Japan: Novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) Returns in Robot Form

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Novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) is back in Tokyo — as an android.

Nishogakusha University in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, and Osaka University Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro unveiled the final product of their joint project at a press conference on Thursday, a day before the 100th anniversary of the writer’s death.

The humanoid robot sits 130 centimeters high and was made based on pictures taken when the writer was 45 years old and his death mask, among other materials. Read the rest of this entry »


Forget Drones: Google Explores Robot Delivery

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Legged robots from Boston Dynamics can navigate a home, and even deliver a parcel, using advances in manipulation and vision.

Will Knight writes: The nimble-legged robots under development at a secretive Google subsidiary are getting ever more capable and clever.

At a conference in Barcelona this week, Marc Raibert, the CEO of Boston Dynamics, which specializes in dynamically balancing legged machines, demonstrated some of the progress his researchers have been making.

CAPTION: CAMBRIDGE, MASS.--9/11/2004--BostonDynamics president Marc Raibert with the robot "Big Dog". CREDIT: JODI HILTON FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Many people are talking about drone delivery. So why not just plain legged robots?”

— Marc Raibert, the CEO of Boston Dynamics

Raibert demonstrated Spot Mini, the company’s latest four-legged robot, which is about the size of a large dog. Boston Dynamics has previously shown videos of Spot Mini operating in a mocked-up home—climbing stairs, opening doors, and even emptying a dishwasher using its gripper. The robot features a neck-like appendage and gripper that enables it to do simple, but potentially useful, manipulation tasks.

The robot is partially automated. A Boston Dynamics engineer steered a Spot Mini onto the stage during Raibert’s talk at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference. But the robot figured out for itself how to perceive and navigate the steps up to the stage, and then, once given the command, located and picked up a can from a table.

Legged robots could potentially be better than wheeled bots at navigating messy human environments, although the research robots under development at Boston Dynamics remain prohibitively expensive for now, some costing more than $1 million.

Boston Dynamics has built a reputation for developing robots capable of walking and running, even across treacherous ground using dynamic balance; that is, by constantly moving to maintain stability. The company has honed the technique over many decades to produce several stunning machines  (see “The Robots Running This Way”). It makes a much larger quadruped, called Big Dog, which has been tested as a military pack mule, as well as a humanoid, Atlas, which took part in a robot rescue contest organized recently by the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (see “Why Robots and Humans Struggled with DARPA’s Challenge”).

As Boston Dynamics explores potential applications, it’s clear that manipulating objects while balancing this way will be a key focus. “Mobile manipulation is our next grand challenge,” Raibert said during his talk. Read the rest of this entry »


New journal Science Robotics is Established to Chronicle the Rise of the Robots

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Devin Coldewey reports: Robots have been a major focus in the technology world for decades and decades, but they and basic science, and for that matter everyday life, have largely been non-overlapping magisteria. That’s changed over the last few years, as robotics and every other field have come to inform and improve each other, and robots have begun to infiltrate and affect our lives in countless ways. So the only surprise in the news that the prestigious journal group Science has established a discrete Robotics imprint is that they didn’t do it earlier.

Editor Guang-Zhong Yang and president of the National Academy of Sciences Marcia McNutt introduce the journal:

In a mere 50 years, robots have gone from being a topic of science fiction to becoming an integral part of modern society. They now are ubiquitous on factory floors, build complex deep-sea installations, explore icy worlds beyond the reach of humans, and assist in precision surgeries… Read the rest of this entry »


Rocket Men: Why Tech’s Biggest Billionaires Want their Place in Space

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Forget gilded mansions and super yachts. Among the tech elite, space exploration is now the ultimate status symbol.

On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa.

Zuckerberg wrote, with a note of bitterness, on his Facebook page that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite”. SpaceX founder Elon Musk told CNN it was the “most difficult and complex failure” the 14-year-old company had ever experienced.

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It was also the second dramatic explosion in nine months for SpaceX, following a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of a booster rocket as it attempted to land after a successful mission to the International Space Station.

