Radically Inept
Monday, April 12, 2004
  Science Monday

The following stories are linked to via KurzweilAI.net newsletter. Any other sources will be noted separately.

The Observer | UK News | Machine rage is dead ... long live emotional computing:
"At Queen's Sonic Arts Research Centre, scientists led by Professor Michael Alcorn are studying ways to detect the emotional states of computer game users - from the way they hold and tap on keyboards and consoles - so that machines can spot when feelings are beginning to run too high. 'The game could be slowed down and more soothing background music played,' said Alcorn.

A key breakthrough has been the discovery that cool, unemotional decision-making is not necessarily a desirable attribute. In fact, humans cannot make decisions unless they are emotionally involved. 'The cold, unemotional Mr Spock on Star Trek simply could not have evolved,' said artificial intelligence expert Professor Ruth Aylett of Salford University, another Humaine project leader. 'We cannot act without our feelings being switched on.'

...'Of course, people say that just because you can teach a computer how to respond to a human does not mean you have made it emotionally sensitive,' said Evans. 'They say that you have merely taught it crude reaction techniques. But that is all that emotional sensitivity does for humans. It lets us spot people who are angry or aggressive or in some intense state and react accordingly. The sooner computers learn how to do that, the better it will be for them and us.'
Yahoo! News - More Cash Flowing to Robotics Research:
"'Nobody is inventing the wheel anymore,' Kara said. 'The core of research that occurred over the last 10 years is driving this market intellectually and now there's a ton of money coming from the military side of the aisle.'

The Pentagon, which spent $3 billion on unmanned aerial vehicles between 1991 and 1999, is expected to spend upward of $10 billion through 2010. Under a congressional mandate, the Defense Department is pushing for one-third of its ground vehicles to be unmanned by 2015.

The Army is seeking portable reconnaissance robots, transport robots and fighting vehicles that could be deployed in place of the Abrams tank. The 42-pound PackBot, which can climb stairs and work under water, already has been used by U.S. troops flushing out Afghan caves. The Marines have developed a similar robot half that size.

The Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is sponsoring more than 40 projects in robotics, spokeswoman Jan Walker said.

For example, DARPA has given Carnegie Mellon $5.5 million to develop the Spinner, a five-ton combat vehicle that could operate on almost any terrain, under any conditions, without a foot on a pedal or a hand on a steering wheel...

...Robert Michelson, a principal research engineer at Georgia Tech, is holding the fourth annual International Aerial Robotics Competition in July.

Robotic aircraft will be required to fly three kilometers (1.8 miles) to an urban setting, find a building, then enter it via a window or a hole in the roof to find a target inside. The robot must then transmit an image back to base — all without human interference.

The Georgia Tech team has already built a craft that can fly the three kilometers and identify the building and the points it can be breached, Michelson said.

"This is not a paper exercise," Michelson said. "This is real-world show-me."
The problem I see here, is an ever greater trend to replace human labor may well succeed, and if it does, how many and what kind of jobs will be left.

A better search engine for science research? Scirus - for scientific information apparently doesseparatee the wheat from the chaff, and you won't get so many unrelated hits as you do with Google. Oh, and it's free.Wired News: Turning Search Into a Science:
"Scirus is a search engine for scientists that allows them to dig through not just scientific journals, but also unpublished research, university websites, corporate Internet sites, conference agendas and minutes, discussion groups and mailing-list archives.

'It's good for scientists who don't want to sink time into fruitless searches,' said David Carpe, founder of Clew, a research and consulting firm in Boston. '(Web searches) are only one piece to the research they're doing; it shouldn't take five weeks to find the information they need.'

Scirus mines 167 million scientific Web pages to get query results. The technology uses linguistic analysis to rank the results, with the highest scientific value at the top. Scirus has been around since April 2001, and its popularity has been slowly but steadily growing. It was named best specialty search engine by SearchEngineWatch in 2001. In 2003, the site accommodated about 30 million searches."
Ah, more life.Universe Teeming With Elements of Life (washingtonpost.com):
"The Mars rovers have offered scientists a chance to move from speculation to more practical questions: If there is life elsewhere, what form will it take? What should we look for?
'It will be microbial,' said University of Colorado molecular biologist Norman Pace. 'It will be a bunch of different microbes in a community-based environment. The rules of the game will be different, but there will be a suite of organisms designed to cope with their geophysical situation.'

