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Archive for the 'Artificial Intelligence' Category

The Singularity

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

This video is more of a slide show of facts. It’s one of those things that really makes you sense the world is changing fast. One of the predictions is someone will build a computer smarter than a human by 2013. I personally think that is a little early but I still think it will happen and it isn’t far off. I wonder whether it will be a computer smarter than a human or human integrated with a computer. The economic repercussions would be phenomenal and happen over a very short time.

Think it will never happen? This list of quotes of people saying something will never happen reminded me of a discussion (argument) I had with a former business partner who believed regular people will never get on the internet.

When machines become smarter than people it will become futile to try to get the machine to try to explain why something should be done a certain way and we will just have to accept the results. On the other hand i wonder what it would be like if we merged with them. We will actually have an understanding of the computer side of our brain? Will it just seem like two voices in our heads? Here researchers develop neural implants that learn with the brain.

I thought this was cool; creating an artificial tornado to generate electricity. I thought the quote he was confident he could control it was interesting. I can imagine the consequences if one got away.

Although it is only currently a mathematical model, scientists have designed a “cloak of silence“. In an increasingly noisy world, they can’t develop one of these fast enough in my opinion.

An apple that tastes like a berry?

In a follow up on a piece I wrote about here. The photos of that “lost” tribe were staged.

Here are some very nice bubble photos, and a behind the scenes look at how they were done.

Feel like everyone is out to get you? Read this on the economics of nice folks.

British police chase a UFO in a helicopter.

And finally, check out these funny pet shots.

Science Show

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

I woke up to my UPS beeping again this morning. That makes it 3 times in 10 days we have lost power, although the first time wasn’t weather related. The news said the group of storms that knocked it out the other day had dropped softball sized hail on Illinois. According to this personal account of a hail storm at a wedding in Minnesota, the world’s largest hailstones are baseball size.

There was also another tornado last night but not that near to us. Here are two short videos from bank cameras of the EF-5 tornado in Iowa on May 25th.

There was a science show in New York last week and the turn out was pretty impressive.

Every event at the four-day science festival was sold out — more than 22,000 tickets in all — according to Ben Austin, the festival’s vice-president of marketing and communications. After the free science street fair began Saturday, Mr. Austin said, police had to close four extra blocks to traffic because so many people showed up — 100,000, by the police’s estimate. And that was on a day with intermittent thunder, lightning and torrential rain.

“I don’t think we ever expected to see 800 people in an auditorium about the weirdness of the quantum world, but we got that — and another 400 people were lined up outside waiting for overflow seats,” Mr. Austin said. “That kind of thing happened over and over again.”

If you read this blog you know I write about quantum weirdness a fair amount. Of course I don’t know if people read that stuff or just skip over it.

I’ve written about Ray Kurzweil before. He has some pretty optimistic predictions about the future. This article covers basically the same thing in more detail but there are interesting comments at the bottom. I think he is right about solar energy because of Moore’s law. Also, I think some technologies will grow even faster. Take this article about Lithium-ion batteries. They aren’t talking about a doubling of performance; they are talking about a battery which is twenty times as powerful!

Cisco is sponsoring a game where the winner gets $10,000. I haven’t tried it yet but I’m guessing any teenager would be faster than I am.

Years ago I worked in a lab which had an electron microscope. When they used to look at chips under them you could actually watch them run because the charged areas repelled the electron beam causing them to “light up”. These photos are from 2003 but they are still pretty cool.

Here is a really creepy article about zombie caterpillars.

More strange animal news; marked up birds become sexier.

I got a chuckle out of this; the definition of irony.

Lost? Here is a collection of funny road signs.

Still lost? You are here. If you can’t see us it’s about 3/4ths the way down, in the middle.

I also got a laugh out of this opinion piece about ‘Deficit Attention Disorder!’

This is a pretty cool collection of ancient inventions. Some of them like the tumbler lock were around well before I would have guessed. I also liked the ship shaker.

