Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Say "Come On In" to Killer Robots

Real Clear Science - 8/1/15 by Jai Galliott

It seems that the real worry that has motivated many of the 12,000-plus individuals to sign the anti-killer-robot petition is not about machines that select and engage targets without human intervention, but rather the development of sentient robots.

The open letter signed by more than 12,000 prominent people calling for a ban on artificially intelligent killer robots, connected to arguments for a UN ban on the same, is misguided and perhaps even reckless.

Wait, misguided? Reckless? Let me offer some context. I am a robotics researcher and have spent much of my career reading and writing about military robots, fuelling the very scare campaign that I now vehemently oppose.

I was even one of the hundreds of people who, in the early days of the debate, gave their support to the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

But I’ve changed my mind.

Why the radical change in opinion? In short, I came to realise the following.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Soon, Machines Will Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves

FT - July 16, 2015, by Douglas Coupland

At the moment, Artificial Intuition is just you and the Cloud doing a little dance with a few simple algorithms. But everyone’s dance with the Cloud will shortly be happening together in a cosmic cyber ballroom, and everyone’s data stream will be communicating with everyone else’s and they’ll be talking about you: what did you buy today? What did you drink, ingest, excrete, inhale, view, unfriend, read, lean towards, reject, talk to, smile at, get nostalgic about, get angry about, link to, like or get off on?
‘The internet is going to do to us whatever it is going to do — and it’s far too late to stop it’

I look at apps like Grindr and Tinder and see how they’ve rewritten sex culture — by creating a sexual landscape filled with vast amounts of incredibly graphic site-specific data — and I can’t help but wonder why there isn’t an app out there that rewrites political culture in the same manner. I don’t think there is. Therefore I’m inventing an app to do so and I’m calling it Wonkr — which somehow seems appropriate for a politically geared app. I dropped the “e” to make it feel more appy.

What does Wonkr do? Primarily, you put Wonkr on your phone and it asks you a quick set of questions about your beliefs. Then, the moment there are more than a few people around you (who also have Wonkr), it tells you about the people you’re sharing the room with. You’ll be in a crowded restaurant in Nashville and you can tell that 73 per cent of the room is Republican. Go into the kitchen and you’ll see that it’s 84 per cent Democrat. You’ll be in an elevator in Manhattan and the higher you go, the percentage of Democrats shrinks. Go to Germany — or France or anywhere, really — and Wonkr adapts to local politics.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Figuring Out How Not to Die

NewPhilosopher - by Patrick Stokes on March 20, 2015

Everyone, according to Simone de Beauvoir, views their own death as an accident, as something alien, contingent, unnecessary. As Tolstoy has the dying Ivan Ilyich ponder, it’s perfectly fitting that everyone dies, but quite outrageous that I die.
It probably says something telling about human beings that the oldest surviving piece of literature is about our longing to overcome death.

The Sumerian poetry cycle known to us as the Epic of Gilgamesh tells of the hero’s grief at the death of his friend Enkidu, and his journey to the ends of the earth to seek the secret of immortality from Utnapishtim, the survivor of a global flood (a sort of Mesopotamian proto-Noah). Along the way he meets a wise woman named Siduri, who tries to make him see the futility of his mission:

“Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find the life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”

Needless to say, this idea didn’t stop Gilgamesh from trying, and it hasn’t stopped us either. The good news is, we’ve become pretty good at cheating death of late. In the last few decades, life expectancy at birth in Western nations has been growing by several weeks each year. If that growth rate exceeds 52 weeks per year, we’d reach a state that’s only half-jokingly been called “Actuarial Escape Velocity”: the point at which our lives start growing faster than we can live them.

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Amazing Shrinking (and Sideways-Moving) Car!

CNN - 5/8/15 by Lauren Said-Moorhouse

"It is able to reduce it's own size by about 80cm, which makes it almost as small as a bike in length. And with this kind of feature you can go into very tiny parking spaces," he says. "You are still able to turn on the spot, you are still able to drive sideways and you are still able to connect to charging stations, for example."
As cities continue to grow at a dizzying rate, commuters are constantly battling ever-increasing congestion on the roads and a lack of parking, just to get to work.

But now a team of German engineers have come up with an ingenious solution -- a "flexible" electric vehicle capable of shrinking, driving sideways (think like a crab) and turning on a dime.

The EO Smart Connecting Car 2 is an innovative design from DFKI Robotics Innovation Center, based in Bremen, Germany, where a team of software developers and designers, as well as electronics and construction engineers, have been refining the smart micro car project for the last three years.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Scientists will soon be able to switch your blood type

UBC Science

“We produced a mutant enzyme that is very efficient at cutting off the sugars in A and B blood, and is much more proficient at removing the subtypes of the A-antigen that the parent enzyme struggles with.”

What do you do when a patient needs a blood transfusion but you don’t have their blood type in the blood bank? It’s a problem that scientists have been trying to solve for years but haven’t been able to find an economic solution – until now.

University of British Columbia chemists and scientists in the Centre for Blood Research have created an enzyme that could potentially solve this problem. The enzyme works by snipping off the sugars, also known as antigens, found in Type A and Type B blood, making it more like Type O. Type O blood is known as the universal donor and can be given to patients of all blood types.

To create this high-powered enzyme capable of snipping off sugars, researchers used a new technology called directed evolution that involves inserting mutations into the gene that codes for the enzyme, and selecting mutants that are more effective at cutting the antigens. In just five generations, the enzyme became 170 times more effective.

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