Depending on the scientist, however, there were varying views about even such basic questions as when something becomes 'life.' Livio described 'a simple something able to replicate and pass on information.' Sandford said he would look for 'an accumulation of functionalities' -- the organism would 'know its inside from its outside' and be able to 'drag electrons around' to form different compounds.

But regardless of the definition, the rationale behind the search for microbes on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system appeared to be a no-brainer among the researchers: 'More than 85 percent of the history of life on Earth is exclusively the history of single-celled organisms,' said Ames research scientist David Des Marais, a member of the Mars rover team. 'On Earth microbial life runs the place. It's going to be the easiest to find.'

Also, noted Ames astrobiologist Jonathan Trent, microbes have demonstrated remarkable ability to endure in hostile environments. 'We find them in near-boiling sulfuric acid, in ice, growing in high levels of radiation,' he said. 'If you find me a microbial life form somewhere else in the solar system, I think it will be very similar to what we have here. To look for anything else in our solar system is absurd. Beyond our solar system"
I'm thankful for this last quote. I think we have a history of pre-conceiving what life can be or where it will be found, and then having our assumptions proven wrong. I understand that we have limited capabilities, but that is my point. How would I know if the earth were a conscious, thinking being? No, really, how would you know, and what could you possibly measure? Now, I wouldn't say that it is, but how could I know? Just one of those questions I ponder...Mostly late at night after having had a few.

Desk top microchip manufacturing?Ottawa Business Journal - News:
"Tabletop boxes will soon be pumping out microchips at lightning speed from a desk near you. Multibillion-dollar foundries will be replaced and the face of manufacturing will be forever altered.
To digest this, some may have to suspend their disbelief.

But for visionaries such as Douglas Mulhull, author of Our Molecular Future, a version of the above scenario is already happening.

Mulhull was in Ottawa last month to talk about nanotechnology at a speaking event hosted by the local branch of the Canadian Information Processing Society.

Mulhull observed that microchips are already being printed 'on a board in a box', thanks to the adaptation of bubble-jet printing to the production of three-dimensional objects that actually work. Such 'boxes' are already manufacturing some types of programmable chips, surgical models and car parts, said Mulhull, who urges us to imagine the disruptive influence of replacing a $4-billion factory with boxes that sit on a tabletop and cost anywhere from $75,000 to $750,000. Add to that the replacement of silicon with diamond derivatives, which run 100 times faster at a tenth of the heat, said Mulhull."
And all that that potentially means.

Human Evolution through Pharma?>The New York Times > Health > Essay: The Altered Human Is Already Here:
"In short, while the Six Million Dollar Man is still a fantasy, Pharmaceutical Man is already here, and largely unnoticed. Swallowing a pill at a business lunch is likely to elicit little curiosity. A high-powered executive who did not have blood pressure or cholesterol problems might be suspect. There are concerns about the widespread use of antidepressants, but they do not seem to have affected sales.

In fact, the group of antidepressants that includes Zoloft is the third biggest class of pharmaceuticals by sales in the United States, totaling $11 billion in 2003.

Drugs in the top two categories - statins to reduce cholesterol levels and proton pump inhibitors to prevent heartburn, gastritis, ulcers and other digestive problems - had sales of about $14 billion and $13 billion, respectively.

Critics of the national medicine cabinet have noted that behaviors and physiological changes that were once simply aspects of life - menopause, the inability to keep still as a child, baldness, decreasing potency in old men - have been medicalized, turned into syndromes or diseases.

Dr. Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist who in the 1960's defined himself as far outside the mainstream by arguing that mental illness was a myth, recently wrote a book called 'Pharmacracy,' about the invasive rule of medicine as it defines our lives.

Last fall, the President's Council on Bioethics issued a report called 'Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness.' The report included material on genetics and embryo selection, but it also addressed performance enhancement and behavioral drugs. One of its concerns was the way everything in life becomes a medical problem.

When new technologies, including drugs, come through doctors, the report said, many aspects of life become medicalized, raising concerns that "the pursuit of happiness and self-perfection would become part of the doctor's business."

The report also cataloged "other aspects of human life that formerly had little to do with doctors and hospitals: childbirth, infertility, sexual mores and practices, aspects of criminal behavior, alcoholism, abnormal behavior, anxiety, stress, dementia, old age, death, grief and mourning.""

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