Thursday, July 30, 2009

Robotron 2084 watch: Make that Robotron 2047

From the "What could possibly go wrong with this?" department:
Leave it to the military to dream big. In its recently released "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047" report, the US Air Force details a drone that could fly over a target and then make the decision whether or not to launch an attack, all without human intervention. The Air Force says that increasingly, humans will monitor situations, rather than be deciders or participants, and that "advances in AI will enable systems to make combat decisions and act within legal and policy constraints without necessarily requiring human input." Programming of the drone will be based on "human intent," with real actual humans monitoring the execution, while retaining the authority and ability to override the system. It's all still extremely vague, with literally no details on exactly how this drone will come into existence, but we do know this: the Air Force plans to have these dudes operational by 2047. We're just holding out to see what those "classified" pages are all about. [Warning: read link is a PDF]

[Via PC World]
Read -Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047
(Via Mad Latinist via Parijata) Let's hope they're not running the 2047 equivalent of Windows Vista. Or maybe we should hope that they are. And if they're planning for 2047, we probably have a bit longer: when has the military ever developed a weapons system on time? (OK, maybe the a-bomb.) As frightening as these independent killer robots are, just remember this: right now, our deadly weapons systems are operated by members of the species Homo sapiens. That is what should really scare the crap out of us.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Quote of the Day

"I am not persuaded that deep inward tranquility is an automatic result of being sprayed in sequence with oils from Sacred Chaco Canyon and Tibet, and I don't know that the strand of rose quartz beads she draped like a rosary over my eyes was really connecting me with my chakras; nor do I believe that the interpretive Sanskrit chants with which the room was filled were inscribing antidepressant virtues into my meridians. All that being said, four days of gentle handling by beautiful women in an opulent resort did a great deal for me, and I left high on peace."

-Andrew Solomon, from his book about depression The Noonday Demon

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm not the only one worried about the Robotrons

People are concerned enough about Robotron 2084 scenarios that a bunch of them recently got together in Monterey Bay to discuss the dangers posed by artificial intelligence and autonomous robots:

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.

As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.
This is gonna be so cool. And possibly very dangerous. It is frightening to think that computers and robots may become so powerful that they could rule over us. Of course, at the moment we ruled by belligerent apes prone to xenophobia, religious fanaticism, and armed with ICBMs with nuclear warheads. The fact that these apes are us doesn't comfort me much.

Monday, July 27, 2009

And I thought I had trouble with women

Nothing is more reassuring to someone who was painfully shy and awkward around women for much of his life than hearing about a group of people who are even more painfully shy and awkward around women. Like, for example, people who have relationships with body pillows covered with eroticized anime images of little girls:
Nemutan doesn’t really have a leg. She’s a stuffed pillowcase — a 2-D depiction of a character, Nemu, from an X-rated version of a PC video game called Da Capo, printed on synthetic fabric. In the game, which is less a game than an interactive visual novel about a schoolyard romance, Nemu is the loudmouthed little sister of the main character, whom she calls nisan, or “big brother,” a nickname Nisan adopted as his own when he met Nemu. When I joined the couple for lunch at their favorite all-you-can-eat salad bar in the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji, he insisted on being called only by this new nickname, addressing his body-pillow girlfriend using the suffix “tan” to show how much he adored her. Nemutan is 10, maybe 12 years old and wears a little blue bikini and gold ribbons in her hair. Nisan knows she’s not real, but that hasn’t stopped him from loving her just the same. “Of course she’s my girlfriend,” he said, widening his eyes as if shocked by the question. “I have real feelings for her.”
How could I not blog about this? It makes me seem so normal! Isaac Asimov wrote novels in which robots became so "humaniform" that someone could fall in love with it. I guess what he didn't realize is that with imagination, one doesn't need to go nearly so high tech. Read the whole New York Times Magazine article before it disappears behind a subscription wall or something.

This reminds me of the whole "Real Dolls" [NOT SAFE FOR WORK] thing I blogged about a while back.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

100 movie quotes in 200 seconds

Here's a fun bit of fluff: 100 famous movie quotes in 200 seconds:

Now we can argue about which ones should be included/excluded. Personally, I wanted to hear the famous mis-quote "We don't need no stinkin' badges" and the Wilhelm scream.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dude, this is SO COOL!

Chinese experts grow live mice from mouse skin cells:

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese researchers have managed to create powerful stem cells from mouse skin and used these to generate fertile live mouse pups.

They used induced pluripotent skin cells, or iPS cells -- cells that have been reprogrammed to look and act like embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, taken from days-old embryos, have the power to morph into any cell type and, in mice, can be implanted into a mother's womb to create living mouse pups.

Their experiment, published in Nature, means that it is theoretically possible to clone someone using ordinary connective tissue cells found on the person's skin, but the experts were quick to distance themselves from such controversy.

Via Mad Latinist on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ahmadinejad vs. Khamenei

There appears to be a rift among the Iranian hard-liners. Supreme Leader Khamenei doesn't like President Ahmadinejad's pick for vice-president. But Ahmadinejad won't back down. I don't know what's going on here. There are a lot of factions in Iranian politics and I don't know what the fault lines, interests, power relationships and alliances are. Maybe nobody knows right now, as things are possibly in a state of flux. I hope they can have some real reform of civil society.

