Judgement Day Update: Terminators at I/O 2014

google_terminatorsWe’ve all thought about it… the day when super-intelligent computer becomes self-aware and unleashes a nuclear holocaust, followed shortly thereafter by the rise of the machines (cue theme from Terminator). But as it turns out, when the robot army does come to exterminate humanity, at two humans might be safe – Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to be precise.

Basically, they’ve uploaded a killer-robots.txt file to their servers that instructs T-800 and T-1000 Terminators to spare the company’s co-founders (or “disallow” their deaths). Such was the subject of a totally tongue-in-cheek presentation at this year’s Google I/O at the Moscone Center in San Fransisco, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Robots.txt file.

https://i2.wp.com/www.product-reviews.net/wp-content/uploads/Google-IO-2014-keynote-dated-live-stream-as-normal1.jpgThis tool, which was created in 1994, instructs search engines and other automated bots to avoid crawling certain pages or directories of a website. The industry has done a remarkable job staying true to the simple text file in the two decades since; Google, Bing, and Yahoo still obey its directives. The changes they uploaded read like this, just in case you’re planning on adding your name to the “disallow” list:

Screen_shot_2014-07-03_at_7.15.23_pm

While that tool didn’t exactly take the rise of the machines into account, it’s appearance on the Google’s website as an Easter egg did add some levity to a company that is already being accused of facilitating in the creation of killer robots. Calling Google’s proposed line or robots “killer” does seem both premature and extreme, that did not stop a protester from interrupting the I/O 2014 keynote address.

Google_Terminators_WideBasically, as Google’s senior VP of technical infrastructure Urs Hölze spoke about their cloud platform, the unidentified man stood up and began screaming “You all work for a totalitarian company that builds machines that kill people!” As you can see from the video below, Hölze did his best to take the interruptions in stride and continued with the presentation. The protestor was later escorted out by security.

This wasn’t the first time that Google has been the source of controversy over the prospect of building “killer robots”. Ever since Google acquired Boston Dynamics and seven other robots companies in the space of six months (between and June and Dec of 2013), there has been some fear that the company has a killer machine in the works that it will attempt to sell to the armed forces.

campaign_killerrobotsNaturally, this is all part of a general sense of anxiety that surrounds developments being made across multiple fields. Whereas some concerns have crystallized into dedicated and intelligent calls for banning autonomous killer machines in advance – aka. the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots – others have resulted in the kinds of irrational outbreaks observed at this year’s I/O.

Needless to say, if Google does begin developing killer robots, or just starts militarizing its line of Boston Dynamics acquisitions, we can expect that just about everyone who can access (or hack their way into) the Robots.txt file to be adding their names. And it might not be too soon to update the list to include the T-X, Replicants, and any other killer robots we can think of!

And be sure to check out the video of the “killer robot” protester speaking out at 2014 I/O:


Sources: 
theverge.com, (2)

Tech News: Google Seeking “Conscious Homes”

nest_therm1In Google’s drive for world supremacy, a good number of start-ups and developers have been bought up. Between their acquisition of eight robotics companies in the space of sixth months back in 2013 to their ongoing  buyout of anyone in the business of aerospace, voice and facial recognition, and artificial intelligence, Google seems determined to have a controlling interest in all fields of innovation.

And in what is their second-largest acquisition to date, Google announced earlier this month that they intend get in on the business of smart homes. The company in question is known as Nest Labs, a home automation company that was founded by former Apple engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers in 2010 and is behind the creation of The Learning Thermostat and the Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

nest-thermostatThe Learning Thermostat, the company’s flagship product, works by learning a home’s heating and cooling preferences over time, removing the need for manual adjustments or programming. Wi-Fi networking and a series of apps also let users control and monitor the unit Nest from afar, consistent with one of the biggest tenets of smart home technology, which is connectivity.