Later that day, Nasa’s official Twitter account responded: “Today’s @SpaceX incident – while not a Nasa launch – reminds us that spaceflight is challenging.”

Yet despite those challenges, a small band of billionaire technocrats have spent the past few years investing hundreds of millions of dollars into space ventures. Forget gilded mansions and super yachts; among the tech elite, space exploration is the ultimate status symbol.

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Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City. Yet it is his galactic ambitions, insiders say, that really motivate him. “His passion is settling Mars,” says one.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

SpaceX has completed 32 successful launches since 2006, delivered cargo to the International Space Station and secured more than $10bn in contracts with Nasa and other clients. Musk has much grander ambitions, though, saying he plans to create a “plan B” for humanity in case Earth ultimately fails. He once famously joked that he hoped to die on Mars – just not on impact. Read the rest of this entry »


Rise of the Robot Music Industry

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AI is transforming music streaming, talent spotting, promotion and even composition.

Robotic is not an adjective that many musicians would want applied to their songs but the industry has been fast to embrace data analytics and artificial intelligence to help tailor its services to the increasingly fickle listener.

Algorithms are seeping into the music business to help with talent spotting, promotion and even composition in an industry that has been historically resistant to change and was one of the first to feel the effects of “disruption” through piracy and music sharing.

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Streaming services have already ushered in an era of “hyper personalisation” for music lovers. Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, launched in July 2015, had racked up 40m listeners around the world and 5bn track streams by May this year, according to a report from the BPI prepared by Music Ally. These playlists monitor what a person is listening to, and cross-references that data with other users with similar tastes to recommend new songs and artists.

Apple Music has opted to use human curators such as Zane Lowe, the radio DJ, for its playlists, but Spotify has doubled down on its robotic recommenders with new services such as Release Radar and the Daily Mix to tempt its subscribers down different paths.

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Yet discovery is only the equivalent of a debut album for streaming services, and can be a blunt tool. Users of Spotify Discover complain that it is hit and miss — often suggesting the same artists and songs repeatedly, and failing to adapt to the often random whims of the listener.

The industry is now hoping that the use of artificial intelligence will bring better analytics, and even predictive technology.

A listener’s location, mood and even the weather conditions are now being built into some recommendation engines. Google Play is, for example, working on such adaptive functions.

“A bot will be able to recognise guilty pleasures . . . see that I’ve been to the pub and serve me a Little Mix record when I’m on the way home,” says Luke Ferrar, head of digital at Polydor, pointing to the use of algorithms to understand how people listen to music. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] The Atlas Robot is Getting Better at Chasing You Down


How VR Has the Power To Make You Care

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Thanksgiving Weekend Primatologist Browser Tabocalpyse

Across The Line‘ is the latest example of VR attempting to evoke empathy.

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Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio writes: There’s an iconic scene in Blade Runner where Harrison Ford’s character Deckard meets the replicant Rachel for the first time, but he doesn’t know she’s not human. He then uses a test called Voight-Kampff  to determine whether or not she’s a real person. The test consists of a series of questions designed to elicit emotion. The idea – which is beautifully challenged later on in the film – is that machines are incapable of such empathetic responses.

Empathy, in other words, is what makes us human.

With an emerging consensus that the immersive nature of VR is particularly effective in triggering those empathetic responses, we’re seeing artists throughout the creative industries exploring new possibilities for storytelling – with a purpose. Chris Milk’s UN-Commissioned Clouds Over Sidra showed the plight of refugees through the eyes of a 12-year old Syrian girl, while the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio production HOME/AAMIR transported viewers to the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ camp.

VR can even make people feel more empathetic toward more abstract things like the environment, as was recently shown with the Crystal Reef project – showcased this year at the Tribeca Film Festival by researchers from the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) at Stanford. The simulation, where you watched the devastating effects of ocean acidification caused by man, served to connect people to the consequences of their own actions in a much more tangible way.

