Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Meet DARPA's 6'2" disaster-response robot

Because hey, we've got to start somewhere. And you've got to love the glowing Iron Man chest piece.

From CNN:
The ATLAS humanoid robot, which looks vaguely like something from the "Terminator" movies, was created by Boston Dynamics for DARPA, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. It will compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a competition that invites engineers to create a remotely controlled robot that can respond to natural or man-made disasters.
The winning robot could be used in situations deemed too dangerous for humans, like the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The DRC is broken up into three challenges. The first was the Virtual Robotics Challenge, in which 26 teams controlled simulated, 3-D robots. Only seven of those teams - including participants from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory – were chosen to go on to the next stage. They will each get their very own ATLAS for the Robotics Challenge Trials, a real-life obstacle course competition between robots that will take place this December in Florida.
As part of the challenge, the teams will program their humanoid robot to accomplish a range of tasks. ATLAS will need to drive a car, navigate complicated terrain on foot and move rubble in order to enter a building. It will also have to climb stairs and use various tools to do things like turn off valves or break through concrete walls.

Pacific Rim Movie Review

Recommendation: Simple story & grand spectacle. Go see it.

To say that Pacific Rim is about style over substance would grossly unfair to a great action movie. It would also be technically true, but that doesn't automatically make it bad. While the substance is light it is well used and well presented, and where that may fall short, the style more than makes up for it. This is a damn stylish movie. In short, Pacific Rim is a spectacle film in much the same vein as Independence Day, though in my opinion quite a bit better.

Friday, July 12, 2013

SpaceX Grasshopper Test Vehicle Vehicle Reaches 325 Meters, Then Lands Safely

Worms regrow their decapitated heads, along with the memories inside

From The Verge:

The researchers tested the memory of planarians by measuring how long it took for them to reach food in a controlled setting. The small worms dislike open spaces and bright lights — but they had been trained to ignore it so that they could find their meals. Even after decapitation, worms that had gone through training were able to overcome their fears and start eating much faster than worms that hadn't been trained. However, the memories didn't come back immediately. Each worm still had to be reminded of its earlier knowledge, though it only took a single lesson for it to all come back.

Why this happens is still unclear. Planarians' brains control their behavior, but the researchers suggest that some of their memories might be stored elsewhere in their body. Alternatively, they suggest that the worms' original brain may have modified their nervous systems, and their nervous systems may have then altered how the new brains formed during regrowth.

Monday, July 08, 2013

World War Z (movie) Review

Recommendation: Harmless Fun, But Nothing Special

As a fan of Max Brooks' novel World War Z, I’ve been keeping an eye on the production of this adaptation for some time. There was some initial excitement with news that J Michael Straczynski would be writing, and some good buzz surrounding early drafts of his script. Unfortunately that all died quickly with news of numerous rewrites by other authors, and more and more departures from the source material became apparent. The final result is a generic 28 days later knockoff who's only common feature with the novel is it's title.

Friday, July 05, 2013

New material holds big energy hope

To quote Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon: "As has always been the case, and as will continue to be the case for at least another half century, batteries suck."

Chemical batteries have always been a limiting factor in technological advancement. They are are heavy, expensive, slow to charge & discharge, sensitive to temperature, and have a very finite lifespan. This makes them impractical for storing excess power generated by our our infrastructure. This is why it's taken so long to develop commercially viable electrical cars. And it's why a modern mp3 player needs to be replaced on a regular basis, regardless of it's mechanical condition.

Unfortunately, there's never been much of an alternative available. But that may soon change.
From Phys Org
The new dielectric material outperforms current capacitors in many aspects, storing large amounts of energy and working reliably from -190°C to 180°C, and is cheaper to manufacture than current components.
"Our material performs significantly better than existing high dielectric constant materials so it has huge potential. With further development, the material could be used in '' which store enormous amounts of energy, removing current energy storage limitations and throwing the door wide open for innovation in the areas of renewable energy, , even space and defence technologies," said Associate Professor Liu.
The material could be particularly transformative for wind and solar power, which can cause problems when fed into the at low demand times.

