Sharon Weinberger writes: For almost two years, an unmanned space plane bearing a remarkable resemblance to NASA’s space shuttle has circled the Earth, performing a top-secret mission. It’s called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle — but that’s pretty much all we know for certain.
“Despite the secrecy surrounding its mission, the space plane’s travels are closely watched. The Air Force announces its launches, and satellite watchers monitor its flight and orbit. What is not revealed is what’s inside the cargo bay and what it’s being used for.”
Officially, the only role the Pentagon acknowledges is that the space plane is used to conduct experiments on new technologies. Theories about its mission have ranged from an orbiting space bomber to an anti-satellite weapon.
The truth, however, is likely much more obvious: According to intelligence experts and satellite watchers who have closely monitored its orbit, the X-37B is being used to carry secret satellites and classified sensors into space — a little-known role once played by NASA’s now-retired space shuttles.
For a decade between the 1980s and early 1990s, NASA’s space shuttles were used for classified military missions, which involved ferrying military payloads into space.
“Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA — or humans.”
But the shuttles’ military role rested on an uneasy alliance between NASA and the Pentagon. Even before the 1986 Challenger disaster, which killed all seven crewmembers, the Pentagon had grown frustrated with NASA’s delays.
Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA — or humans.
The X-37B resembles a shuttle, or at least a shrunken-down version of it. Like the space shuttles, the X-37B is boosted into orbit by an external rocket, but lands like an aircraft on a conventional runway. But the X-37B is just shy of 10 feet tall and slightly less than 30 feet long.
Its cargo bay, often compared to the size of a pickup truck bed, is just big enough to carry a small satellite. Once in orbit, the X-37B deploys a foldable solar array, which is believed to power the sensors in its cargo bay.
“It’s just an updated version of the space shuttle type of activities in space,” insisted one senior Air Force official in 2010, the year of the first launch, when rampant speculation about the secret project prompted some to question whether it was possibly a space bomber. Read the rest of this entry »
Walter Isaacson writes: We live in the age of computers, but few of us know who invented them. Because most of the pioneers were part of collaborative teams working in wartime secrecy, they aren’t as famous as an Edison, Bell or Morse. But one genius, the English mathematician Alan Turing, stands out as a heroic-tragic figure, and he’s about to get his due in a new movie, “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which won the top award at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month and will open in theaters in November.
“He also wrestled with the issue of free will: Are our personal preferences and impulses all predetermined and programmed, like those of a machine?”
The title of the movie refers to a test that Turing thought would someday show that machines could think in ways indistinguishable from humans. His belief in the potential of artificial intelligence stands in contrast to the school of thought that argues that the combined talents of humans and computers, working together as partners, will always be more creative than computers working alone.
Despite occasional breathless headlines, the quest for pure artificial intelligence has so far proven disappointing. But the alternative approach of connecting humans and machines more intimately continues to produce astonishing innovations. As the movie about him shows, Alan Turing’s own deeply human personal life serves as a powerful counter to the idea that there is no fundamental distinction between the human mind and artificial intelligence.
[Check out Walter Isaacson's book "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution" at Amazon.com]
Turing, who had the cold upbringing of a child born on the fraying fringe of the British gentry, displayed a trait that is common among innovators. In the words of his biographer Andrew Hodges, he was “slow to learn that indistinct line that separated initiative from disobedience.”
He taught himself early on to keep secrets. At boarding school, he realized he was homosexual, and he became infatuated with a classmate who died of tuberculosis before they graduated. During World War II, he became a leader of the teams at Bletchley Park, England, that built machines to break the German military codes.
Feeling the need to hide both his sexuality and his code-breaking work, Turing often found himself playing an imitation game by pretending to be things he wasn’t. He also wrestled with the issue of free will: Are our personal preferences and impulses all predetermined and programmed, like those of a machine?
These questions came together in a paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” that Turing published in 1950. With a schoolboy’s sense of fun, he invented a game—one that is still being played and debated—to give meaning to the question, “Can machines think?” He proposed a purely empirical definition of artificial intelligence: If the output of a machine is indistinguishable from that of a human brain, then we have no meaningful reason to insist that the machine isn’t “thinking.”
His test, now usually called the Turing Test, was a simple imitation game. An interrogator sends written questions to a human and a machine in another room and tries to determine which is which. If the output of a machine is indistinguishable from that of a human brain, he argued, then it makes no sense to deny that the machine is “thinking.” Read the rest of this entry »
Artificial Tongue Application Potential Not Yet Fully Explored But We Suspect You Have Ideas Not Mentioned Here
This might the first post we’ve done that falls into the categories “Food & Drink” and “Robotics”. I have a feeling it won’t be the last. TechCrunch reports:
Researchers in Denmark have created an artificial tongue to find out whether expensive wine actually tastes any better than the cheap stuff.
The research, first published in ACS Nano, claims that an optical nanosensor based on surface plasmon resonance (SPR) can discern how you experience the sensation of dryness in wine. And they say this nanosensor can judge the way the tannins will hit your flavor sensors better than the finest wine critic can.
Some may argue that it takes a human, not a robot, to discover what is worth a sip. However, the researchers at Arhaus University argue that the nanosensor is free from the human critic’s personal prejudice. They may have a point. There’s a lot that goes into making wine taste a certain way. Everything from the variety of the grape to the minerals in the soil to what kind of sunlight the grapes received chemically affects the taste and smell of the wine from season to season – in even the same grape.
According to MarketWatch, over 31.4 billion 750 ml bottles of wine are bought and sold throughout the world every year. While some standard ratings have been placed on wine and there’s a decent following in wine personalities and what they recommend, everyone has different tastes in what they like. This makes it particularly hard to decide which wine will do at the local grocery store. Read the rest of this entry »
— WIRED (@WIRED) September 10, 2014
— Liars Never Win (@liars_never_win) September 4, 2014
“China became the world’s largest industrial robot market in 2013 with 37,000 industrial robots sold in the country, accounting for 20 percent of the global market.”
SIASUN Robot and Automation Co. Ltd. will be the first to jump start China’s industrial robot production with an annual capacity of 5,000. Their facilities will produce robots applied in welding, hauling, assembling, stacking, grinding and polishing, according to Qu Daokui, the company’s CEO.
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“Rising labor costs and aging population have prompted the application of industrial robots in China”
He said the production line is undergoing tests and the exact date of operation is yet to be announced. The application of robots has expanded from the high-end industries such as automobile and electronics manufacturing to traditional industries, including metal processing, bathroom hardware, food and drinks, said Qu, who is also director general of China Robot Industry Alliance. Read the rest of this entry »
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While many robots are controlled using what is known as “zero moment point” dynamics to balance itself, the new robot uses a combination of a high speed camera and a stabilizing motor so that it can lean forward without tipping over, enabling it to run in a dynamic form, according to Prof. Masatoshi Ishikawa. The robot can even perform a somersault. Read the rest of this entry »
— NASA (@NASA) August 22, 2014
Our co-found and Editor-At-Large. Though this snapshot looks vintage, it was actually taken fairly recently, around 2007, back when he had a bit less gray hair, and long before he had a 3-D printer. But his hobbies are essentially the same. He’s currently heading up our Hong Kong Bureau, where his time and space doesn’t allow for recreational rocket building, so I’m sure he’ll enjoy this archival snapshot as a winsome reminder of a cherished pastime.
— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 15, 2014
A team of engineers at Harvard and MIT have designed and built a flat-packed robot that assembles itself and walks away. Learn more at http://hvrd.me/A2mM9
“What I discovered…Siri seems to be one of those things that polarizes views: people either loving it and using it every day, or dismissing it as a useless gimmick. Not too many people seem to fall between the two.”
Yesterday our Hong Kong Bureau Chief posted a tantalizing peek into the future of AI – “Real AI in Your Pocket” — and in the comments section, I posted an anecdotal description of a recent experience using the still-developing Siri, and it led me to wonder who’s writing what about Siri these days, and I landed on this. Though it confirms that most of what can be done with Siri is conventional, to the point of being disappointingly trivial, sometimes the smallest things can yeild daily benefits, and are easy to overlook. The question is valid: Is Siri just a party trick?
For 9to5Mac, Ben Lovejoy writes: When Siri lost its beta tag almost a year ago, I suggested it might be a good time for those who’d been frustrated with its early performance to give it another chance. What I discovered through your comments was that Siri seems to be one of those things that polarizes views: people either loving it and using it every day, or dismissing it as a useless gimmick. Not too many people seem to fall between the two.
But Apple has continued to work hard on improving the service, adding new capabilities as well as refining its ability to handle existing ones. It might not yet be as sophisticated as its creators envisage for the future, but a year on seemed a good point to revisit the topic and find just how many of its capabilities people are using …
“Most people know Siri can read your mail, but again you can be much more specific than this…”
Everyone knows you can ask Siri to call someone, and that if you’ve identified contacts by relationship you can say things like “Call my girlfriend,” but you can also get more specific. “Call my father on his work phone,” for example, or “Make a FaceTime audio call to Phil.”
Similarly, with text messages, you can be casual in your phrasing: “Let Sarah know I’m running ten minutes late.” Calendar queries, too, can also be more specific than general enquiries about your appointments, such as “When am I meeting Barbara?”
Using Siri to tweet? You can ask for your location to be added, along with any hashtags: “Tweet, with my location, having a great night out, hashtag drinking.” And if you want to know what’s trending on Twitter, you can simply ask “What’s going on?”
Apple Maps may not have gotten off to the best of starts, but there’s a lot of location-based functionality built into Siri to make your life easier. Some are basic, like “Give me walking direction to Alison Smith’s work.” Others are more sophisticated like “Make a reservation for two at a romantic French restaurant around here tonight at 7pm.”
Or fancy a movie instead? “Where is Guardians of the Galaxy playing?” will show you nearby locations and times, together with the Rotten Tomatoes review. If you’re in the U.S., you can also ask Siri to buy tickets. Not sure whether the movie is the right choice? “Play the movie trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Still got work to do in the meantime? “Show me the nearest WiFi hotspots.”
Location-based reminders are something without which I’d forget half the things I’m supposed to do. “Remind me to call Sam when I get home,” “Remind me to post the letters when I leave here” and “Remind me to buy milk when I’m at Tesco” are just a few examples. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally posted on TIME:
There’s been a lot of discussion and a tremendous amount of speculation lately about the nature of drones and their role in our society as useful tools and hobbyist toys.
Last year, while celebrating my birthday in Maine, I was given a drone fitted with a high-definition camera. After a quick introduction to the mechanics of operating the contraption and a few words about its idiosyncrasies, I loaded the appropriate app on my iPad and went down to the beach.
In just a few minutes I was hooked. In near silence, the drone rose, hovered, and dove, silently and surreptitiously photographing us and the landscape around us. The photos and video were stunning. By assuming unusual vantage points, the drone allowed me to “see” so much more of my surroundings than usual. The view I was “seeing” on my iPad with the help of the drone would have otherwise been…
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From a great tumblr site, spaceexp: This chart provides a comparison of the distances driven by various wheeled vehicles on the surface of Mars and Earth’s moon. Of the vehicles shown, NASA’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity are still active and the totals listed are distances driven as of July 28, 2014. Read the rest of this entry »
Space Needle security called police just before 8:30 PM after several guests reported seeing a small drone buzz the top of the Needle, and possibly crash into an observation Deck window. Witnesses then saw the drone—described as a white, quad-propeller unmanned aerial vehicle, equipped with a camera—glide to a hotel two blocks east of the Needle, where it landed inside a fifth floor room.
Police found no signs of damage to the top of the Space Needle
Security staff pointed out the fifth floor hotel room where the drone had landed, and officers went and contacted a man inside. The man told police he’d just flown his drone past the Needle, but disputed he’d struck anything.
For Popular Mechanics, Darren Orf reports: To the tech-obsessed or the well-informed DIYer, MakerBot is a name synonymous with additive manufacturing. Despite the rapid growth of 3D printing, however, it can still seem like a far-out future technology to plenty of Americans. Now, the company hopes to go mainstream with the help of Home Depot, announcing a partnership to sell and demonstrate MakerBot Replicators in 12 select stores in the U.S. This pilot program will be based primarily in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.
The MakerBot models will appear in specially designed kiosks (pictured above), and MakerBot-trained retail staffers will give continuous demonstrations. They’ll also let you keep whatever they print during a demonstration—your very own 3D-printed souvenir. Read the rest of this entry »