon base star appears unexpectedly. Rather than abort, the Commander orders a full launch and tells Adama and their escorts to make for the surface…

Summary:
Well, as far as first and second impression go, I was pretty impressed. It was nice to see a new that had the old Battlestar feel. The tone, direction, and visuals are all quite superb, establishing a dark and gritty tone to the story which BSG is famous for. The casting is also quite excellent, and its nice to see several familiar faces in there. Aside from Luke Pasqualino, just about every member of the cast was in BSG or Caprica, and David Eik did his usual thing and makes an appearance as a supporting character.

The rest were all Vancouver-based actors that I recognized from other shows. Always nice to see fellow Canucks at work! And the CGI and music, which comes from the same people involved in the shows predecessors, was nothing short of awesome. In fact, despite it being a web series, Blood and Chrome even improved upon the effects of the original show.

But of course, what matters most here (at least to me) is the plot. Given that this is a limited concept show which comes in 12 minute packets, there’s little time devoted to build-up and character development. Mainly, we are given a premise, some background, and then thrown into the thick of things. However, this is to be expected from a web series, where the format just doesn’t allow for much pacing or exposition. And really, who cares when you got a story like this?

Although it”s still taking shape at this point, the overall plot seems pretty clear. After ten years of protracted conflict, the war against the Cylons is not going so well. The mission involving this “ghost fleet” is clearly a last-ditch effort to win the war outright, and just about everything hinges on its successful completion. Of course, there are going to be several twists and turns along the way, and surely some more deep background stuff that will answer some key questions. Like why do the Cylons hate humanity so much? Why did they turn in the first place? And how do events from the First Cylon War play into the attack which took place some thirty years later.

Eager to find out where things go from here! Stay tuned for web episodes four through eight, coming up next!

The Nokia Human Form

Nokia-HumanForm Hello all! As you may recall, Nokia made a rather interesting announcement back at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2011 with the promotional video for the Kinetic Device – a flexible smartphone which responds to user commands through twists and bends in the device’s frame. However, it seems that the telecommunications giant wasn’t satisfied with displaying their upcoming line of smartphones.

In addition, they saw fit to produce a future concept video for what they have named the Human Form. This is a futuristic smartphone which also boasts the new “bend and flex” method of use, touchscreen technology, and has a frame that is (in the words of the company) “humanized”. In essence, this means that the phone is extremely user friendly and intuitive, responding to the user’s own manipulations, touch and gestures, while the frame itself acts as a single display device.

Nokia-Human-FormBut the biggest surprise, for my money, is the tactile feature which allows users to “feel” images. What this means exactly is a bit unclear, but the promotional video seems to be suggesting that the phone will be able to simulate sensations, allowing a person to literally feel features of the image. This sort of technology not only requires a surface which is capable of adjusting its own properties down to the micro level, but an internal processor which is incredibly smart, perhaps even on the order of an AI.

No telling when Nokia plans to begin developing this phone for commercial use. Obviously, the promo video was designed to build upon their current project of building flexible smartphones and touchscreens. But given the current pace at which digital devices are developing, we could be seeing smartphones very much like this one before the decade is out. So save your pennies, because they aren’t going to come cheap!

Check out the promotional video in its entirety below:

The Future is Here: The Prescient Surveillance Camera!

smart_cameraConsider the possibility that surveillance cameras might someday be automated, that there would be no need for security clerks to sit and wade through endless hours of footage to find indices of criminal behavior. That’s the reasoning behind the Pentagon and DARPA’s new project, which is named Mind’s Eye. Far from just being automated, the camera will be the first “smart” camera ever built, capable of predicting human behavior as well as monitoring it.

Using a concept known as “visual intelligence”, the project draws on a research proposal made by researchers working for the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. The proposal calls for the creation of a “high-level artificial visual intelligence system” which, once operational, will be able to recognize human activities and predict what might happen next. Should it encounter a potentially threatening scene or dangerous behavior, it could sound the alarm and notify a human agent.

In essence, the camera system will rely on a series of computer visual algorithms that will allow it to classify behavior as well discriminate between different actions in a scene and predict their outcomes. Might sound like a case of coldly rational machine intelligence evaluating human actions; but in fact, the algorithm was designed to approximate human-level visual intelligence.

According to Alessandro Oltramari and Christian Lebiere, the researchers responsible for the proposal, humans evolved the ability to scan and process their environment for risks, at times relying on experience and guessing correctly what a person might do next. By using a linguistic infrastructure that operates in conjunction with a set of “action verbs”, along with a “cognitive engine,” the researchers are trying to get their camera to do the same thing.

Sound scary? Well that’s natural considering the implications. Any such technology is sure to bolster private and public security efforts by relieving human beings of the humdrum activity of watching security cameras while at the same time keeping them notified about potential risks. On the other hand, a machine intelligence would be responsible for monitoring human beings and judging their actions, which raises many issues. Sure, it’s not exactly PreCrime, but it does raise some ethical and legal concerns, not to mention worries over accountability.

Luckily, the AI that would run such a system is still several years away, which leaves us time to debate and regulate any system that uses “smart surveillance”.

Source: IO9.com

More Judgement Day Announcements…

terminator_judgement_dayNovember saw some rather interesting developments in the field of robotics. First, there was the unveiling of Disney’s charming juggling robot, an automaton capable of playing catch with a human being. This robot is intended for use in Disneyland parks as a form of entertainment for guests, but many people wonder if this is an eerie precursor to a machine that is capable of throwing other things as well…

While Disney was scant with the details of how the robot works, they did explain that a camera tracks the balls being thrown, while an algorithm works out exactly where the ball is going to land and positions the robot arm accordingly. Combining video tracking and software, the robot is able to anticipate where its catching hand needs to be, much like the human brain does. Check out the video of it playing catch with a human stand-in below:


Also in the news, Momentum Machines unveiled a new automated burger robot chef last month. After being successfully tested on the line, the company announced its plans to introduce this robot to fast food chains everywhere, saving companies millions of dollars in staffing costs. According to projections, Momentum Machines says that its automated burger robot — which does everything from flipping burgers, to slicing tomatoes, to toasting the bun — could save the fast food industry $9 billion in wages.

Of as yet, no video is available of the burger robot doing a demonstration, but this helpful infographic does give a breakdown of the robots structure and basic functions (below). Granted, this might seem like a callous and insensitive move, especially to the over 2 million workers currently employed in fast food in the US alone. But with just about every other production line having been automated already, this seems to many like the next logical step. Good luck Momentum Machines; hope the angry mob outside your offices doesn’t scare you!

robot-burger-flipper-momentum-machinesGranted, this may all still seem like a far cry from Skynet and Cylons, but under the circumstances, is it any wonder that Cambridge University founded the Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) to evaluate new technologies? Clearly, some people are worried robots are going to be doing more than just chucking balls and flipping our burgers.