Rant: The Case of Kara Neumann, Killed by Faith

We Live in a time of ever expanding medical knowledge and Technology. That knowledge has improved and extended our lives to an extent that cannot be denied. And yet, there are Homo-Sapiens in this world who do deny that knowledge and all the benefit it brings us. People who ignore Evidence in favor of 'faith', and insist that that mythology and magic are more powerful than Intellect and Technology.

When religion and tradition are debated, the final refrain of those who defend the indefensible is often "What's the harm?" If it brings them comfort and happiness, why does it matter what people believe in? How does it hurt anybody else?

On March 23rd of 2008, an eleven year old girl died for her parent's beliefs. Two Humans ignored the Science of Biology, and when their magics failed them it was an innocent little girl who paid the price. She will never run or laugh or breathe or move again.

from NBC News
According to the case records, Kara had been showing symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration for more than a week, but her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, refused to take her to a pediatrician, and decided to respond to her illness with prayer, not medicine.
A pediatrician testified that Kara's disease was highly treatable and that her chances of survival were high until "well into the day of her death."
The Neumanns don't belong to any particular church, but they identify as Pentecostals, according to factual findings in the court record, none of which the Neumanns disputed. Some Pentecostals — but by no means all — believe that prayer and strong religious belief can cure all illnesses, a tradition that helped give rise to famous "faith healers" like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn.

Make no mistake, faith-healing is not a rare and fringe behavior. It's a scam that's run in countries all across the globe, victimizing the vulnerable. Faith-healing kills people and takes their money.

And while it's arguably the most vile, this is far from the only scam that the charlatans are running as they take advantage of people's hopes and fears. Most only consume their prey's time and money and trust, but they are no less insidious in their methods.

As Kara weakened, the Neumanns asked family and friends to pray for her, too. The day before his daughter died, Dale Neumann posted a message on a Christian listserv with the subject line "Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!"
"We need agreement in prayer over our youngest daughter, who is very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength," the message said.
The next day, Easter Sunday, at least two family friends called 911 on Kara's behalf. Paramedics found no pulse, and attempts to revive Kara at the hospital failed.
Dale Neumann testified that he knew Kara was sick but never thought she might die. In fact, he testified that he thought that Jesus would bring her back from the dead, as he did with Lazarus in the Gospel of John.

And yet, despite this we persist in protecting these behaviors; socially it's considered rude to criticize these ideas, and legally it's sometimes impossible. 'Faith' (the insistent belief in an idea against all evidence and logic) is considered a virtue. 'Tradition' (ritualization of the dead past) is considered sacred. Believers wear these illusions like armor, and no one is allowed to tell them how vulnerable they really are.

The idea that 'beliefs' must be treated with difference and superficial respect simply because they are believed in is harmful to our species. The idea that we must not expect people to defend their indefensible claims restrains our ability to progress. By not questioning or criticizing or pressing for evidence, we allow these weak and toxic ideas to live on indefinitely.

In no other intellectual endeavor are the words "Well, that's just what I believe" granted any authority. Tell a mathematician that you deeply believe 2+2=5, or tell a geologist that you reject plate tectonics, or tell a physicist that gravity is 'just a theory'. Each will tell you exactly why and how you are wrong and stupid; it is their duty to do so. Yet biologists expected to pull their punches when explaining evolution.

Not all ideas are equally valid.

Wisconsin is among 17 states that allow religious defenses against felony charges of crimes against children, according to records compiled by Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, a nonprofit activist group that opposes religious exceptions to child health and safety laws.
The Neumanns contended that their convictions were unconstitutional because of the state's law that allows residents to pursue "treatment through prayer." They said the law clashed with the state's reckless homicide law, which calls for intervention when someone is at a point of "substantial risk of death.
Because Kara's symptoms were hard to identify, they argued, they had no way to know when their prayer decision crossed the line into crime.
But the Supreme Court disagreed in a 6-1 ruling, upholding the Neumanns' sentences, which call for each of them to serve a month in jail every year for six years and 10 years' probation.