Health Care reform: comprehensive, progressive, and soon please.

Just for the record, I urge all federal legislators to support a comprehensive health care. I think health care should be separated from employment, and I think there needs to be a strong public option. And most importantly, health care must be available to everyone in this country. Taxing the highest income Americans (who have done quite well for themselves recently) to pay for this is a very good idea. Make this happen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Term of the day: Rickrolling

I'm embarrassed to say that I only recently learned what "Rickrolling" is (yeah, -20 geek points for me). "Rickrolling" is an Internet prank that's been going on for the past couple years. The prank involves posting a link which seems to be to something of great interest, but is in fact a link to the video for Rick Astley's 1987 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up". It's quite a popular prank: that video in the previous link has over 23 million views as of this post.

Click HERE to get an iPhone 3GS and one year data plan free!

Another annoying aspect of Windows...

xkcd rules.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Never fear! The alleged "flesh eating robot" is actually a vegetarian!

Via Mad Latinist from the comments on this post, here's's Danger Room, posting what they call "the most incredible press release of all time":

POMPANO BEACH, Fla.– In response to rumors circulating the internet on sites such as, and CNET News about a “flesh eating” robot project, Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. (Pink Sheets:CYPW) and Robotic Technology Inc. (RTI) would like to set the record straight: This robot is strictly vegetarian.

On July 7, Cyclone announced that it had completed the first stage of development for a beta biomass engine system used to power RTI’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR™), a Phase II SBIR project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Sciences Office. RTI’s EATR is an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling.

RTI’s patent pending robotic system will be able to find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment. Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips – small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.

“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” stated Harry Schoell, Cyclone’s CEO. “We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.”
What a relief! Unless you're the Jolly Green Giant or a vegepygmy, of course :)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Getting better all the time

If you didn't know this, you should: violence per capita has been on a downward trend throughout human history, on both a macro and micro scale:
[...]if we consider the evidence, we find that the decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon: We can see the decline over millennia, centuries, decades, and years. When the archeologist Lawrence Keeley examined casualty rates among contemporary hunter-gatherers—which is the best picture we have of how people might have lived 10,000 years ago—he discovered that the likelihood that a man would die at the hands of another man ranged from a high of 60 percent in one tribe to 15 percent at the most peaceable end. In contrast, the chance that a European or American man would be killed by another man was less than one percent during the 20th century, a period of time that includes both world wars. If the death rate of tribal warfare had prevailed in the 20th century, there would have been two billion deaths rather than 100 million, horrible as that is.


We also have very good statistics for the history of one-on-one murder, because for centuries many European municipalities have recorded causes of death. When the criminologist Manuel Eisner scoured the records of every village, city, county, and nation he could find, he discovered that homicide rates in Europe had declined from 100 killings per 100,000 people per year in the Middle Ages to less than one killing per 100,000 people in modern Europe.

Gross things in science: ant suturing

I know how we'll repair that intestinal perforation! We'll use severed ant heads:

An interesting procedure [described in the Sushruta Samhita, an Indian text from the sixth century BC] is the use of the heads of certain ants for the suturing of intestinal perforations:

. . . large black ants should be applied even to the perforated intestines . . . and their bodies should be separated from their heads after they had firmly bitten the perforated parts with their claws [jaws]. After that the intestines with the head of the ants attached to them should be gently pushed back into the cavity and reinstated in their original situation therein.

This procedure is also mentioned in the Caroka Samhita [probably third century BC]:

And if there is a perforation of the intestines, the part should be made to be bitten by big black ants and seeing that the perforation is welll closed by the firm bites taken by the ants, their bodies must be cut off. Then putting the intestines back in their place, the abdominal skin should be sutured with the needle.

Although suturing with ant heads was unknown in Hippocratic medicine, it has been used in primitive medical practices in South America and Africa.

Whatever works, dude.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our new bathroom floor

This is the bathroom off the master bedroom.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What could possibly go wrong with an armed robot that can feast on human flesh?

Don't worry, EATR is being funded by the Department of Defense, so it will be perfectly safe, of course:
The purpose of the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR)™ (patent pending) project is to develop and demonstrate an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling, which would otherwise preclude the ability of the robot to perform such missions. The system obtains its energy by foraging – engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable.
Hat Tip: Grishnash via email.

Fox News helpfully explains:
That "biomass" and "other organically-based energy sources" wouldn't necessarily be limited to plant material — animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy, and they'd be plentiful in a war zone.
I feel safer from the terrorists already. Robotron 2084 here we come!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Computer Game Producer in Bay Area seeking work

I'm on the prowl for work. If you or someone you know has use for an experienced computer game producer (either full or part time) in the Bay Area, please let me know.

Friday, July 03, 2009


That link goes to a post discussing who gets paid with cash and who
gets an IOU from California. Those with the least power get the shaft.
Our state is dysfunctional. Constitutional convention please.

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or
typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake