Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Respect You, I Love You, I Am Absolutely Terrified Of You

What is the status of the robot in American popular culture? We fear them (Terminator), we respect their intelligence and befriend them but consider them ultimately dangerous (2001: A Space Odyssey, I Robot), we find them adorable (RJD2, Wall-E), we idolize them (Optimus Prime), and finally, we see them as modern sirens (Austin Powers' Fembots).

The design of the robot is of vital importance. It is the designer who helps realize the robot's potential for good, by translating the incomprehensible robotic technology into the language of humanity. For robots to interact beneficially with humans in the future, designers must make them holistically likeable, trustworthy, respectable. At the design stage, a new robot becomes either a Zune or an Ipod, a Wall-E or a Terminator.

Take a look at this Youtube video depicting a nanobot replacing a human neuron. Although the technology is years off, this process has enormous medical potential. Patients with ailing brain cells could recieve nanobots replacements with identical signalling capacity – think of these neuron nanobots as the pacemakers of the brain. If the technology advanced sufficiently, I would be theoretically possible to replace each neuron with a nanobot, leaving an individuals unique brain architecture fundamentally sound – like replacing a wooden boat, one board at a time.

But how can you view this video without being terrified!? Is there not something inherently frightening in watching that nanobot spring tentacles and wind its way up the axon like a sinister kudzu vine? And why is the video so dark? A sentinel (from the Matrix) could swim by and not look out of place in this video.

If we want people to embrace this sort of technology we must think about aesthetics and design. It sometimes hard for scientists to think like this, but it's important.

Guranteed Exposure?

On January 25th, 2007 my roommate Paul uploaded this 4 second long video titled: Big Smereka Yells At The Smaller Two. It currently has 305 views.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Enemies Of Insight: Stress, Anxiety, Fear

The creative mind wields the power of creation via inspiration and imagination. But where does the revolutionary artistic or scientific insight come from? True insights arrive so unexpectedly and inexplicably, it’s no wonder we see them as otherworldly, divine.

But if we can’t control the arrival of the insight, we can at least pursue a mental state most hospitable for the incubation of insight.

In Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article, “The Eureka Hunt,” he explains that:

“Once the brain is sufficiently focused on the problem, the cortex needs to relax, to seek out the more remote association in the right hemisphere that will provide the insight…”

This relaxation state, characterized by low-level brain waves (3-8 Hz) is a prerequisite for insight (characterized by a quick burst of 40 Hz Gamma waves). It also helps explain why insights often come to us in the morning, in a warm shower, or on a walk, and why it’s nearly impossible to force a big idea in a state of stress, anxiety, or paralyzing fear.

A simple methodology of insight:

(i) preparation (preparatory work on a problem that focuses the individual's mind on the problem and explores the problem's dimensions)

(ii) incubation (where the problem is internalized into the unconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening)

(iii) intimation (the creative person gets a 'feeling' that a solution is on its way)

(iv) illumination or insight (where the creative idea bursts forth from its preconscious processing into conscious awareness)

(v) verification (where the idea is consciously verified, elaborated, and then applied)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Steve Mann, Cyborg Man

Steve Mann of the University of Toronto invented the terms "sousveillance" and "glogging"...which is what happens when cyborgs blog, vlog, or flog.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Consequences Of Digitial Intimacy

NYtimes article by Clive Thompson uncovers some important insights about the new state of digital intimacy.

1. People often think they don't want the sort of omnipresent knowledge that comes with twitter and facebook feeds...until they sign up. Then, they find it intriguing and addictive.

2. Twitter and Facebook's scrolling wall spread trends quickly - more quickly than blogs.

3. Individual "tweets" are insignificant on their own, but when you track them over time, real understanding and intimacy with a person develops (another example of emergent property).

4. When you post updates about yourself, the process of posting forces you to view them objectively, and to contemplate them. So, "in the age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Neurons Observed Recalling Memory

Image: From the New York Times

It has long been theorized that the same neurons that fire as the memory is stored, fire as the memory is recalled. Researchers have, for the first time, observed this phenomenon. The finding is a huge stride forward for understanding exactly how a memory is stored and brought back to life.

Roboticists Ask Hollywood For Help

Roboticists are reaching out to Hollywood creators for tips on making likable robots.
The RO-MAN conference addresses the fundamental issues of robot-human interactions, including ways to design the robots for enthusiastic human acceptance.