Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Video Clip Special

The world of robotics offers myriad costume options this halloween...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The World Series Of Computer Programming

Elbot (left) captured first prize at this year's Turing test (video). Ryan Howard (right) helped the Phillies win this year's World Series.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Today, Google Smarter; Tomorrow, Upload The Entire Internet To Your Brain

Some helpful tips for smarter searching, courtesy of Wired (more on uploading the internet to your brain soon).

Get good sources. Add "site:edu" or "site:gov" to limit your search to school or government domains. To target specific sites, type, say, "neutrino"

Convert currency and units. Easy: "12 parsecs in light years" or "12 dollars in euros," for example.

Check your stocks. Take a deep breath, then enter a ticker symbol to see a real-time quote.

Narrow by file type. To find PowerPoints, Excel spreadsheets, or books scanned into PDFs, add "filetype:ppt" (or any other extension) to your query.

Search ranges. Use two periods between two numbers, like "Wii $200..$300."

Expect flight delays. Type in the airline, then your flight number.

Define yourself. To get the definition for a word, just type the word define: followed by the word. Include the colon and space.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Woman Sent to Jail After Virtual Killing

Virtual crime, very real consequences. Full BBC story here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rappers Use Robot Voices To Talk About Feelings

When Bob Dylan "went electric" at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, fans were (allegedly) in tears. The controversy was this: how could a pillar of folksy authenticity take up a less-human, futuristic, piece of technology known as the electric guitar. Robots and trees just don't mix, so to speak.

Hip-hop, by in large, does not have this kind of moral dilemma. Hip-hop was born in the age of the synthetic beat and the sample, and as a result, the usual schism between technology and authenticity seems much less relevant.

Of late, there has been a veritable explosion of hip-hop artists using phase vocoder technology to modulate the voice, making it sound like, what can only be described as "slightly robotic" (example here). Interestingly, many of the songs that employ the phase vocoder are about feelings. These songs are no doubt on the emotional (or emo) end of the hip-hop song spectrum.

Why is this? In some ways it is easier to get emotional through a text message than over the phone or in person. The"less-human" the form of communication, the more emotional we can get without feeling vulnerable. Maybe for these hip-hop icons, it's easier to get emotional when you sound like a robot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Superorganism Meme Returns (Although It Never Really Left)

E.O. Wilson's new book reignites the superorganism debate. The issue of the superorganism is particularly relevant to cybernetics (and any discussion of emergence) because superorganisms seem to: "exhibit a form of distributed intelligence–a system in which many individual agents with limited intelligence and information are able to pool resources to accomplish a goal beyond the capabilities of the individuals."

Here, Wired recounts the history of the superorganism meme:

It became a powerful meme among computer geeks, as any Google search reveals. Programmers got to work building "ant-based" search and scheduling-optimization algorithms modeled on the foraging patterns of real-world ants. Cybervisionaries saw in the superorganism an ideal way of describing the networked global brain that they were just beginning to imagine. The idea meant the singularity might be nearer than anyone thought. Wired's Kevin Kelly drew on Wilson's theories for the conceptual framework of the Hive Mind, humanity's emerging cognitive interconnectedness. Even today, Kelly is writing about the One Machine and the Technium, a neologism he defines as "a superorganism of technology."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Oracle Chatbot

An interesting take on chatbots yields entertaining conversations: chatbot game.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fat Brain = Healthy Body

New research coming out of UCLA has shown a very strong correlation between the decay of myelin (the fatty electrical insulation surrounding the neurons that gives the brain its grayish color) and the decline of physical quickness as you age. Read the Science Daily article here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Machines Fool 25% Of Human Investigators!

(A.C.E conversing with human interrogator)

In 1950, the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, devised the Turing test. He postulated that, "If, during text-based conversation, a machine is indistinguishable from a human, then it could be said to be 'thinking' and, therefore, could be attributed with intelligence" (note the phraseology: 'attributed with intelligence').
Since 1991 teams of researchers have been annually competing for a $100,000 Loebner prize, awarded to the first team to pass the Turing test.
This week in Reading, England, two teams of researchers presented A.C.Es (artificial conversational entities) that fooled the human investigators 25% of the time. That means that if the ACE conversed with 4 people, one of those people, based on the nature of the conversation, thought that they were conversing with a human – a huge acheivment considering the complexity and unpredictability of human conversation.
As teams of researchers edge closer to capturing that Loebner prize and passing the Turing test, web-based avatars like those created on, will become more and more advanced conversationally – there will come a point where your friends won't be able to tell whether or not they are chatting with you or your avatar. But the passing the Turing test won't just be a nifty accomplishment that makes your lifenaut avatar more life-like, it will represent a huge step toward creating machines that possess intelligence. Indeed, that's why Alan Turing proposed the test in the first place.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bionic Woman, Part II

