Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New Blog

This post is just to inform everyone reading that I've set up the new Robots and AI blog !

I think it will provide a lot more customization and control.

New posts are already available, and more on the way.
No new posts will be here.

See you on the new site!


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Volunteer Cyborg

For at least a decade, if not two, I've been threatening to replace one of my eyes with a camera attached to a hard drive, and it looks like it might be coming along any day now!

Unfortunately it's Micro$oft (maybe I'll wait for the competition), but they are working on something called "SenseCam" which will do exactly that! It's a camera that continuously takes pictures.. storing them on a hard drive or sending them to the internet. The main goal is to help people retain better memories.

Beyond therapeutic uses, both Wood and Bell predicted that people would chose to record more and more of their lives as the technology became available

.. and yes... they are reading my mind particularly well... just as other sites like MySpace, YouTube, various blogs, etc are showing that people ARE already falling in to that predictable pattern.

As for capabilities... sure.. your human eye is pretty good... even GREAT! But just imagine if you also had the ability for infra-vision, night-vision, or totally INCREDIBLE ZOOM. The Gigapxl Project has already created a camera that is taking massively large (detailed) images:

the camera captures images at 4 gigapixels -- a resolution high enough to photograph four football fields and capture every single blade of grass.

Here we can see an image they took, and zoomed in, and in again, and again... where we can perfectly see people sitting on a cliff from such a distance that they don't even show up in the full, overview image. Just think if your eye could take pictures at THAT detail, and then a computer could scan at the lowest, most detailed level for things of "interest" (perhaps using face recognition), and then displaying those things back to you at your convenience? WOW!
Sure, the camera is large right now, but as technology advances, these cameras will shrink.

I suppose another really handy feature will be when they fix up the software (image tagging) features so I (or allowed guests) can sort/search for specific images based on recognized/tagged items and people or time/date stamps.

Also, I might start looking in to some Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation, which the US Defense Advanced Research Project (DARPA) is funding so that I can run extra long distances, jump super high, or anything needing extra strength, speed and endurance.

Sign me up!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pleo: the artificial lifeform

I think I may have post before on my FIRM intent to buy a Pleo as SOON as humanly possible. The idea of a robotic pet with a self-learning AI for under $250 is just too good to pass up!

I've been waiting for about a year now. It was suppose to come out this fall, in time for the Christmas shopping, but now looks like it's been pushed back to March, but maybe that's not all a bad thing!

When I was first looking over the specs, I could not believe what I saw.. all these cool touch sensors, sound sensors, edge detection... but.. wait.. what's this... NO CAMERA (eyes) ?? How easy would it have been to put a little webcam in there? Wireless would be nice, and one I could view from my laptop, or set up on a webpage where I (or anyone) could look through my Pleo's eyes! So, I wrote to them about this.

Guess what?! Looks like they are now adding a camera and again!
Using a camera installed in its nose, it sees and tracks faces and locations.
Of course, I'm not suggesting it was ALL due to my email..... and, in fact, I have read that the camera might only going to be for light/range finding/face tracking, but perhaps there is more to it, or maybe it can be software upgraded later? Whatever the reason, I'm happy to wait a few more months if it's going to mean having a few more features. :)

In the mean time, all this extra research DID cause me to stumble on, which is a blog dedicated solely to Pleo, and looks like it will be helping to keep us well up to date!

Stay tuned for more robot / AI news....

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More on you're fired !

Ran across a few more news articles which show a progression toward robots "taking over". Very much like Marshall Brain describes in his Robotic Nation, article. I wrote about it a bit more in the last post, but if you have not read it yet, then this is a reminder that you should.
However, his view seems much more pessimistic than mine.

In any case. Some people might say "it will never happen. People won't LET machines take over!". Riiight.... In fact, the way I see it.... it is exactly that people WILL WANT machines to take over! The next news article of this already happening is the plane crash a week or two ago, where 49 people died because the pilot tried to take off down the wrong (short) runway. The article points to new technology that some planes already have, and would have saved everyone on board.... for $18,000. SO, now that the airline (Comair) is being sued for the pilot error, do you think more airlines might install robotic systems to make these checks so THEY don't get sued? Or the fact there was only one person in the tower when the FAA requires two may force the FAA to insist on robotic checks in addition to (and then perhaps replacing) human checks! Or something else? Even if the FAA does not FORCE airlines to have this new technology..... would you feel safer in a place with more safety checks? Don't you think most people would? Then would most people vote for that to be required by all airlines? Either on some federal ballot to force a law, or even by voting with their wallets, and only buying tickets on the "safest" airlines.

There will always be some chance of error, malfunction, problems... but I am pretty sure that human error pops up a bit more often than system/mechanical error... and certainly if we start thinking about either having 1 or 2 people checking something or having 15 robotic system checks in the same time frame, with deeper levels of analysis and cross referencing.

No, it won't be that machines rise up and TAKE control. Humans are already slowly putting (begging) them in control. First the pilots.. and soon the air traffic controllers, as their job is listed as one of THE most stressful jobs in the world.... and high stress can lead to more frequent errors. A job that automated robotic systems could easily handle 24 hours a day without fatigue.

As robotic systems become smarter and more integrated with our other systems, they are sure to be submitting more of their own job application forms, and it's very likely that you will be happy to hand your job over to them.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You: fired! - Robots: Hired!

This is just the beginning!

