Category Archives: Technology

Giving Furniture a Taste for Blood

Auger-Loizeau is making pet robots. Sort of.

To satisfy the basic robot criteria, each one has been given a normative utilitarian aspect, performing basic services for their human hosts:
1. Mouse Trap combined with coffee table Robot.
2. Flypaper combined with Robotic clock.
3. Pest Control combined with lamp shade Robot.
4. Fly Stealing Robot. (this is a pure entertainment robot)
5. U.V. flykiller Parasite Robot.
The CDERs are autonomous as a consequence of using the Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) as energy source.
Their motivation, via programming, to capture biomass gives them agency.
They move or have mechanical moving parts.
They can sense their environment.

In other words: Trouble brewing.

More at Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

Update: Robots to get their own internet: “Wikipedia is something that humans use to share knowledge, that everyone can edit, contribute knowledge to and access,” he said. “Something like that does not exist for robots.” … RoboEarth is likely to become a tool for the growing number of service and domestic robots that many expect to become a feature in homes in coming decades. So … calorie counts and so on? Terrific.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cry, Teach’

Like any new kid in class, RUBI took some time to find a niche. Children swarmed the robot when it first joined the classroom: instant popularity. But by the end of the day, a couple of boys had yanked off its arms.

The engineers went beyond stronger arms (or mounted weapons):

The RUBI team hit upon a solution one part mechanical and two parts psychological. The engineers programmed RUBI to cry when its arms were pulled. Its young playmates quickly backed off at the sound.

If the sobbing continued, the children usually shifted gears and came forward — to deliver a hug.

Students, Meet Your New Teacher, Mr. Robot

Watson on Jeopardy

Last summer, the New York Times published an article about an IBM supercomputer being trained to solve Jeopardy clues. It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. Jeopardy, for those of you who live under this rock with me, involves familiarity with astronomical amounts of trivia, something computers are great at, but it also trades on wordplay and allusions. A Jeopardy win would be a real score for computer understanding of human language. It’ll be a challenge:

Watson will not appear as a contestant on the regular show; instead, “Jeopardy!” will hold a special match pitting Watson against one or more famous winners from the past. If the contest includes Ken Jennings — the best player in “Jeopardy!” history, who won 74 games in a row in 2004 — Watson will lose if its performance doesn’t improve.

That episode is now scheduled to air—in February 2011. And indeed, Watson is facing Jennings (and Brad Rutter, another Jeopardy record-holder, in dollar winnings).

Update: Practice rounds against Rutter and Jennings

Update Feb 2011: Good thing you welcome your robot overlords, Mr Jennings!

Silly Punditry

I’m tired of articles that oversell a perceived lack in a software-based product by assuming that the product is the be-all and end-all of what the maker envisioned. I am thinking in particular of iPad apps. I wish I had a dime for every person who has raged at the fall of Western Civilization (or destruction of journalism) because some iPad app they are using doesn’t have a bunch of linking and social features.

Building good interactive experiences—on the web, in apps, wherever—is hard. Everyone smart who is doing this, especially with a very young device like the iPad, is adopting a “build and then iterate” strategy. To do anything else would take too long, cost too much, and still get it wrong. Get it out there with the minimum feature set to be engaging, and then revise it to do more stuff, do more interesting stuff, do stuff better.

Wish you could email a friend an article, send a link to Twitter, or even, FSM forbid, “like” it on Facebook? Awesome, send the maker of the app a request, post to Twitter, write an article on your blog, shout it on the corner if that floats your boat—and here in San Francisco it might be surprisingly effective. Hey, hit all the channels you want. But do you honestly believe that anyone making an iPad app for subscription material is already completely done with the feature set? Really?

And when Murdoch’s iPad thingy finally comes out, and it omits all that stuff by design and has no plans to add it in, please don’t complain about that, either, because how could you not see that coming?

I for One Welcome Our Cyborg Overlords

Pretty wonderful design project challenging the notion that a prosthetic should simply mimic natural function. I think this is a natural direction of design in the spirit of the Cheetah Flex-Foot, which is a highly specialized shock absorber. It’s an approach that says, “OK, let’s start with the function, and see where the form goes.”

This is a fairly specialized option, but it’s only one step before a base arm unit with a variety of attachments. I don’t know if I’m ready to give my left arm for it yet, but I’ll be interested to see where this kind of work goes.

Airship Kitty

As the crew, which also included a radio operator, a chief engineer and two mechanics, climbed on board, Simon picked up a stray cat that had been living in the America’s hangar. Like many sailors, he was superstitious. ‘We can never have luck without a cat on board,’ he wrote.

More at The Telegraph, and written up at Purr n Fur Famous Felines and Why Evolution Is True.

“Social Listening”

The net has seen a remarkable flourishing of companies that are interested in building businesses around aggregating information. One of them has recently published an algorithm for matching bits of information about a specific person. This company explicitly seeks to connect legal identities to online handles.

Something to keep in mind if you’re using a pseudo and have happened to attach some accurate-to-your-legal-identity information to it.