[Read the full story here, at uploadvr.com]

Journalist and Filmmaker Nonny de la Peña – Co-Founder of the Emblematic Group and affectionately known as the “Godmother of VR” – has long explored the power of Virtual Reality experiences to break through viewer apathy. Her pioneering work often transports viewers into uncomfortable situations – such as a line for food handouts outside a shelter in LA, where you see a man collapsing from hunger next to you – and makes them re-think their outlook on often controversial issues.

The latest of those projects is Across The Line, an experience which tells the story of a young woman going to an abortion clinic. I viewed it recently at London’s Raindance Film Festival – where it was selected for this year’s VR showcase Arcade – and spoke to la Peña and their partners at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) to find out more about how the project developed and what the reaction to it has been like so far. Read the rest of this entry »


What Will Become of White House Tech’s Juicebox Mafia? 

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Obama-era techies weigh staying under Trump

An impassioned debate is raging among software engineers, designers and other techies as to whether they want to stay in Washington under Donald Trump.

While some high-ranking tech staffers in the federal ranks say they’re not going anywhere, others worry that staying could put them in a tough spot, especially if the new administration asks them to work on projects at odds with their values.

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It’s “a brutal line for some of us to walk,” said one senior tech specialist in the federal government, who would only speak without being named. The specialist said staffers are caught between “serving the public in ways that are obviously still very much needed,” versus “serving a person — and a ‘regime’ — who, for some of us, is fundamentally disrespectful of our existence.”

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“The arguments are really clear,” says Anil Dash, a New York City entrepreneur whose commentary is widely followed in the tech industry. “The one side is, ‘You came to serve and there’s still a need.’ The other is, ‘Do we legitimize this administration?'”

[Read the full story here, at POLITICO]

Dash says he has stopped recommending that people in tech join the U.S. Digital Service, but that he also sees little upside to those already on the federal payroll leaving now.

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People open to staying include Rob Cook, a former Pixar executive who just three weeks ago began a three-year appointment as the head of the Technology Transformation Service, a branch of the General Services Administration created this summer to reinvent how the federal government buys and builds technology. “If it’s important, it’s important for all administrations,” Cook says.

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Cook’s view that civil servants serve regardless of who occupies the Oval Office has its adherents. But among the rank and file in the federal tech service, conversations are swirling. They’re weighing whether those who joined the Obama administration to apply the thinking of the so-called civic tech movement — the idea that modern digital tools can create a government more responsive to citizens — would be guilty of aiding a president whose policies and politics many of them utterly oppose.

computer lab

Obama created the Digital Service as what he called a tech “SWAT team” after being burned by the failed launch of HealthCare.gov. He has tapped that team of technology experts to execute some of his policy priorities, such as making it easier for would-be immigrants to the U.S. to track their applications online. Read the rest of this entry »


COMPUTOPIA Magazine: ‘School Without Teachers, Humanless Factories, Digital Calculation is the Future of Humanity’

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[VIDEO] An AR-15 in Every Home: 3D Gun Printer Cody Wilson on Resistance, Trump, the Media, & More

 

“It doesn’t matter what the origins of the Second Amendment were,” says Cody Wilson, creator of the first 3D-printed gun and author of the new book, Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free. “With the internet, we can transform this thing into right to resistance on a global scale. If it’s just a fact that the government serves guns519nzpvwfvl-_sl250_ now, this is just a point of political life.”

CORRECTION: The Ghost Gunner sells for $1,500 not $250. The deposit is $250.

[Order Cody’s book “Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” from Amazon.com]

The full transcript of this interview is available here.

Reason is the planet’s leading source of news, politics, and culture from a libertarian perspective. Go to reason.com for a point of view you won’t get from legacy media and old left-right opinion magazines. Read the rest of this entry »


Science & Fiction: 10 Technologies That Are Changing the Game


The Mechanics of Mechanophilia: Why Men Find Siri Sexy

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We all have relationships with tech. The question is: how far do you go?

