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The Future Of Robot Love Affairs, Continued

Published on Dec. 15, 2007 at midnight by XC

John Hawks, an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin (and one of my favorite reads) recently happened upon something that I wrote about in a rather satirical manner, a possible future that prescribes that we’ll be making love (and falling in love) to/with robots by 2050.

John also reacted to the cyborg loving prognosis in a satirical manner, however he asked two questions that picked at my brain:

Well, that’s one more thing, isn’t it? If you’re more likely to fall in love with a robot, will you be less likely to have children? And if so, will that mean that over many generations, robot-revulsion genes will be selected?

I think, perhaps, he’s put the cart before the horse. I suggest that those who would entertain companion robots would not be likely to have children, even if companion robots weren’t available.

I (humbly) suggest that we examine what fuels the need for such innovation as part of the bigger picture when it comes to the topic. Are “robot revolution” genomes amongst us now and about to manifest? I’ve said this a few hundred times, things happen – when depends entirely on when said things are noticed.

I could go into a lengthy outburst regarding over-population and the insular nature that feeds both technological and cultural innovation (facebook, anyone?) but I won’t, I don’t need to, his questions (should) obviate anything that I have to say on the topic.

What remains is the power of envy.

Category: Science
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China Jump Starts Nanotech

Published on Nov. 22, 2007 at midnight by XC

Xie Sishen, one of the chief scientists at The Chinese Academy Of Sciences announced a $83.6 Million (620 million yuan) State sponsored ‘hot shot’ into the research and development of nanotechnology today, according to The Shanghai Daily.

Nanotechnology, a multi-disciplined science of manipulating matter on a molecular scale allows tiny devices to escape the conventional laws of physics. Such devices (such as carbon nanotubes) demonstrate amazing potential due to their structural and electrical qualities. A carbon nanotube was recently used as a working FM radio.

Nanotubes are of particular interest to researchers because they are semi conductors possessing a strength 100x greater than steel, but 6x lighter. Nanotubes are just one fruit from the tree of nanotechnology, China hopes for further innovation.
While industry focus has been on utilizing nanotubes in things like microprocessors, Xie Sishen sees a more comprehensive future for the technology while warning that ” Nanotechnology is a double-edge sword,” and that “care should be exercised, as with any innovation.”

Nano scale particles are responsible for a great many health issues. Sishen discusses some of the concerns that I was already familiar with, such as vapors resulting from welding containing hazardous nano scale metallic particles.

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Robot Cockroaches Invade Social Networks

Published on Nov. 16, 2007 at midnight by XC

Cockroaches have become one of my odder fascinations since my arrival in South East Asia several years ago. My first apartment in Quezon City came complete with about 300 coprophagous house guests, cockroaches. My neighbors were rather fond of hoarding roach habitats, as such I was stuck with roaches for months.

Rather than go on a roach killing spree, I took the opportunity to study them because I noticed that they behaved rather differently than the cockroaches in my old Baltimore neighborhood. This was one of the hobbies that led me to really advance my interest and knowledge of small world (social) networks.

Researchers have spent great lengths figuring out why cockroaches are so amazingly smart. On a fundamental level, roaches display near human like social behavior. Time just ran a piece describing roach robots that infiltrate a colony of cockroaches for the express purpose of altering the collective behavior of its members.
Roaches are not very discerning when it comes to accepting a new member of the pack. If it moves like a roach, smells like a roach and is approximately the same size as a roach, its a roach (to a cockroach). Try saying that three times fast. If a nine volt battery smelled like a roach and scurried around, it would be accepted as a member of the pack.

If they want to build a robot roach that leads cockroaches to any location (out of one’s home would be nice), they need to make a robot that poops.

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The Science Of Insider Fraud

Published on Nov. 7, 2007 at midnight by XC

IT Wire is running something neat today, researchers in Australia have combined efforts to automate the process of detecting (internal) employee fraud.

This research is of particular interest to any company that enjoys a decentralized structure that enables employees to work from home via the Internet.

To explain why this sort of research is so neat, I’ll put it in the context of the web hosting industry, which most people reading this should be at least vaguely familiar.

