The universe is not only strange but stranger than we can imagine

Science Snaps

Ask not for whom the robot drums…

Another sign of the impending robotization of the workforce. From  Japan (a long-time leader in robotics) comes a robotic Shinto “priest” to conduct low-cost funerals. The robot, recently on display at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, conducts a ritually correct service for the dead, beating drums and reciting Buddhist scriptures.

This is only the latest addition to the line of robot workers taking over from their human counterparts. Some estimates show as much as one third to one half the human workforce being displaced by robots in the next several decades. Yes, you read that correctly — one third to one half of the workforce.

And then what? What will the billions of unemployed live on? Government handouts? The proceeds of urban farming? Soylent red and green? What will happen to society when the gulf between the rich, the employable and the rest of us becomes unbridgeable? We really had better start asking (and answering) these questions, because the robot revolution is already reshaping our world.

This ain’t science fiction my friends — it’s the real thing.

 

___________________________________________

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

The Robopocalypse cometh, but it will be OK. (Maybe)

Robots are evolving at an ever-increasing rate. What does it mean for carbon-based technopeasants like yours truly?

 

From the Temple of Technology comes yet another doom-laden prophecy: robots, animated by artificial intelligence, are coming to take our jobs in a big, BIG way. According to  IT high priest and celebrity Kai-Fu Lee, robots are poised to take 50 per cent — yes, that is half — of all jobs in the next decade.

Most of us are so numbed by predictions like this that we merely shrug and pass on. But if Lee is even in the ballpark, the world economy is standing at the edge of a very high cliff. What happens when a quarter, or a half of the work force finds itself unemployed and pretty much unemployable? How do families survive? When demand plummets because half the population suddenly has no income, what then? Are we not looking at a domino effect, where even more jobs disappear as consumer spending power evaporates?

Where’s the robot repair guy?
Humble technopeasants like myself do not know the answers to these questions, but even so I venture to predict one thing — if these scenarios are anywhere close to correct, it will not be pretty. Apologists for the coming Robopocalypse point out that, while many jobs will disappear, new ones will be created, notably in the areas of robot manufacture and maintenance.  The snag, of course, is that not everyone will be able to make a smooth transition from, say, driving a forklift to doing robot repair or AI programming.

Not to worry, according to Lee — the coming robolution will “create a huge amount of wealth for mankind and wipe out poverty.” (Yeah, right.)  The other soothing news — apparently the human touch will still be required.  Says Lee, “Touching one’s heart with your heart is something that machines, I believe, will never be good at.”

Will plutocrats dream of electric kittens?
Seriously? If AI-directed robots can do everything else, it is hard to see why they can’t be designed to be ultra-warm and fuzzy as well as super-efficient. Would there not be, for example, a market for kindly robo-nurses? For electronic versions of Mary Poppins or even hypoallergenic robo-kittens designed to charm and entertain? (Ooops, there goes the litterbox industry.)  To say nothing of the possibilities inherent in the sex trades.

Truly, truly, we do live in interesting times. Stay tuned…

 

 

All I want for Christmas is a mind-controlled racing set

Just when you thought it couldn’t get much weirder — sure enough, it does.  Just before Christmas this past year, a team of researchers from the UK’s University of Warwick announced it had  refined the technology used to control electronic devices using thought alone. “Whilst brain-computer interfaces already exist – there are already a few gaming headsets on the market – their functionality has been quite limited,” said Professor Christopher James, Director of Warwick Engineering in Biomedicine at the School of Engineering.

His team’s research is helping these  headsets function more efficiently by obtaining cleaner and stronger signals than ever before. “This means stronger links to the toy, game or action thus making it a very immersive experience,” he adds. “The exciting bit is what comes next –how long before we start unlocking the front door or answering the phone through brain-computer interfaces?”

Artificial Intelligence — coming our way fast

(NOTE: links open in new windows)

“Open the pod bay door HAL.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.”

 

It’s funny how new technology, even the most life-altering technology creeps almost imperceptibly into our lives –until suddenly it’s everywhere. Such seems to be the case with Artificial Intelligence (AI).  When 2001, A Space Odyssey, first appeared in theatres, “HAL,” the murderous AI, seemed about as farfetched as flying saucers or time travel — maybe even more so. No longer.

The advent of beings very similar to HAL (although hopefully not as malevolent), seems to be only a matter of time. Already we are seeing self-driving cars, AI-based robots that interact with Alzheimer’s patients and even lawyers (members of one of the most conservative professions) discussing how AI will affect the legal profession.  While estimates of when “true AI” as defined by the Turing Test will actually arrive,  it seems certain that the day is coming. En route, we need to prepare ourselves for the massive re-thinking of virtually all familiar aspects of life that AI is bringing, from its effects on employment opportunities  (already discernible) to more fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness and of “life” itself.

 

 

 

Working “transporter” beams photons miles away

transporterScotty, have you been drinking again?

No, it’s true. Scientists have succeeded in sending entangled photons to different locations miles apart and then reuniting them.  “So what?” you might say. Well, this apparently is a small step towards being able to communicate information very quickly, using the quantum states of subatomic particles as “messengers.” It seems to also be one of the first times that actual particles — photons in this case – have been “teleported” over a distance. Confused yet?  Wikipedia to the rescue:

Quantum teleportation is a process by which quantum information (e.g. the exact state of an atom or photon) can be transmitted (exactly, in principle) from one location to another, with the help of classical communication and previously shared quantum entanglement between the sending and receiving location. Because it depends on classical communication, which can proceed no faster than the speed of light, it cannot be used for faster-than-light transport or communication of classical bits. While it has proven possible to teleport one or more qubits of information between two (entangled) atoms,[1][2][3] this has not yet been achieved between molecules or anything larger.