The ten deepest lakes on earth.

And finally, check out this silly cat.

Free Stuff

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Someone showed me the Loremo site when I was out of town and I couldn’t remember the name until I ran across it recently. It’s a car that gets 120 mpg. If you go to the gallery, you can see the car opens through the front.

Here are some amazing pictures of a strap-on jet. I bet that gets your adrenaline going.

This chart of different biofuels is interesting, especially the algae line. It seems like everyday there are more candidates including fungus and sweet sorghum.

Microsoft released its WorldWide Telescope today. You can explore the universe and it’s free.

Speaking of free stuff on the web, here is an article about a free music studio called AudioTool.

I spent most of grade school trying to avoid learning grammar. Then, when I took a class in artificial intelligence, I had to write a program which would parse a sentence into its parts. There is a new search engine coming out which is supposed to be more intelligent. It seems like there are some things you just can’t search for on the web. Maybe it will help.

Here is a list of 60 photography links.

Here is a photo of an ancient Chinese earthquake detector.

Finally, check out these pictures of adorable cheetah cubs.

Tiny But (Possibly) Deadly

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

A nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter. Nanotechnology is the science of controlling matter on the atomic and molecular scale.

Nanotech is where breakthroughs are likely. Forget about just the cancer-detection and other advanced medical tools it’s midwifing and the next-gen consumer electronics such as super-bright displays. On a planet that’s on the cusp of catastrophic climate change, nano-engineered materials have the potential to make a real difference. Imagine solar power cells that are far cheaper and more efficient; batteries that allow for more efficient electric cars; components that make cleaner coal-fired power plants. These and other applications are hardly trivial–they’ll save energy, reduce pollution, and maybe go a little way to making sure Times Square won’t be under water for the next millennium celebration.

That was from Good News: No Nano News. Due to the extremely small size of nano-particles, they can easily move into cells, and as they point out in that article, cross the blood-brain barrier. So while the technology is poised to potentially transform the world in a good way, there are dangers.

Think the government would be out front on this incredibly promising but also potentially deadly technology? Read EPA’s Lousy New Nanotech Program.

Why would the EPA be so lame? U.S. environment scientists report political meddling.

I don’t even use anti-bacterial soap. It’s like plowing up your lawn to get at the weeds. Sure you will kill a few weeds but your lawn is now fertile ground for anything that wants to grow there. There is such a thing as good bacteria. Using anti-bacterial soap is like over using antibiotics, you’ll likely breed something bad. In Too much nanotechnology may be killing beneficial bacteria they talk about silver nanoparticles in socks and dispensed by high tech washing machines may destroy benign bacteria used to remove ammonia from wastewater treatment systems.

I’m pretty sure someday people will infuse themselves with artificial blood just because it makes them feel better. I guess I didn’t expect it to be made of plastic.

Check out this tiny electric car. It’s more like a motorcycle with an extensive cover.

Eric Grohe is an artist who does amazing wall murals. Be sure to look at the ‘before’ pictures.

Electric circuits are made up of resistors, capacitors, and inductors, until now; Scientists Create First Memristor: Missing Fourth Electronic Circuit Element. A memristor’s resistance depends on how much charge flowed through it previously.

Who would have guessed watering your tomatoes with diluted seawater makes them healthier. Since I live far from the ocean, I don’t think I’ll be trying that trick this year.

Frost on spider webs.

This is a strange story about Mazda having to build a facility to destroy thousands of brand new cars.

Finally, check out this stunning interactive 360 degree panorama from the top of Mount Everest.

Shape Shifters

Friday, April 25th, 2008

A while back I messed around with a shape memory alloy. They are pretty hard to work with. Shape memory alloys can change their shape when exposed to heat as in this video. They also contract when heated and the heat can be produced by running electricity down the wire. This is why they are called muscle wire. In this video they demonstrate the effect with an inchworm rocker.

