You can write your own connective gag for these two links

Paul Raven @ 09-03-2011

Via Hack-A-Day, the oddballs at Backyard Brains demonstrate a prototype technoexoskeletal assembly for the remote control of insect pests on the move. Shorter version: RoboRoach!

RoboRoach

And via Kyle Munkittrick, (software) RoboLawyers:

The most basic linguistic approach uses specific search words to find and sort relevant documents. More advanced programs filter documents through a large web of word and phrase definitions. A user who types “dog” will also find documents that mention “man’s best friend” and even the notion of a “walk.”

The sociological approach adds an inferential layer of analysis, mimicking the deductive powers of a human Sherlock Holmes. Engineers and linguists at Cataphora, an information-sifting company based in Silicon Valley, have their software mine documents for the activities and interactions of people — who did what when, and who talks to whom. The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls.

Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities.

For example, it finds “call me” moments — those incidents when an employee decides to hide a particular action by having a private conversation. This usually involves switching media, perhaps from an e-mail conversation to instant messaging, telephone or even a face-to-face encounter.

I should probably stop being so publicly disparaging about the legal industries, really, lest these expert systems crawl all my online witterings and decide to set me up for a fall…


Affetto: Child of the Uncanny Valley

Paul Raven @ 15-02-2011

You can thank IEE Spectrum and a bunch of roboticists from Osaka University for this excursion into the Uncanny Valley. Meet Affetto, a robot child designed for research into social development psychology. The fully-skinned version is moderately disturbing:

But the skinless facial motion test? Aaaaaaaarrrrgh!

And now I’ve been reminded of it (and we’re all in that creeped-out-by-supposedly-cuddly-technology frame of mind), bring some nineties-retro toy-based trauma to your Tuesday with the naked Furby orchestra:

Bonus material: mechanical “FurbyGurdy” sequencer/synth with MIDI control.

Enjoy your nightmares!


Welcome to Uncanny Valley

Paul Raven @ 06-11-2010

Thanks to regular reader Sarah Brand for the tip-off on this one; Tokyo-based entertainment company Kokoro has been uploading videos of Actroid F, their android actress, and they’re simultaneously impressive and creepy. Voila:

See what I mean? I’ve spoken to hotel desk staff and shop assistants less realistic than that! (Which probably says a lot about my shopping and travel habits; so it goes.)

[ Bonus aside for the rock fans in the readership, who may have noticed the album-name allusion in the title of this post: maybe the not-really-entirely-Kyuss-actually cash-in reformation could get an android stand-in for Josh Homme? I’d be more interested in catching the shows if they did, to be honest… ]


Dumb futurism: telecommuter robot reaches staggering new heights of pointlessness

Paul Raven @ 19-05-2010

Anybots QB telepresence robotEvery time I see someone ask the (usually rhetorical) question “why don’t we have the world full of robots that science fiction promised us?“, I’m always tempted to reply with a swing of the clue-by-four: “because anyone with any sense can see that a human worker is always going to be cheaper and more useful“.

Cheap and useful are two watchwords for companies that employ telecommuters, too. So why in hell’s name would a company of that ilk decide to invest in something that looks like a vaguely anthropomorphic floor-polisher to “to be the eyes and ears of telecommuters, workers in branch offices, and others who collaborate with people in an office when they aren’t in the office”?

If you really need that worker in the office, pay them to come in; it’ll be cheaper than ol’ QB here, and you’ll get all the real benefits of having a meatperson in the room, rather than a suite of functions that, if you really needed them, could be adequately provided by a mid-powered laptop and some audio-visual gear mounted on one of the old trolleys from the postroom that never gets used any more because everyone sends stuff in by email. Any CEO who thinks that he needs to spend thousands of dollars on “enterprise-class telepresence equipment” should probably give his IT geek a payrise and start listening to him once in a while.

I don’t know what’s more disappointing; that there could be even so much as a potential market for this tackily kitsch little technofetish, or that so many supposedly tech-savvy journalistic outlets could have written such uncritical puffpieces about it.

[ I fully blame the curmudgeonly tone of this post on having encountered the word “webinar” twice within the space of one morning. Writing this was a better option than killing puppies and kittens. ]


Asimov estate authorizes new I, Robot sequel trilogy

Paul Raven @ 02-11-2009

Isaac Asimov's second Foundation in paperbackPerhaps I haven’t been paying attention, but I haven’t seen news of this in the places I’d most have suspected to see it – apparently the estate of the late Isaac Asimov have given the go-ahead to a new sequel trilogy of books in the I, Robot canon, to be authored by Mickey Zucker Reichert [via SlashDot; image by ToastyKen].

Renai LeMay (author of the post linked to above) is pretty incensed by the idea:

Firstly, who the hell is Mickey Zucker Reichert? I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy novels for the past three decades and I’ve never heard her name mentioned. To think that a low-profile author could do justice to some of the best-loved work by one of science fiction’s grand masters is simply preposterous.

Secondly, these books are absolute classics of the genre and stand on their own. As some of the first fiction to explore the possible ethical implications of relationships between robots and humans, they should be left on their own as a signpost in the genre. They should not be followed up and continued. Isaac Asimoc died forty years after they were first written. If he had wanted to follow them up, he would have. The author’s intentions need to be respected here.

This is one of the most ridiculous attempts I have yet seen in the speculative fiction genre to cash in on some of a dead author’s most famous work.

That’s some masterly bluster right there; I could almost hear the spit hitting my monitor. I’ve seen Reichert’s name about the place; while I’ve never read her stuff, she’s hardly an unknown. And as LeMay’s commenters point out, this is hardly the first time a similar posthumous cash-in move has been made on a popular science fiction franchise… hell, it’s not even the first time it’ll have happened to Asimov’s material. LeMay’s distress is understandable, but more than a little overstated, perhaps.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for other-author sequels. I thought the recent Dune additions were shamefully bad… but then they seem to sell rather well, so that opinion is evidently far from universal. But is it really that big a deal? Should we be defensive of the literary legacies of our favourite late authors on their behalf, or should we shrug off copyright exploitation for the inevitability that it is, and wait for reviews from sources we trust to determine whether to invest our time and money in the end result? Do bad sequels inevitably and irreversibly poison the original work, somehow?

A connected (and somewhat more contentious issue) is whether Asimov’s estate should be allowed to exploit his work in this manner. It’s one thing for his family to receive money from work Asimov did himself, but to receive money for work by someone else based around the ideas and characters he created is something rather different. You could look at it as something similar to commissioning (presumably) high-quality fan-fic on a profit-share basis, perhaps – completely legal, certainly, but a llittle more fuzzy from an ethical angle.

Any Asimov addicts in the audience? Will you be buying or boycotting Reichert’s robot books when they get published?


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