It used to be that the biggest ancillary cost of running a web hosting company was payment fraud (credit card / Paypal) fueled by a never ending river of phishing schemes. Internal fraud is just as (if not more) expensive and twice as difficult to detect, ask any large web host.
The chronic success of on-line scammers (phishers) taught us that average computer users do not pay very much attention to whats on their screen when they complete an electronic financial transaction or volunteer sensitive information.

This means, if someone working for an on-line company is able to gain access to certain databases, customers of the on-line company might end up paying an employee of the company (thinking that they are paying an official invoice) without ever realizing that they just paid a billing clerk’s personal Paypal account. The crooked clerk marks the bill as satisfied, cleans up any evidence of manual queries and the company remains oblivious to any wrong doing.

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Laser Link From Earth To Moon?

Published on Nov. 7, 2007 at midnight by XC

Oerlikon recently demonstrated transmission of data over light at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers. The laser is specifically designed to provide data links to and from objects in space (to each other), as well as planetary to object, or possibly interplanetary links.

From what the press release says, they achieved speeds of approximately 10MBit/Sec, which is extremely exciting. More or less, it would be like a slow Ethernet cable from Earth to the moon, or Earth to several distant (key) places in the galaxy that are ideal for the positioning of future space telescopes.
Of course, they were not able to test in space, they had to test on Earth by weakening the beam and simulating the 1.5 million kilometer transversal, a process that is very well (and plainly) described in the press release.

What this could mean is (sort of) streaming video from space telescopes, easy communication with equipment in orbit or on the moon, help for probes to navigate from beacons broadcasting with this type of link and many other things.

High resolution pictures of the device can be found on their web site. The only information that they forgot to publish is the correct pronunciation of their company name.

So, all of you groaners still stuck on a 10 meg switch because your boss is to cheap to get you something better, your connection is actually moving at (relatively) warp speed

Category: Science

Does Your Dna Smile?

Published on Oct. 30, 2007 at midnight by XC

ABC is reporting that Dr. Paul Rothemund at the California Institute of Technology can make 50 billion smileys, each a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

[ ultra paranoid geek mode ON ]

We’ve already seen a patent for music from human DNA. Could this technique result in a patent that restricted our .. nah. While Dr. Rothemund did something rather novel, it is not specific to one person’s DNA. Great! <phew>

[ ultra paranoid geek mode OFF ]

DNA is akin to microscopic Legos, a very versatile tiny building block that plays well with others. Imagine playing with Legos, needing a piece 6 blocks long but only having one 8 pieces long. If you were using DNA, you could cut your 8 piece into a 6 piece.

If you were a biologist, you could turn a protein strand into something that works very much like a transistor with this research. Since this technique is relatively new, I’ll refrain from entering ultra paranoid geek mode again (for now).

From the article (citing ABC ):

In a potent demonstration of his so-called DNA origami technique, Rothemund has created half a dozen shapes, including a five-pointed star, a snowflake, a picture of the double helix and a map of the Americas in which one nanometre represents 120 kilometres.

It’s worth a read, go check it out

Category: Science

Can Physics Un-Tangle Christmas Lights?

Published on Oct. 3, 2007 at midnight by XC

Physorg (my favorite site to eat Physics) is running an article about some research going into finding out why things like Christmas tree lights delight in becoming tangled and knotty. The research is quite interesting, it deals with why some knots form one way, while others form another way all surrounding the knot theory (which I don’t quite fully understand).

We all know that our strands of tree lights magically come alive and knot themselves shortly after we put them away in a storage box, but Physicists want to make sure. Unfortunately, no method of making strings of any kind that are inherently resistant to knotting is in danger of being discovered.

This research is neat stuff, especially to educators who can (very easily) reproduce some of these experiments (Science and Math teachers might really like this article). This is (as the article says) research that is really geared for young Science fans. For the average geek dad, this means interesting things :

Every time something gets tangled, you must go preform experiments. After all, its for the good of Science!
Anything stringy is going to knot. We should not buy expensive cord winders anymore, we’re interfering with the natural potential of the cord. Just chuck it in a box, its bound to knot anyway. Then, you can disappear to the garage and drink egg nog while avoiding your in-laws during the holiday season all in the name of Science.
You can carry a length of string in your pocket and do Physics experiments anywhere.

The researchers doing the experiments are using computer programs to analyze the knots, I hope that these programs are released under an OSI approved license so schools can use them too.

Category: Science