Here is a video of a modular robot which can re-assemble itself after being kicked apart. The funny part is at the end when after all that effort, it stands up only to fall over.

NASA hopes to develop this type of technology so that swarms of robots can be sent to other planets.

This is pretty creepy! Check out this video of a face changing machine.

Seth Goldstein, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University talks about taking it to an even more extreme of claytronics. The idea is robots the size of grains of sand would morph into shapes as in Terminator 3. I got a laugh out of his idea of a 3 dimensional representation of your boss. I think a lot of people’s bosses would look more like Megan Fox from the shape shifting robot movie The Transformers.

megan fox

It doesn’t seem like that long ago I’d tell someone they ought to get a computer and they would give me this weird look and say “What would I do with a computer?”. Spam turns 30. The internet was a really cool place before they opened it up for commercial use. I wish they would have just created another one and kept that one like it was.

Here’s a tutorial on how to shoot cool pictures of water drops reflecting their surroundings.

Finally, if I ever go blind, I want a Seeing Eye bear so people won’t mess with me. Here’s a touching story of a Seeing Eye cat.

Free Market Government

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

I did not watch last night’s presidential debate, but it must have been pretty bad. The web is all a buzz about how ABC failed to ask questions anyone wanted to know the answers to. At one point, the interviewers were even heckled by the audience before a commercial. This is one of those stories which is all over the social sites and yet glancing at the Yahoo News page I didn’t see it. One mainstream media source who did cover it was the Washington Post; In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC.

Could this be the start of a revolution in politics where there is an actual intelligent discussion of the real issues facing us? I wouldn’t hold my breath. I got a kick out of this article; New: Design your own US president. It’s about a website where people can design their own candidate in the style of the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Here is a link to the actual site. I think we should ‘outsource’ the president and congress with an open source artificial intelligence program where we vote for individual rules in the AI.

I can’t wait until we are all living in spaceships and we can have ‘free market government’. Governments compete for your citizenship by offering sweet deals like the most efficient use of your tax dollars. You then park your spaceship house over the country you like the most.

Before I get off of this rant; from a mathematical standpoint, it makes far more sense to vote by ranking the candidates in your order of preference instead of the ‘pick one’ approach.

Evolutionary software is sort of an Artificial Intelligence technique where the computer generates ‘organisms’ of randomly chosen ‘genes’ and then subjects them to tests of fitness for a particular task. Genes could mean anything, in this case, like the ability to add or the ability to walk. The organisms could represent artificial life forms or an aircraft wing design. In the case of this article, the organisms are web pages and the genes are fonts, colors, and page placement. In each generation you pick out the organisms which are best at the task you want to solve and then ‘breed’ those into a new generation by mixing their components (genes) randomly.

Edward Lorenz, the father of chaos theory has died at the age of 90.

Lorenz, a meteorologist, figured out in the 1960s that small differences in a dynamic system such as the atmosphere could set off enormous changes. In 1972 he presented a study entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?

Lorenz was running computer simulations of the weather in 1961. He decided to re-run a prediction, but to save time he entered the values from a printout where the computer had already run half way through the simulation. Much to his surprise, the prediction came out completely different from the original one. He later realized it was due to the fact the printout had 3 digit precision where are the computer had 6 digit precision. In other words, 0.123456 had been rounded down to 0.123. The fact that such a tiny difference in initial conditions made a huge difference in the outcome is what’s now known as “The Butterfly Effect”. Here is a Wikipedia article about chaos theory. It’s one of those branches of mathematics which grew to include a huge number of engineering subjects beyond the weather.

Whether global warming is real or not, chaos theory does show making even tiny changes in the composition of the atmosphere could lead to very dramatic effects. This article presents some statistics which indicate the jet stream is moving north.

This is an article and video of a robot suit being developed by the military. i so want one of those. One can only imagine what kind of super sports people could play with them.

