Visions of the 21st Century

January 30, 2009


What Will Replace The Internet? First it will become wireless and ubiquitous, crawling into the woodwork and perhaps even under our skin. Eventually, it will disappear. The Internet seems to have just arrived, so how can we possibly imagine what will replace it? In truth, early versions of the Net have been around since the 1960s and ’70s, but only after the mid-1990s did it begin to have a serious public impact. Since 1994, the population of users has grown from about 13 million to more than 300 million around the world. About half are in North America, and most–despite significant progress in rolling out high-speed access–still reach the Internet by way of the public telephone network. What will the Internet be like 20 years from now?

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Future Watch: A.I. comes of age

January 27, 2009


These are indeed nice days for artificial intelligence researchers. While Stair’s performance might not seem much better than that of a dog fetching the newspaper, it’s a technological tour de force unimaginable just a few years ago. “Stair, please fetch the stapler from the lab,” says the man seated at a conference room table. The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Robot, standing nearby, replies in a nasal monotone, “I will get the stapler for you.” Stair pivots and wheels into the adjacent lab, avoiding a number of obstacles on the way. Its stereoscopic camera eyes swivel back and forth, taking in the contents of the room. It seems to think for a moment, then approaches a table for a closer look at an oblong metallic object. Its articulated arm reaches out, swivels here and there, and then gently picks up the stapler with long, rubber-clad fingers. It heads back to the conference room. “Here is your stapler,” says Stair, handing it to the man. “Have a nice day.” Indeed, Stair represents a new wave of AI, one that integrates learning, vision, navigation, manipulation, planning, reasoning, speech and natural-language processing. It also marks a transition of AI from narrow, carefully defined domains to real-world situations in which systems learn to deal with complex data and adapt to uncertainty. AI has more or less followed the “hype cycle” popularized by Gartner Inc.: Technologies perk along in the shadows for a few years, then burst on the scene in a blaze of hype. Then they fall into disrepute when they fail to deliver on extravagant promises, until they eventually rise to a level of solid accomplishment and acceptance.

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State board to hear science testimony

January 22, 2009


The (Texas) State Board of Education spent the morning hearing from members of the public regarding proposed changes to how science is taught in Texas schools. Although the standards cover a range of topics and changes, most of this morning’s discussion was about proposed changes on the teaching of the origins and evolution of life on Earth (aka evolution).

The first thing that came to mind here is the seven day theory religious nuts bringing the hate on evolution again. Turns out they wanted to teach the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of the theory of evolution. I agree that when we teach evolution the first point that should be made is that it is a theory. However, I believe it is pretty much accepted as scientific fact. So then, what are the ‘weaknesses’ of evolution? First Google result yields…

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Robot “Twendy-One” has personal sense of touch

January 14, 2009


Have trouble getting out of bed in the morning? Japanese scientists have developed a robot called who can help you do just that – AND bring breakfast to your table.  The 17-stone robot called Twendy-One was developed at Waseda University in Tokyo.  Built with arms and hands the size ‘of an average adult female’, Twendy has enough strength to support humans as they sit up and stand, and can pick up and manipulate delicate objects such as a drinking straw.  In a demonstration the robot picked up a loaf of bread without crushing it, served toast out of a toaster and delivered a food trays to someone in a wheelchair.

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Brave New World: More Digital, Less Physical

January 7, 2009


Yesterday, I was with my wife in the L’Occitane store. The shelves were filled with fragrances, soaps, lotions: all sorts of handcrafted beauty products. It occured to me while looking at the labels that I have no idea how these products were made. In general, I am just not good with physical things, because I am a software person.  My brain is wired differently, to see patterns in software, not in hardware. But most people are the other way around.  Yet, while looking at the bottles in the L’Occitane store, I wondered: could it be that the world is shifting from physical to digital? At first glance it is impossible, because we live in a physical world. But increasingly, we are surrounded by all sorts of software that fundamentally works differently from hardware. In this post, we’ll look at the interplay between physical and digital and argue that we are, in fact, heading towards a world dominated by digital.

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The Ram Challenge

January 4, 2009


I got a little sick to my stomach today. No, it wasn’t the sub par Chinese food that I ate. It was something that saw on TV while eating my sub par Chinese food. The obscene spectacle of douchebaggery that is  The Ram Challenge! Now that “We the people” own GM, Chrysler, and probably soon Ford. I seriously think that they should reconsider wasting our money on this kind of crap. They are going to let the macho men (cowboys, firemen, military) depicted in the commercial drive all these companies and this country into the ground. Maybe, If this were the trailer for the next Vin Diesel movie it might be OK, but this is a legitimate publicly owned company selling a very real product.  They are expounding the virtues of a truck that you can drive through flamethrowers and exploding houses like its some kind of movie! Well… its not a movie and I think it’s time to come back to reality and realize that this is not an acceptable practice anymore. Now that I think about it a little more, it’s actually making me laugh because it’s just so ridiculous that this is real. It seems more like it should have been one of those fake commercials before Tropic Thunder or something.

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