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Robotics

This category contains 35 posts

Spectre in the Contraption.

“Since time immemorial, humans have traded stories about ghosts and wraiths — haunting presences that are strongly felt but never seen. Mountaineers often report feeling an unseen presence keeping in step beside them…Blanke was seeing the same phenomenon at work in his patient, but with one critical difference: he could turn it on and off.”

In a nifty experiment involving movement-mimicking robots and a brief time delay, scientists uncover a potential neurological basis for sensing ghostly phenomena. “The mismatched sensory and motor information confused their brains…If those…didn’t match up, my brain would revise its perception of reality to account for the discrepancies. Maybe I’m not inside my body at all, it might think. Maybe I’m over there.”

Are You Sarah Con…Wait, Never Mind.

“The new algorithm condenses each face it ‘sees’ into a small image to position the eyes, nose, and corners of the mouth in consistent locations. Then, it further divides the image into small, overlapping squares and mathematically charts each square’s unique characteristics, allowing it to compare two images…The GaussianFace algorithm emerged from the test a champion, beating humans’ 97.35 percent average performance.”

Per Discover, computers can now identify faces better than humans can. “The algorithm could someday be used in myriad applications including security, image retrieval, and biometric credentials for our computers and mobile devices.” Among other things.

Step Aside, Human.

“It is an invisible force that goes by many names. Computerization. Automation. Artificial intelligence. Technology. Innovation. And, everyone’s favorite, ROBOTS. Whatever name you prefer, some form of it has been stoking progress and killing jobs — from seamstresses to paralegals — for centuries. But this time is different: Nearly half of American jobs today could be automated in ‘a decade or two,’ according to a new paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, discussed recently in The Economist. The question is: Which half?”

A Prelude to WALL-E: In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson looks at the coming robotic takeover of the job market, whereby 47% of jobs could soon be automated. I for one welcome our new robot overlords — all the more reason why we need to start rethinking a social contract founded primarily on having full-time, two-income employment. We’re entering a new phase of human existence — we’d best start preparing for it. (Bionic man image via here.)

Make it Better Do It Faster.

“Before now, the record for storing quantum data at room temperature was two seconds. One. Two. Done. But researchers in Canada announced they’ve now hit 39 minutes. That’s right — they’ve raised the bar from 2 seconds to 39 minutes…The advance clears a major hurdle in developing powerful new supercomputers and has outside experts excited about the not-so-distant future of the field.”

(Our work is never over.) In more promising future-tech news, scientists figure out a way to store quantum data for much longer than ever before. “Though surviving for 39 minutes may not sound like very long, it only requires one-hundred-thousandth of a second to perform an operation on a single qubit. So theoretically, over 20 million operations could be performed before the qubits’ data decayed by 1 percent.”

Skynet, Year One.

“‘If a drone’s system is sophisticated enough, it could be less emotional, more selective and able to provide force in a way that achieves a tactical objective with the least harm,’ said Purdue University Professor Samuel Liles. ‘A lethal autonomous robot can aim better, target better, select better, and in general be a better asset with the linked ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] packages it can run.'”

Er, right, but aren’t we forgetting something here? And don’t you people ever go to the movies? Scientists are apparently working toward drones that can make their own autonomous decisions about targets. “Though they do not yet exist, and are not possible with current technology, LARs are the subject of fierce debate in academia, the military and policy circles. Still, many treat their development as inevitability.”

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world:

“Scientists at Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have come up with one solution to the jellyfish problem: build robots to kill them. For the last three years, the team has been working to create robots that can travel the ocean, seeking out swarms of jellyfish using a camera and GPS. Once the jellyfish are located, the robots set about shredding the jellies with an underwater propeller.”

INITIATING PROTOCOL SHRED-ORGANBAGS 101101111…Due to a climate-change-fueled ascendance of jellyfish across the world, Korean scientists have unleashed automated robotic sentinels to mitigate the problem. [T]he video at top is what they’re doing beneath the surface, using a specialized net and propeller. Be warned, it’s graphic. In preliminary tests, the robots could pulverize 2,000 pounds of jellyfish per hour.”

Sigh…this will all end in tears, people. Paging Kent Brockman.

We…learn. We…feed.


“‘Slime mould’s remarkable problem-solving capabilities are well-documented and include finding the shortest path between different food sources. It also displays memory, in a similar way to a novel electrical component called a memristor, which has in turn been likened to the functionality of biological brains. ‘It’s one of the simplest organisms that can learn,’ says Gale.”

And now, IT HAS A FACE. Scientists program an old-timey robot to dramatize the electrical signals emanating from slime mold. In a 100,000 years, this is going to seem like one of those Skynet-level bad ideas. And the hat is particularly creepy touch — Very Something Wicked This Way Comes.

They Stand Watch.

“As the world’s leading full-spectrum genetic security and containment company, Trask Industries continues to uncover new ways to control the mounting X-gene threat…Our goal is to solve tomorrow’s problems, today.”

Following up on last week’s posters, the X-Men: Days of Future Past viral campaign kicks off with a spiffy corporate website and commercial for Trask Industries (Note Peter Dinklage, in period ‘stache), along the lines of the pre-Prometheus commercial for David — and we all know how Prometheus turned out. Still I’m a sucker for Watchmen-style alternate history, like the Sentinel presiding over Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, above.

The Other Space Program.

‘The mission is ongoing,’ Air Force Maj. Eric Badger, a spokesman for the X-37B program, told SPACE.com. ‘As with previous missions, the actual duration will depend on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility.'” From the the bottom of the ocean to low-earth orbit: The Air Force’s classified X-37B space drone enters its third month in space. “The X-37B looks a bit like a miniature space shuttle. The vehicle is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 m) wide, with a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed.”

Well, at least one branch of our government is well-funded enough to take on these sorts of projects, I guess. Too bad the research is classified and likely highly iffy. Consider, similarly, the two “other” Hubbles found lying around in a Pentagon warehouse last year. “[S]top and think about this for a moment. The Department of Defense has the kind of funding needed — hundred of millions to billions of dollars, presumably — to build not one, but two, Hubble-like optical telescopes and then never use them.”

Run Silent, Run Deep.

“This is the driving idea behind DARPA’s Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program, which seeks to create technologies that would allow the Navy to leave unmanned systems and other distributed technologies hidden in the ocean depths for years on end and deploy them remotely at the push of a button when the need arises. Think: unmanned aircraft that travel to the surface and launch into the sky to provide reconnaissance or to disrupt or spoof enemy defenses, or perhaps submersible or surface sub-hunters that launch from the seafloor during times of heightened alert in a particular maritime theater.”

You know what the world really needs? A system of dormant underwater drones, which apparently DARPA is hard at work on. If you want to use this type of tech to explore the oceans of Europa or Titan, fine. For the Taiwan Strait? Sounds like a terrible idea. SKYNET aside, glitches happen.

HAL’s acting squirrely.

“Deception is not something that comes very naturally to today’s artificial intelligence programs. For most robots, it’s hard enough to navigate the world the way it is without introducing fantasies about the way it’s not into the equation. So to help robots get the hang of misleading others, the team has turned to the squirrel, or ‘forest liar,’ to give robots the tools they need to learn the subtle arts of deception.”

It can only be attributable to human error: Also in the “This will end badly someday” department, programmers at Georgia Tech teach robots how to lie. No way this will cause problems. Wait, just a moment…just a moment…I’ve just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It’s going to go a hundred percent failure within seventy-two hours.

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