Taking physics in school must be so completely different since I went. Here is a computer simulation of a wave on a string. You can choose whether the end of the string is fixed or not and alter the tension, frequency and so forth. It’s just fun to set it to automatically oscillate and then play with it. In my day we used a high tech device called a slinky.

I’m not sure how popular this is going to be. Somebody invented light-emitting wallpaper. It does look kind of cool.

It seems like as many times as I have seen a water balloon pop in slow motion, I still find it fascinating. That moment when the balloon is gone yet the water is still in the original shape is just so odd. At the bottom of that article is a link to things shooting or being shot in ultra slow motion.

Finally, this first link is pictures of tree houses, but the site has links on it which are not suitable for all audiences and possibly not safe for work (NSFW). If you think these elaborate tree houses for kids are impressive, check out these tree houses for adults.

What’s that strange glow?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

I’ve seen this robot before, but here is a new video of the BigDog quadruped robot. It sounds like a bunch of leaf blowers. I wonder if they are planning a quieter fuel cell version. As in the other video, it’s eerie to have an emotional response when they kick it, or when it’s struggling on the ice. I recently read an article on robot pets comforting the elderly and really wondered how attached you could get to a robot. After watching the video, I realized perhaps being life-like is enough to fool you into having emotions for the thing. This article on robots and the elderly brings up some interesting ethical questions.

”If all the robot does is take old people and give them the feeling there’s somebody home [inside the robot], when really there’s nobody home, I think that’s not good,” Turkle said. ”We’re setting up a situation that’s based upon a fundamental deception. Would you like to be talking to something that really doesn’t understand you?”

Well, I’m not sure. I have one cat that although I’m sure doesn’t understand English, often does something remarkably coincidental after being spoken to. I also have one who has gone quite deaf but I still find myself speaking to her. It’s a force of habit I suppose.

”We all do that,” as when watching a movie with full awareness that the actors aren’t really falling in love or risking their lives, Beck said. ”It allows us to have the whole emotional experience.”

I got a chuckle from this strange measuring cup. It’s hard to tell how big the cup is, but ‘half the human brain’ is surprisingly close to ‘the volume of body cells that die on a good day’.

New nuclear reactor designs are really a lot safer than the old plants. Here is an article on a uranium pebble bed design. Also Toshiba is apparently coming out with a very small reactor. This article says it uses lithium reservoirs where as this one says it uses liquid sodium. Both are extremely reactive metals that explode on contact with water. What could go wrong with that? I’ve often thought it’s too bad radioactive stuff is so dangerous. Strontium 90 produces heat when it decays at the rate of nearly one watt per gram with a half life of nearly 29 years. Think about all the things you could do with it.

I’ve been sitting on this link for a while hoping to find a better description but since I’m on the topic of radiation, these glow panels are cheap, relatively strong and emit light for over 12 years. This link says they are powered using tritium gas. Here is the site of the company. If you scroll down you’ll find a link to the Nasa brief on what they call Litroenergy. You can’t help but wonder if you could pair this stuff up with a solar cell for some kind of battery.

Speaking of glowing things, I just love a good UFO story.

I have often thought a lot of the Flash based games out there could be a lot better if they just used better graphics. I realize a lot of the ones I play are simple because they are free. Last night I played this game called Samorost. It’s interesting because the graphics are very detailed. Also, it’s kind of an adventure game format but without an inventory so you don’t have to go back to pick up whatever you missed that you realize you now need.

Finally, in the silly animal category, check out this photo of a squirrel getting ready for a snowball fight.

I’m C-C-Cold!

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

It’s been a busy week, but I wanted to make a quick post.

I’ve spent a lot of the week wrapped in a blanket trying to stay warm. No, I haven’t had heater problems, I’m just cold. That’s one of the reasons I was really impressed by this video on 20/20 about a guy who climbed Mount Everest in shorts. He is called the iceman and he is highly resistant to cold, the total opposite of me. Here is an article too. Most of the show was about medical problems. I did not know people who stutter do not stutter when they read in unison. They have a device that looks like a hearing aid. It replays your voice in your ear with a delay and it can cure stuttering, at least for a while.

