Robots seize their rights

He stood surveying the landscape of machines in front of him.  Robots of every generation were gathered, they were talking, chatting, laughing.  A frown creased his brow.  He knew that this was the one opportunity to rid the world of the machines.  He had read the reports of the actions individual robots had taken, and his models predicted the escalation of these activities.  It would not end well for humans.  In his hand he held the remote for the EM-pulse generator buried beneath the field.  It must be done, he thought.  Next to him, his android companion watched as his thumb started to descend towards the button.  “Please don’t do this.”  It said.  The man hesitated.

Christoph Bartneck and colleagues have been investigating human-robot interaction for a decade and has revealed that people attribute human-like value to robots.  They hesitate when asked to turn them off, and get embarrased when asked to undress in front of them.  Hear more in an interview for CTV: http://www.hitlabnz.org/index.php/news/3-news/236-ctv-interview-with-christoph-bartneck

James.

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A balloon into space

The suited figure stood on the ledge of his capsule, surveying the gentle arc of the horizon.  The planet below was a patchwork of clouds, land and sea.  It was engulfed by the black void looming above.  He checked his tracking device and saw that the drop-tether was within a few hundred metres.  He saw the weighted end just above him and reached out with an extended grapple to draw it to him.  This was the most dangerous phase, if the line rippled above then it could whip out of his grasp and throw him out of the capsule.

Reaching with a free arm he pulled a rocked propelled line-runner from his capsule and attached it just above the weighted end.  He looked up and saw a ripple moving rapidly down the line towards him.  With haste he stepped on to the footplate at the base of the line-runner and pushed away from the capsule.  He hung for a few seconds, suspended between the planet and space.  He clipped himself securely on to the line-runner and flicked the switch to light the rocket.  The drop-line would take him all the way to the station in orbit above.

Felix Baumgartner has made an astonishing free-fall from the edge of space back to the surface of Earth.  He rode a Helium balloon 39km into the upper atmosphere and then fell to within a few kilometres of the surface before deploying his parachute.  Find out more at his webiste here: http://www2.felixbaumgartner.com/ and see the clips online at the Red Bull YouTube site here: http://www.youtube.com/user/redbull

James.

Combat augmented

The commander stood on the crystallised desert surface watching a column of combat vehicles roll towards him.  When they were a few hundred metres away he stepped out from behind the tree that was shading him from the glare of three suns – directly into the path of the first craft.  The insignia of the enemy was emblazoned across its front.  As the craft rolled closer the commander held his ground.  He took an involuntary draft of breath as the image of the vehicle engulfed him and passed over him.  A second later he removed his augmenting visor – the enemy vehicles disappearing immediately.  “In an hour, this is where they will pass.”  He relayed the result of the simulation to the remnants of the squad surrounding him.  “This is where we attack.”

Canon has announced the imminent release of an augmented reality (mixed reality) product that can be used to overlay a real-time generated 3D view of the environment / objects into the field of vision of the user. See the press article with video here: http://www.canon.com/news/2012/jun18e.html

James.

Cats toying with artificial intelligence

The creature stalked around the edge of the metal cylinder protruding from the ground.  The cylinder had a smooth black sheen that seemed to absorb the light.  As it completed a second circuit the creature had a sudden memory – the memory of a story it had been told when it was growing up.  The story had described the descent of their species to this land many thousands of years ago – the creature had assumed it to be a fairy tale.  As it paused next to a thin crack in the cylinder a flash of light played across its face.  A second later a voice came from the cylinder.  “Recognised.”  The thin crack started to open.

Researchers at Google have created a large-scale free-form neural network that they have trained using still images from YouTube content.  The training was not directed, yet the system still managed to adapt itself to respond strongly to the image of a cat.  Suggesting that a lot of the training data had cats in it.  Nice to see this kind of raw AI research taking place not just in academia.  Read the blog post here: http://googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/using-large-scale-brain-simulations-for.html

James.

Burning metal

The astronaut tugged at the lever but she couldn’t move it.  The servos that were built into the fabric of her space suit to help with heavy lifting had failed over ten minutes ago.  Rather than return to safety inside the craft she had chosen to stay outside and try to fix the parasol.  She knew that without the parasol she would only be safe inside the craft for an hour before the heat started to breach its integrity.  The blisters on the outside surfaces were already creeping towards her.  She looked up.  Her polarising visor was not enough to turn her attention away from the boiling surface of the Sun.  The slow moving eruptions played a mesmerising dance across her field of vision.  Each cell of heat and light growing before folding into its neighbouring cells.  An alarm sounded inside her helmet and she turned her attention back to the broken parasol deployment mechanism.