Yoky Matsuoka, a one time tennis prodigy and self-described "airhead," is now a MacArthur fellow and professor of neurobotics (a fusion of neuroscience and robotics) at the University of Washington. Matsuoka leads the charge to create advanced prosthetic limbs controlled by human thought. Learn about her story in this short Nova video and watch a short video on the 400 year old history of the quest to build robotic limbs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bionic Woman

Emilie Simon, the French singer and composer of electronic music, performs tonight at the Cutting Room in NYC. Emilie studied contemporary musical research and production in Paris, where she developed an interest in bringing science and art together in order to "rejuvenate musical language."

Her arm controller, called the "Brissot," allows her to "remotely control, modulate, and transform her live voice through a series of controlled effects."

On stage Emilie strives for total control of her musical output - from beats to harmonies and modulations - while standing alone on stage (perhaps Neurosky's brainwave sensors are the next stage in Emilie's quest to bring science and art together).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Brainwave Sensors Enable Thought Control

A brief intro to brainwave capture:

1 Neurons communicate with electrical impulses

2 Research has shown that certain frequencies of electrical impulses (or brainwaves) correspond to unique emotive states

3 The development of bio-sensor headgear products (see Neurosky) for the consumer market promises to make it possible for an individual to measure, observe, play video games, and archive brainwaves (and emotive brain states)

4 The nascent technology can currently identify brain states of: awareness, meditative, or drowsiness, but as the technology progresses it should be able to identify increasingly nuanced brain states based on the unique brainwave patterns


Low-cost brainwave sensors would take personality capture to the next level. If designers make these devises discrete or stylish enough, the average consumer could record a variety of unique brainwaves throughout their day and upload them to a personality capture website (like lifenaut) in realtime - like a much advanced Twitter.

These devices have a great potential to bring the power of biofeedback to the masses. If you can see your brainwaves in real time, you can over time, learn to have greater control of moving in and out of these mindstates. Like the art installation Simmer Down Sprinter, the user could learn, through biofeedback, to enter a state of relaxation. Over time, the individual could become fluent in moving from a state of anxiety into a state of relaxed awareness.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Find me a story with an exciting chase scene and a happy ending."

Google's take on Web 3.0:

"In coming years, computer processing, storage, and networking capabilities will continue up the steeply exponential curve they have followed for the past few decades. By 2019, parallel-processing computer clusters will be 50 to 100 times more powerful in most respects. Computer programs, more of them web-based, will evolve to take advantage of this newfound power, and Internet usage will also grow: more people online, doing more things, using more advanced and responsive applications. By any metric, the "cloud" of computational resources and online data and content will grow very rapidly for a long time.

As we're already seeing, people will interact with the cloud using a plethora of devices: PCs, mobile phones and PDAs, and games. But we'll also see a rush of new devices customized to particular applications, and more environmental sensors and actuators, all sending and receiving data via the cloud. The increasing number and diversity of interactions will not only direct more information to the cloud, they will also provide valuable information on how people and systems think and react.

Thus, computer systems will have greater opportunity to learn from the collective behavior of billions of humans. They will get smarter, gleaning relationships between objects, nuances, intentions, meanings, and other deep conceptual information. Today's Google search uses an early form of this approach, but in the future many more systems will be able to benefit from it.

What does this mean to Google? For starters, even better search. We could train our systems to discern not only the characters or place names in a YouTube video or a book, for example, but also to recognize the plot or the symbolism. The potential result would be a kind of conceptual search: "Find me a story with an exciting chase scene and a happy ending." As systems are allowed to learn from interactions at an individual level, they can provide results customized to an individual's situational needs: where they are located, what time of day it is, what they are doing. And translation and multi-modal systems will also be feasible, so people speaking one language can seamlessly interact with people and information in other languages."

From The Official Google Blog