… if you’re a locust, that is. When the droughts make times tough for the normally solitary little critters, they get packed close together, and a sort of insect mob law takes over in response to a flood of serotonin – swarm time! This change to a more risky social lifestyle demands more brain power from the individual locusts, and their brains expand to cope.
Immediate parallels thrown up by my own brain: Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere; Clarke’s Childhood’s End. Putting on an uncritically optimistic technophiliac hat for a moment, might we imagine the increased global socialisation enabled by modern communications networks to provoke some similar expansion of human brain capacity?
We might… but bear in mind the locust’s brain-boost is necessary to cope with a life where fierce resource competition and cannibalism is the norm. Hey presto: a grimly allegorical sf dystopia that writes itself!
I’ve been invited to join a panel on robotics at the upcoming Orycon Science Fiction Convention, so I decided to write about them here, too. I also have a story coming out soon in Analog, called “The Robots’ Girl,” which started when I read an article complaining about robots being developed to help with childcare in Japan.
We were promised undersea cities and jet packs and household robots. The robots are here, and the next decade is pretty clearly a breakout time for them. Continue reading The Surprising Range of Robots
One of my favourite plausible science fictional tropes is that of tiny robotic insects. The latest step towards their instantiation has been taken by researchers in Sweden, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland as they put forward their conception of how swarms of mass-produced robotic fleas could be used for surveillance, cleaning, and medical applications:
The technique involves integrating an entire robot – with communication, locomotion, energy storage, and electronics – in different modules on a single circuit board.
In the past, the single-chip robot concept has presented significant limitations in design and manufacturing. However, instead of using solder to mount electrical components on a printed circuit board as in the conventional method, the researchers use conductive adhesive to attach the components to a double-sided flexible printed circuit board using surface mount technology.
The circuit board is then folded to create a three-dimensional robot.
I can imagine that once this sort of technology matures it will herald a profound change for society. An Orwellian Panopticon where everyone and everything is traced and followed and tracked will become a practicable possibility. Privacy will become one of the most valuable commodities on the planet, with the richest and most powerful people cowering in enclaves sterilized against micro-invaders.
: In that I enjoy them as part of a story and am not entirely ambivalent to their actuality.
[from Physorg][image from Physorg]
No, it’s not the title of a new YA science fiction novel. James McLurkin is a researcher at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, which has to be one of the most awesome jobs I can think of.
He’s interested in swarm robots (which we’ve mentioned here on Futurismic before, sometimes in a military context), and believes that the future of robotic development is modular, because it allows researchers to design and develop complex robots quickly and cheaply.
Chris Kiick of Hack-a-Day went to see a demonstration of McLurkin’s swarm robots, of which I am quite jealous. Apparently McLurkin has over a hundred of these things, though he only takes about a dozen out for shows to do tricks like “circle-the-wagons” and physical bubble-sorts. Even so, my inner geek suspects it’d still whip the hell out of a night at the comedy club.
You can find out more about McLurkin’s research at his own MIT website; there’s plenty of video of his swarm in action, also.