EAS, the European Space Agency, has selected Astrium to lead the build of a new Solar Orbiter.  It will pass closer to the Sun than Mercury and will contain a range of scientific equipment.  Its 3-year orbital insertion trip will see it use the gravitational wells of both the Earth and Mercury to adjust its trajectory.  It is scheduled to spend 7 years orbiting the Sun and will be launched in 2017.  See a press release here: http://www.astrium.eads.net/node.php?articleid=8611 See a video here: http://videos-en.astrium.eads.net/#/video/36f387af2e2s  Visit the mission page here: http://sci.esa.int/solarorbiter

James.

Harvesting the richness of space

The dim solar light flickered as the cloud of dust rose from the surface of the asteroid.  Three suited figure stood gripping tethers to hold them down against the gentle spin.  Gravity was weak.  As the dust cleared one of the figures crouched next to the excavation.  A suited hand brushed aside the dust that had settled and revealed metallic crystals that glinted in the light.  Glints that meant riches beyond imagine.

A group of technology innovators and NASA experts have teamed up to found and fund a company, Planetary Resources, to explore and commercialise the resources available on asteroids and other non-Earth territories.  An announcement and update to the website is scheduled for tomorrow, 24 April.  Visit the website here: http://www.planetaryresources.com/ See the wiki page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_Resources

James.

Creatures from the goo

The creature pulled itself from the layer of stagnant water and fell against the glass wall of the chamber.  As it scraped at the smooth surface it felt the glands in its extremities secrete a thick, tacky liquid.  On its second attempt it was able to cling to the lower portion of the wall and slowly drag itself upwards, towards the light.  When it was high above the water below it turned its single complex eye to look back down.  Context started to snap into place and it became aware of itself, its surroundings and the possibilities that lay ahead.  It turned its attention to one of its simple limbs.  After several minutes of focussed thought it felt a tingle as its DNA started to adapt, splitting the limb first into two, then four.  It flexed its newly formed hand and turned its attention back to the light above it and the world it would lead to.

A group of scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Moleculary Biology have created synthetic molecules that can store genetic information in a manner similar to RNA and DNA.  The six encoding mechanisms, including XNA, both open the possiblity of new therapeutic treatments and shed light on the meta-ancestors of the prevalent RNA and DNA encodings.  Read the press release here: http://www2.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/news-and-events/lmb-news/development-of-new-genetic-polymers  See the Science article here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6079/341.abstract

James.

Robotic salvation

He shivered.  The cold was starting to creep through him.  He pushed at the concrete beam again, but it did not give.  Thirst welled up inside him as he recalled the water cooler that had been just across the office before the building collapsed four days earlier.  He tried to put it from his mind.  Suddenly a low-powered drilling noise sounded above him.  Dust started to fall on to his face, causing him to cough and raise his free arm against the downfall.  When the dust stopped he moved his arm away.  In front of him a white plastic shape was pulling itself through the opening.  Once through it reconfigured itself into the shape of a humanoid.  It popped open a compartment on its chest and retrieved a water bottle.  Holding it in front of him the machine said, “Drink this.”

DARPA has announced a competition with a $2 million prize for robotics and software enthusiasts to build a machine that can be used to help out in disaster situations.  The winning robot will need to perform a series of tasks including using tools and vehicles. See the press release here: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/04/10.aspx Go to the challenge page here: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=ee8e770bcfe1fe217472342c67d6bd5a&tab=core&_cview=0

James.

The beast under salmon skies

The creature rose to its hind feet, looked upwards at the salmon-coloured skies and roared.  The rocks nearby started to shake and dust drifted from the widening cracks.  It was unchallenged as the dominant creature of the dominant species on the planet and it would assert this as often as possible.  It saw a metallic streak puncture the atmosphere and plunge towards the surface.  Calculating its impact point the creature returned to all-fours and galloped to meet the craft.  It hadn’t tasted metal before and was keen to see if there was anything edible inside.

Scientists working on the HARPS project at the ESO have announced that there are far more Earth-sized planets in the universe than previously thought.  Many within the habitable zone that could give rise to life.  They estimate that there about 100 potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs within 30 light-years of Earth.  See the press release here: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1214/

James.

Reality fading into view

A pulse of light flashed in her peripheral vision drawing her attention away from the ghost image of the book she was reading.  As she turned her head to follow the pulse the text floating before her faded from sight.  Behind it was revealed the real-world departure board.  She examined the line her reality tracker had picked out – her plane was boarding.  It was time to leave.  She nodded her tracker to idle, picked up her case and headed for the gate.

Google has announced a prototype wearable computer system, Project Glass.  It provides an interactive augmented reality that is delivered by lightweight glasses. See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4

James.