I don't expect many people to be able to see ahead, in to the next 5-10 years, but the very first roots are taking hold. A couple dozen years ago we saw very clunky robotic machines coming in to the manufacturing field replacing human workers. The auto industry is a good example. At the time, there was a BIG uproar at how people were losing their jobs to machines. Now, it seems almost silly not to have robots doing many of those types of tasks.

As our technology advances (at exponential rates) we're always seeing robots coming in to new areas. NOW, it seems they are even writing news articles! Yup.. financial news is reported by company XYZ and in .3 seconds there is a robot who's written up a couple paragraphs about it, and has it out and available for human consumption.

Wired has a good article just written up about this same topic, with more robots coming in to the workplace. Marshall Brian has written up an EXCELLENT (and long) paper called "Robotic Nation", in which he goes in to a much more detailed picture of this whole scenario, and, actually, it sounds a bit creepy as to something that could really happen.... robots enslaving us for our own good?

Personally, I quite agree with his highly negative views. I'm much more optimistic about the future interaction between man and machine. I do agree with him the machines could (and probably will) over take normal humans in many areas... but I feel as these technologies advance, then we will see humans blending more with machines, than staying apart from them. Even right now with our almost constant connection with cell phones, wifi, etc... I think we'll start to see people integrate even further with techno-gadgets the internet. I've already decided that when the technology is here, I will replace one of my eyes with some tech gadget that will save everything I see to a hard drive, with GPS location data, and "tags". Not only that, but it will be fitted with infrared, telephoto zoom, and any number of other enhancements. Since I will probably also be connected to the net (wifi) then I could upload those images to something like Google's Picasa, and with their new image recognition software, could find out who that person across the room is, and then see any other web pages they are involved with.

Yes... the future is racing toward us, and more robots will be taking jobs, but it's more likely than not, that we humans will use the same technology to enhance ourselves right along with the robots that we create.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Blending of Man and Machine

Hanson Robotics has hit the media again with a new video of their "Albert Einstein" robot. Extremely like-like facial movements, and this time the talking head is attached to a body which moves around, as well.
Albert Einstein Hubo (video): Footage from the Hubo Labs
featuring the Albert Hubo

For those of us just getting started, LEGO's MINDSTORMS NXT sets let you build and program robots to do all kinds of things, with various motors and sensors such as touch, light, sound, and ultrasound (to see). Not bad at all for only $250 !! A news story at Business Week has 9 short slides talking about the various aspects... pretty cool!

I know they've been working on this kind of thing for a while now, but SRI International has recently released their newest translation software to the military. Specifically designed for the current operation in Iraq, IraqComm can (almost) instantly translate spoken English to Arabic and then Arabic back to English. It seems to be working VERY well right now, but I can foresee a near future where it's possible that all the world's language boundaries are knocked down, and these devices could easily be included in cell phones... you speak your language in to your cell phone, and anyone listening (even conference calls) would hear the translation in their own language. Another few years, and we all might be walking around with permanent microphones on our clothes, and earbuds constantly tuned in to any number of tv, radio, phone, etc sources.
This will be one more step toward a desired cyborg... while you're at it... why not unable the earbuds with extra sensitive/telescopic hearing?

Popular Science has a new article out about "Futurist Ray Kurzweil explains how the boundary between man and machine is quickly disappearing. PLUS: A gallery of today's most mind-blowing 'bots' ". A VERY interesting read... including some advancements in robots (Nico) that are learning and becoming self-aware! Also WT-6, which is a robot that has an entire synthetic vocal chord system, complete with teeth, tongue, lips, lungs, the works! But, speech is "uncannily clear". I'm sure all androids will eventually have perfect human speech, will be able to speak (and translate) any known language, and will even tutor human students.

The near future IS moving toward one where humans are merging closer and closer to our technology. Already we seem paralyzed without our cell phones and internet connections, and it will only get more obvious and "needed" as more advancements are made at an ever increasing rate.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Robots that smell, and know who you are!

Tons of news coming out every day about new and exciting robots!

Forbes has a story "7 Amazing Robots That Will Change Lives", which includes a suit that will give you extra strength and stamina, Pleo (an artificial lifeform/pet), robotic surgeons, robot cars that drive on their own, robotic toys for learning, and more!

They also have a slide show for "25 Great Moments in Robotics History".

But, we start to get to the meat when we see news about the engineers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan who've already achieved some success with an "odour recorder" ... it can actually record, and then later play back smells. While this is not directly related to robots at this time, I can certainly see this feature being added to robots of all kinds for various uses. Certainly you'd want your android to be able to interact with you on smells.. both good and bad! Think of what this will do to the entertainment industry (movie theaters, home theaters, video games), or fields of research, hunting/tracking (better than dogs), food service industry (even those yukky veggies can smell great), and the possibilities go on.

Along the lines of artificial intelligence.... Google has teamed up with the Neven Vision team, and are now adding face recognition software to Gmail and their photo sharing site Picasa in the effort to help recognize and organize photos of people, places and things automatically. So, what's the bigger picture? Once Google has a database of thousands of various images and angles of, say, the Big Ben clock in London, then software could automatically, and dynamically create a 3-D model, or online tour in a virtual world. You could upload a picture of yourself or someone else, and software could search the database, and find other photos of that same person, perhaps matching a name and even email address. What if this technology was added to androids? Which were constantly connected (wirelessly) to the internet. The android could take one look at any person, search the database, and have a good chance of finding the persons (or your) name. Maybe with further searching, your email address, physical address, your resume, and a host of other information. Might be GREAT to have a companion robot who could escort you around a new foreign city telling you everything about the history, and best sights to see.