How would you feel if you walked in on your flatmate pouring his iPhone a glass of Cristal and remarking on her exceptional ‘wallpaper’? Open mouthed and curious, right? Well, welcome to the future. For some technophiles at least.

Apart from neo-Luddites, we all have relationships with tech. The question is: how far do you go?

A survey from 2012 revealed the extreme level of attachment many of us feel towards our gadgets. It found that three-quarters of the 2,500 people polled said losing a personal device would give them more anxiety than losing a wedding ring. Another from 2016 discloses that nearly 40pc of millennials say they interact more with their smartphones than their co-workers, parents, children or friends.

Of course, such interactions could be simply checking the time – and if you started calling your friends to do that they’d think you’d gone batty – but what these stats betray is the shaping of an emotional bond between man and machine that seems to be growing year on year.

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“People use things in a sexual way all the time. You could name any object, from a radiator to a tin can, and there’s someone out there that gets sexually aroused by it.”

–Professor Mark Griffiths

Sci-fi programmes like Humans, depicting the trouble caused when overly lifelike AI get mixed in with the rest of society, may be fictional, yet our relationship with tech still gets closer and closer. Quite alarmingly close.

Virtual assistants (VA for short), also known as personal assistant A.I.s, are digital secretaries that can schedule meetings, order meals, play audio and visual files, and assess online accounts. Not to be confused with ‘virtual assistants’ that work remotely and are actual people, current VAs on the market include Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and, of course, Apple’s Siri.

“Most new technology seems to turn to porn eventually. Webcams, virtual reality, Internet etc. I see no reason why A.I won’t be included in this. It’ll certainly be cheaper to run phone sex lines with an army of bots instead of having to pay women to answer the phones.”

— Steve Worswick, an expert in the field of digital A.I

Last month, in an interview with The Times, Illy Eckstein, chief executive of Robin Labs, creators of a virtual assistant and satnav known as ‘Robin’, said that 5pc of interactions in their database are classified as “clearly sexually explicit”.

Trawling the Internet for evidence of the above I discovered a Reddit forum titled: ‘I masturbate to Siri and I feel disgusting’. The poster says he’s a 20 year old male, who started talking to Siri sexually as a joke before realising that “it really turned me on.”

The phenomenon clearly has farther reaches than one sole forum post. VA creators and chatbot companies predict such interactions and put algorithmic safeguards in place to deter feelings of emotional and sexual attachment from costumers.

[Read the full story here, at telegraph.uk]

Earlier this year one of the key writers for Microsoft’s Cortana, Deborah Harrison, revealed at the Virtual Assistant Summit in San Francisco that “a good chunk of the volume of early-on inquiries” regarded Cortana’s ‘sex life’ adding, “That’s not the kind of interaction we want to encourage.”

Steve Worswick is an expert in the field of digital A.I. He’s also the leading developer of Mitsuku, a family-friendly online chatbot.

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“Mechanophilia: love or sexual attraction to computers, cars, robots or androids, washing machines, lawnmowers and other mechanized gardening equipment, sexual relations between living organisms and machines.”

He told Telegraph Men that he used to have a banning system (five strikes and you’re out) for anyone who attempted to have sexually explicit conversations with Mitsuku. However, he received so many emails from people who wanted to treat the bot sexually, that he removed the strike system and instead programmed Mitsuku to either ignore sexual requests, say something to steer the conversation to other topics, or simply insult the user.

Worswick believes men are using Mitsuku in this way and seeing bots as “sex objects” simply because they cannot fight back, have no legal rights, and are not going to judge them or contact the authorities or their wives or girlfriends.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Mars’: National Geographic Network’s Moonshot

National Geographic is releasing “Mars,” a six-part series that follows a dramatized mission to Mars while real scientists and thinkers discuss the challenges of such a journey.

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WSJ‘s Lee Hawkins and John Jurgensen discuss “Mars” and the rise of the “premium nonfiction” genre on television. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Watch Hillary Clinton and Her Staff Do the ‘Mannequin Challenge’

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Charlie Rose Interviews a Robot

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Charlie Rose attempts to interview a robot named “Sophia” for his 60 Minutes report on artificial intelligence.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Sophia tells 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose. They’re mid-interview, and Rose reacts with surprise.