Similarly, the Nest Protect, a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector, works by differentiating between burnt toast and real fires. Whenever it detects smoke, one alarm goes off, which can be quieted by simply waving your hand in front of it. But in a real fire, or where deadly carbon monoxide is detected, a much louder alarm sounds to alert its owners.

nest_smoke_detector_(1_of_9)_1_610x407In addition, the device sends a daily battery status report to the Nest mobile app, which is the same one that controls the thermostats, and is capable of connecting with other units in the home. And, since Nest is building a platform for all its devices, if a Nest thermostat is installed in the same home, the Protect and automatically shut it down in the event that carbon monoxide is detected.

According to a statement released by co-f0under Tony Fadell, Nest will continue to be run in-house, but will be partnered with Google in their drive to create a conscious home. On his blog, Fadell explained his company’s decision to join forces with the tech giant:

Google will help us fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone. We’ve had great momentum, but this is a rocket ship. Google has the business resources, global scale, and platform reach to accelerate Nest growth across hardware, software, and services for the home globally.

smarthomeYes, and I’m guessing that the $3.2 billion price tag added a little push as well! Needless to say, some wondered why Apple didn’t try to snatch up this burgeoning company, seeing as how its being run by two of its former employees. But according to Fadell, Google founder Sergey Brin “instantly got what we were doing and so did the rest of the Google team” when they got a Nest demo at the 2011 TED conference.

In a press release, Google CEO Larry Page had this to say about bringing Nest into their fold:

They’re already delivering amazing products you can buy right now – thermostats that save energy and smoke/[carbon monoxide] alarms that can help keep your family safe. We are excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries and fulfill their dreams!

machine_learningBut according to some, this latest act by Google goes way beyond wanting to develop devices. Sara Watson at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society is one such person, who believes Google is now a company obsessed with viewing everyday activities as “information problems” to be solved by machine learning and algorithms.

Consider Google’s fleet of self-driving vehicles as an example, not to mention their many forays into smartphone and deep learning technology. The home is no different, and a Google-enabled smart home of the future, using a platform such as the Google Now app – which already gathers data on users’ travel habits – could adapt energy usage to your life in even more sophisticated ways.

Larry_PageSeen in these terms, Google’s long terms plans of being at the forefront of the new technological paradigm  – where smart technology knows and anticipates and everything is at our fingertips – certainly becomes more clear. I imagine that their next goal will be to facilitate the creation of household AIs, machine minds that monitor everything within our household, provide maintenance, and ensure energy efficiency.

However, another theory has it that this is in keeping with Google’s push into robotics, led by the former head of Android, Andy Rubin. According to Alexis C. Madrigal of the Atlantic, Nest always thought of itself as a robotics company, as evidence by the fact that their VP of technology is none other than Yoky Matsuoka – a roboticist and artificial intelligence expert from the University of Washington.

yokymatsuoka1During an interview with Madrigal back in 2012, she explained why this was. Apparently, Matsuoka saw Nest as being positioned right in a place where it could help machine and human intelligence work together:

The intersection of neuroscience and robotics is about how the human brain learns to do things and how machine learning comes in to augment that.

In short, Nest is a cryptorobotics company that deals in sensing, automation, and control. It may not make a personable, humanoid robot, but it is producing machine intelligences that can do things in the physical world. Seen in this respect, the acquisition was not so much part of Google’s drive to possess all our personal information, but a mere step along the way towards the creation of a working artificial intelligence.

It’s a Brave New World, and it seems that people like Musk, Page, and a slew of futurists that are determined to make it happen, are at the center of it.

Sources: cnet.news.com, (2), newscientist.com, nest.com, theatlantic.com

The Future is Here: Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test

labmeat0Yesterday, the world’s first lab-grown hamburger was cooked, served, and eaten. And according to an article from The Week, it passed the taste test. The taste test took place in London, where Mark Post, the man who had grown the patty in his lab at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, allowed two independent tasters to sample one of his hamburger patties.

The samplers were food writer and journalist Josh Schonwald and Austrian food trends researcher Hanni Rützler. After biting into a piece of the cooked meat in front of reporters, Schonwald claimed that “It had a familiar mouthfeel. [The difference] is the absence of fat.” Naturally, both tasters were careful not to comment on whether the burger was “good” or not, as any such judgements might seem premature and could hurt its chances for sales at this point.

lab-grown-burgerThis lab-grown patty took two years and $325,000 to produce. And as sources revealed, the money came from Google co-founder and TED speaker Sergey Brin. Worth an estimated $20 billion, Brin has a history of investing in cooky projects – everything from driverless cars to trips to the moon. And as he told The Guardian, he was moved to invest in the technology for animal welfare reasons and believes it has “the capability to transform how we view the world”.

lab-grown-burger_postThe hamburger was grown in Post’s lab using bovine skeletal muscle stem cells that were collected from a piece of fresh beef. The cells were grown by “feeding” them calf serum and commercially available growth medium to initiate multiplication and prompt them to develop into muscle cells over time. Once they differentiated into muscle cells, they were given simple nutrient sources and exercised in a bioreactor, helping the muscle to “bulk up.”

The resulting five-ounce burger, cooked by chef Richard McGeown for Schonwald and Rützler, was made using 20,000 strips of cultured meat – about 40 billion cow cells – and took about three months to produce. As Post joked, this is significantly less time than it takes to raise a cow. And while the arrival of in-vitro meat has been predicted and heralded for decades, but now that it’s finally here, people are not sure how to respond.

labmeat1On the one hand, it offers a range of possibilities for producing sustainable, cheap meat that could help meet global needs using only a laboratory. On the other, there’s no telling how long it will be before consumers will be comfortable eating something grown in a petri dish from stem cells. Between the absence of fat and the stigma that is sure to remain in place for some time, getting people to buy “lab-grown” might be difficult.

But then again, the same issues apply to 3D printed food and other forms of synthesized food. Designed and developed as a means of meeting world hunger and future population growth, and with sustainability and nutritional balance in mind, some degree of hesitation and resistance is to be expected. However, attitudes are likely to shift as time goes on and increased demand forces people to rethink the concept of “what’s for dinner”.

And while you’re thinking the issue over, be sure to check out this video of Mark Post speaking about his lab-grown burger at TEDx Haarlem:


Sources:
scientificamerican.com, theweek.co.uk, theguardian.com
, blog.ted.com,

Robot Cars in Five Years?

Could it be, that after decades of failed predictions, especially where flying cars were concerned, that science is finally making good on its promise of robot cars? Well, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, that’s what’s going to happen. Just two days ago, Brin was on hand for the signing of a bill in the California legislature which establishes safety and performance standards for cars operated by computers on California roads and highways. As the third state to pass this law – Nevada and Florida have already signed similar provisions – California will now allow licensed drivers to use automated vehicles, once they become commonplace.

Apparently, Google has been testing the concept quite extensively. Several prototypes have been developed, and over 300,000 miles worth of driving have been conducted for the sake of testing the software. Brin admits that their are bugs that still need to be worked out, such as improving the sensors and hardware failure supports for the technology. In addition, there are the big challenges of adapting the vehicles to “tricky situations”, such as weather conditions, temporary construction, and emergency vehicles. In any and all of these cases, the robots need to be able to interpret the situation and respond accordingly.

However, Sergey and Larry are confident, stating that “Our vehicles, of which about a dozen are on the road at any given time, have now completed more than 300,000 miles of testing. They’ve covered a wide range of traffic conditions, and there hasn’t been a single accident under computer control.” And, unless science fiction and futursist have been lying to me all this time, the robot cars are likely to come with manual control as well, just in case the driver feels the need to take the wheel and do a little hands-on driving! After all, the purpose of this technology is ensure our safety and comfort right? And what’s more comfortable than turning on the autopilot?

Source: CNET News