Although the name is inspired by the teleportation commonly used in fiction, there is no relationship outside the name, because quantum teleportation concerns only the transfer of information. Quantum teleportation is not a form of transportation, but of communication; it provides a way of transporting a qubit from one location to another, without having to move a physical particle along with it. However, quantum teleportation of particles has been theorized to also be possible, and to perhaps be an explanation for the teleportation-like effects seen in superconductivity and superfluidity.[4]

Although this experiment may (or may not) have moved the possibility of quantum teleportation slightly closer, it will likely be a very long time before we are beaming ourselves to parties, concerts or other planets. For the foreseeable future, we are stuck with planes, trains and automobiles.  And of course, spaceships. (Go Elon!)

Photo source: Working Transporter Beams Photons Under Four Miles Away | Digital Trends

Heading off collision with asteroid

 

It’s a heck of a good idea! Taking out asteroid avoidance insurance is one thing we humans really ought to do if we don’t want to end up like the previous tenants of Planet Earth,  AKA our pals the dinosaurs. An asteroid known as Bennu is headed our way, and will cross very close to us in 2035. At 500 metres across, it is smaller than the asteroid which did for the dinosaurs, but if it hit Earth, we would surely get our hair mussed, in the immortal phrase of General Jack D. Ripper of Dr. Strangelove fame. Many millions would be killed outright, and the consequences for the environment are incalculable.

At the moment, Bennu is supposed to miss us by a narrow margin — but it sure would be nice to have Plan B ready, in case something changes in the meantime.

NASA launches mission to study massive asteroid in hopes of preventing catastrophic collision in 2035 | National Post

The problem with warp drive…

Starship ENterpriseThis is too funny, in a sad way maybe. We might be able to get to distant planets with FTL travel, but we may destroy them when we arrive.  NASA is apparently playing with a form of warp drive known as Alcubierre drive (after its inventor, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre) The drive works, according to Wikipedia, “by contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it, resulting in effective faster-than-light travel.” (Got that?)

The problem is, on decelerating from its space/time bubble, the spacecraft may (or may not) destroy everything around it.  The end result — you get to your interstellar destination, but destroy it on arrival. Aaurgh! Keep thinking guys!

Robotic boy helps treatment of Alzheimer’s patients

Truly, we are living in a science-fiction world. And this is only the start. This robot has crude AI capabilities — imagine what the fourth or fifth generation of “Ludwig” may be like. At the same time, consider that many Ludwigs will take the place of flesh-and-blood people. We already see this with the advent of such widespread technology as the humble ATM.

This tech-driven displacement is going to continue and widen. Where will the displaced men and women go, how will they make a living? Not everyone can be an AI developer or robot repair expert. So? The question should be carefully pondered by those who care about society a decade or two, or three down the road. This proviso automatically excluded most career politicians and corporate leaders — fresh reason for concern.

The 60-cm-high mechanical boy can talk and move to keep patients socially engage.

Ludwig has a mission — to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Ludwig is also a robot.

The 60-cm-high mechanical boy can talk and move to keep patients socially engage.

His real job is to monitor the patient’s speech and cognitive patterns, and report on any declining conditions.

Read more: Robotic boy helps treatment of Alzheimer’s patients | Toronto & GTA | News | Tor

Arctic Mammoth Killed By Humans 45,000 Years Ago

This find pushed the date for human exploration of the Arctic back by 10,000 years. Apparently our distant ancestors were both clever and hardy enough to survive in the high Arctic as much as 45,000 years ago –long, long before Canada Goose coats and long underwear.

Mammoth specimens have been found in such good condition, thanks to the deep freeze that preserved their bodies, that some scientists speculate it may one day be possible to “resurrect” the species using preserved DNA.

“Analysis of the remains of a mammoth discovered in 2012 just 1,250 miles from the North Pole has revealed it was slain by human hands 45,000 years in the past. The extreme age of the remains – and the fact that they bear the telltale marks of being killed by human hunters using crude spears  – has turned the archaeological community on its ear.”

Source: Arctic Mammoth Killed By Humans 45,000 Years Ago

Plastic grass could cover buildings to produce energy from wind

Bendy plastic strips generate power as they flail in the wind, harvesting energy for the home where wind turbines are impractical

 

“The answer , my friend, is blowing in the wind.” Well, maybe not quite the way Bob Dylan had in mind, but still…

Right now we apparently have “too much oil,” at least in the short term. But in the long run, and for many reasons (pollution, finite supplies, political considerations), we need to get away from fossil fuels. What better solution than harnessing the energy of the wind? But acres and acres of huge eggbeaters flailing against the sky and whacking any birds unfortunate enough to come into range, are not an ideal answer. How about if wind power could be harvested unobtrusively? Enter this great idea — tiny strips of artificial grass, each harnessing a tiny amount of the wind’s energy as they bend and sway in the breeze.

It’s a lovely solution — neat, localized, wildlife friendly, non-polluting… As long as your goats don’t try grazing, you’re energy self sufficient. Too cool

Source: Plastic grass could cover buildings to produce energy from wind | New Scientist

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