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Assorted Cool Technology - 2012-02-12

Carrying on with the robotics trend, I’ve been looking a bit more carefully at ROS and I’m finding it to be a really nice development platform for me. The way it is designed to be so easily distributed makes my plans for a robot-house a natural fit for it. The integration with the rather inexpensive Arduino platform is also a plus. But more on that later, when I have something to show for it (if I ever do).

There is a study that came out a while ago, about the way children envision the integration of robots in school and which, I think, ultimately reflects the way they envision their integration on our society as a whole. I would recommend to everyone interested to go download the pdf file with the findings, as it contains some interesting insights.
Some of the findings clearly show how children tend to conceive of robots as special (as in very gifted) helpers and even as friends and protectors. In fact they go all the way towards humanizing them and expecting them to be part of their lives in a very close way. Robots, for them, wouldn’t be mere machines, but instead they would be their companions. Just like their friends, only sometimes more dependable and trustworthy.

And those expectations might just be the guidance we need in our current and future development efforts with these entities. Late last year, when I applied for the developer documentation package of the NAO robot, I was asked to describe a cool application for it and what I came up with at that moment was a kind of “guardian angel” robot for toddlers that while being a cute and interesting toy for them (have you seen the robot? it’s actually a beautiful piece of hardware) would also watch over them, trying to avoid dangerous situations if possible and alerting adults whenever necessary. This was a mere coincidence as I hadn’t known about this study by then, but it seems I was thinking along the right lines there. :-)

Anyway, it’s like Carlo Ratti says in the latest episode of the Robots Podcast, the best robots are the ones that do not look like robots, but the ones that become seamlessly integrated with us and our environment. We may still be a long way off, but that seems like a nice goal to have in mind.

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Originally written on Feb 12, 2012 @ 20:23
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OneOverZero - Singularity and its discontents

This is another cross-post from the One Over Zero blog where I write about (loosely) singularity-related topics.

This week’s article is entitled ‘A few notes on “Singularity and Its Discontents”’ and it is developed enough that I think warrants it’s cross-posting here.


My good friend Benjamim tweeted a link this week that prompted me to get back onto the singularity topic itself. The tweet pointed to an article entitled “The Singularity and Its Discontents” which presents a summary of what I interpret as being objections to the notion of the singularity.

First off we read about Jaron Lanier’s opinion that many singulitarians’ discourses feel uncomfortably close to religious indoctrination. Then he goes on to point out that the singularity is used mainly as a way to excuse people from making decisions and taking responsibility for their own lives and future.

Then we learn about Paul Root Wolpe’s objection to the concept of the singularity as a single event that suddenly transforms our lives forever. If I understand his arguments, he basically asserts that we’ve often been promised such radically transformational events before and they’ve often failed to materialize as such and, instead, whatever major disruptive events and advancements we’ve experienced have mostly brought us new unknowns and the possibility of further major changes in the future.

The author of the article, Jason Gots, then goes on to opine that

In reality, the future may be much closer in some respects to William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer, in which biotechnology and artificial intelligence solve some of our problems, only to introduce a myriad of new ones.

Now, before I go any further, I must say I do hope I’m not misrepresenting any of the ideas or positions presented in the article and if I am, it is my mistake and I’ll correct it if it is pointed out to me.

I must say I find Jason Gots’ opinion to be rather according to my own view of things. In fact I don’t see any of the arguments posed by the so called “discontents” as arguments against the notion of the singularity itself. Instead they feel to me more like a list of important and rather valid points about our lives in the present and the way we think about progress and science in general.

I do agree that many self-proclaimed singulitarians sound and act more like bogus religious cult leaders than like rational, scientific-minded people. I also agree that no kind of technological advancement should ever excuse us from deciding what we want for ourselves (or what we should want for ourselves) at any given point and especially they should never excuse us from going after what we want or need. Finally, I too don’t think the singularity will happen as a big bang kind of event, changing everything in a split-second. But I do think it will change everything forever. And change will be fast. Too fast for most of us to follow. But then, wasn’t it always like that? Didn’t people also complain, when the printing press was invented, that they were being overloaded with information, now that all those newfangled books were being automatically printed left and right? And they probably were being overloaded. People at that age just couldn’t cope. But then the human brain kept evolving and, most importantly, our methods evolved to be able to deal with the new complexity our world had just gained.

And so it went with many other advances in human civilization. Right now we (again) feel overwhelmed by so much information being thrown at us from all around. Many (maybe most) of us just can’t cope. And when the singularity rolls around, people on our level of intelligence will be left in the dust. But our descendants may learn to cope, they will most likely be equipped with the tools necessary for the job (yes, brain implants, bionic sensors and more) and there’s a real possibility that instead of destroying mankind, the singularity will actually elevate it to a whole new level of existence. Maybe.

In short, I actually do agree with most of what is said and still, I don’t find evidence against the singularity itself or the possibility of it happening. Just some discontentment with humans, mostly as they stand now.

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Originally written on Feb 12, 2012 @ 18:55
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