“Waiting for me?” he asks.

“Not really,” she responds. “But it makes a good pickup line.”

Sophia managed to get a laugh out of Charlie Rose. Not bad for a robot.

Rose interviewed the human-like machine for this week’s two-part 60 Minutes piece on artificial intelligence, or A.I. In their exchange, excerpted in the clip above, Rose seems to approach the conversation with the same seriousness and curiosity he would bring to any interview.

[Read the full story here, at CBSnews]

“You put your head where you want to test the possibility,” Rose tells 60 Minutes Overtime. “You’re not simply saying, ‘Why am I going through this exercise of talking to a machine?’ You’re saying, ‘I want to talk to this machine as if it was a human to see how it comprehends.’”

Sophia’s creator, David Hanson, believes that if A.I. technology looks and sounds human, people will be more willing to engage with it in meaningful ways.

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“I think it’s essential that at least some robots be very human-like in appearance in order to inspire humans to relate to them the way that humans relate to each other,” Hanson says. “Then the A.I. can zero in on what it means to be human.”

“Through his company Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, Hanson has created twenty human-like robots, even developing artificial skin that simulates the physics of facial flesh. Sophia is his latest design, modeled after Audrey Hepburn and Hanson’s wife.”

He envisions robots as companions for people who would otherwise be socially isolated, such as the elderly. “If you have a robot that can communicate in a very human-like way and help somebody who otherwise doesn’t know how to use a computer, put them in touch with their relatives,” Hanson explains, “put them in touch with their healthcare provider in a way that is natural for them, then that could provide a critical difference of connectivity for that person with the world.”

Through his company Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, Hanson has created twenty human-like robots, even developing artificial skin that simulates the physics of facial flesh. Sophia is his latest design, modeled after Audrey Hepburn and Hanson’s wife.

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CBS News

“I think it’s essential that at least some robots be very human-like in appearance in order to inspire humans to relate to them the way that humans relate to each other. Then the A.I. can zero in on what it means to be human.”

“Sophia means wisdom,” Hanson explains, “and she is intended to evolve eventually to human-level wisdom and beyond.”

She still has a long way to go. Read the rest of this entry »


[PHOTOS] NASA 1965 Space Suit Test Robot


[VIDEO] ‘Sex, Drugs, & Robots’: Reason’s Katherine Mangu-Ward on the Future of the Magazine

Reason‘s new editor in chief Katherine Mangu-Ward sat down with former Reason editor and author Virginia Postrel (now a columnist at Bloomberg View) at Reason’s Los Angeles headquarters to talk about the future of the magazine as it nears its 50th anniversary.

Nick Gillespie—and to some extent Matt Welch—their version of Reason was sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Mine is more like sex, drugs, and robots,” says Mangu-Ward.

« The News Mausoleum Commentary Magazine

You may know Mangu-Ward’s work already as Reason’s managing editor or from her insightful cover stories covering everything from defending plastic bags to why your vote doesn’t count.

Approximately 48 minutes.

boys-magazine Read the rest of this entry »


Japanese Robot Makes Sushi in Seconds 

Kawasaki's sushi-making robot. Kazumichi Moriyama/YouTube

Kawasaki’s sushi-making robot. Kazumichi Moriyama/YouTube

The Japanese robotics manufacturer Kawasaki has created a bot that can prepare nigiri sushi in under a minute.

As robots get more advanced, they will likely take over many jobs in the future — including those of sushi chefs.

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For a sneak peak at this impending automation, look no further than a new creation from robotics manufacturer Kawasaki. The robot can make sushi in under a minute.

First spotted by Gizmodo, the video shows a miraculous bot that assembles nigiri, the traditional type of sushi in which a piece of raw fish sits on a little ball of rice.

giphy (77) Read the rest of this entry »