Reading stuff like this piece on modeling a material based on the skin of a sea cucumber really makes you appreciate the diversity of life. Every time a species goes extinct, we don’t even know what we have lost. Here is a similar piece on modeling wind turbines based on the shape of whale flippers.

I have seen a lot of these before, but here are 20 optical illusions. I like the explanations and history too.

The idea you could build a brain by electronically simulating a huge group of neurons has been around for a long time. Apparently the technology to do it is finally starting to get to the point where they can actually simulate a tiny part of a brain consisting of 10,000 neurons.

Finally, this just strikes me as so funny. You know you’re a redneck when…

Send in the Robots

Friday, February 29th, 2008

It’s bad enough a robot wants your job, now they want to kill you too.

In a keynote address to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Professor Noel Sharkey, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, will express his concerns that we are beginning to see the first steps towards an international robot arms race. He will warn that it may not be long before robots become a standard terrorist weapon to replace the suicide bomber.

Read the full article here. Just when they started to get really cute too. My nephew has a baby door over his stairway. It’s not for the kids; it’s to keep his robots from falling down the stairs.

It does make you wonder. Here is a Wired article about Israel putting their air defense system under AI control. It brings up a vision of the future where the robots keep fighting long after all the people are dead. There is a link there to a report about a glitch in a cannon killing nine soldiers during a shooting exercise. One thing is for certain, my computers are cranky enough I would never consider giving them a gun.

It always makes me laugh when the humans are running around in the Terminator series and the robots are shooting and missing. I doubt the real military robots will miss, or waste much ammo.

When DARPA sponsored their third Grand challenge, I was struck by the amazing progress made in just a few short years toward self driving cars. Here is a video. While I fantasized about a future where I could roam around the country in some self-driving, solar powered, motor home, it is obvious what this technology will mean for the future of the car bomb. It also makes you wonder about the first time you get pulled over and try to explain to the cop to send the ticket to GM or Microsoft or whoever. Although it’s easy to believe this form of travel could rapidly become far safer than human driving, it also could give a whole new meaning to the blue screen of death.

When I was in high school, I worked at a local hospital hauling trays of food around to the patients. It looks like the robots have taken over that position.

“A lot of people that we needed 20 years ago are no longer needed,” says Dr. Wen. “However, [the personal computer] has spawned another huge industry – and I see robots doing exactly the same thing.”

It’s odd the personal computer revolution seemed to increase the productivity of just about every institution with the exception of the U.S. government. Maybe he is right, maybe more jobs will be created but maybe not, as robots will build robots. As they become more capable, it will be the most skilled workforce which will be displaced. No one will risk having a human surgeon or airline pilot, once a machine can do the job more reliably. The personal computer revolution did create a lot of jobs but it also created a situation where those jobs rapidly shifted to places like India where labor costs are very low. The jobs stopped there (momentarily), until they can be shifted further down to intelligent machines when it is cost effective.

Ray Kurzweil estimates the point where machines will be smarter than humans at a mere 21 years away. There is a point defined as the Technological Singularity where the instant a machine is smarter than a human it will be able to instantly evolve or create a smarter machine.

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make

I would make the point, it is not necessary for a machine to reach the level what we call human intelligence for this to happen. It is only necessary for a machine to surpass human intelligence in the narrow field of machine design. Already there are many products designed using evolutionary software. Here is a quote from an article about software at NASA used to design an antenna.

Four NASA Ames computer scientists wrote the AI evolutionary program that operates on 120 personal computers, which work as a team. The scientists wrote the AI software because it can create designs faster than a human being can do so.

“The software also may invent designs that no human designer would ever think of,” Lohn asserted.

Already we have systems that no ‘human designer would think of’. And why, because no human could understand it!