Things are changing though. Evolution describes more than just the biological process of adaptation, it applies to social adaptation as well. It's a process that can't truly be stopped or controlled. Those who refuse to adapt inevitably perish, and slowly but surely obsolete ideas must die.

Let them.

Stay Alive

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Supercomputers Approach Ability to Understand Human Language

from Science World Report

"In the past, people have tried to hand code all of this knowledge," explains Katrin Erk, a professor of linguistics (specializing in lexical semantics) at The University of Texas at Austin, US. "I think it's fair to say that this hasn't been successful. There are just too many little things that humans know."
Watching annotators struggle to make sense of conflicting definitions led Erk to try something new. Instead of hard-coding human logic or deciphering dictionaries, her approach mines vast bodies of text (which are a reflection of human knowledge) and uses the implicit connections between words to create a weighted map of relationships.

sentence is translated to logic for inference with the Markov Logic Network
(Photo : Katrin Erk and TACC)
A sentence is translated to logic for inference with the Markov Logic Network, and words are translated to points in space. Here

Construction of New Antimatter Factory at CERN

Homo-Sapiens (being the insane and awesome apes that we are) are now working to ramp up our production of antimatter. More antimatter, more experiments. More experiments, more knowledge.

What could possibly go wrong?

from Science World Report:
In the antimatter hall, four collaborations – ATRAP, ALPHA, ASACUSA and AEGIS – trap antiprotons using Penning traps, to make antihydrogen for experiments. But in most of today’s set-ups, more than 99% of the antiprotons from the AD are lost through the degrader foils that decelerate the particles from their ejection energy down to the energy suitable for trapping (around 5 keV).
(Photo : CERN)
The Antiproton Decelerator provides beams of low-energy antiprotons to experiments, mainly for studies of antimatter

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

What is Technopotheosis?

Technopotheosis is my answer to a very big question: What Next? What is the next evolution of humanity as a species? Essentially, What Are We Becoming?

In order to imagine that future in a useful way, it's helpful to examine the present as compared to the past. We live in an age of unprecedented Scientific understanding that is drastically changing the way we experience and interact with the universe. Like all organisms we do not simply exist within the universe, we alter it for our own purposes. That is fundamental basis of Technology: purposeful alteration of the physical universe. There's little fundamental difference between wasps building a nest by processing wood into paper, and hominids building a city by processing stone into concrete, only a difference of scale and complexity. Technology is the imposition of our will and intellect upon the structure of the universe, and it's a concept that's been around since the first primate used a sharp rock to make a sharper rock.

Where things get interesting is when we take this idea and apply it to ourselves; altering not just the universe around us, but within us as well. As biological organisms, we have many hard limitations on our capability to act on and perceive the universe. For example, a basic model human cannot run at 60mph for a sustained period of time. Even if it were possible for the muscles to move that fast, and the nerves to coordinate them, and the cardiovascular system to support them, the physical materials that the body is constructed from simply can not survive the mechanical stress. However, through the use of Technology such a task can becomes trivial; the human organism's biological limitation can be transcended though the use of an external machine, or by altering the body with internal machinery. That's basic Trans-Humanism, and it begs the question: how far can the the human organism alter it's self and it's relationship with the external universe before it becomes something other than human?

The word Trans-Humanism is a very modern one, but the concept of humans overcoming their fundamental limitations is as old as Gilgamesh. It's arguably most well known in the buddhist and hindu concept of Enlightenment, but the ancient Greeks called it Apotheosis: the glorification of a mortal being to the divine level. In either case, the human organism becomes something new and mighty; gaining both a greater knowledge of the universe, and a greater power with which to apply that knowledge. Now consider this: stripped of all the mysticism and mythology, that is exactly what we are already doing; what we have been doing since we were monkeys sharpening rocks. Through The Scientific Method we expand our knowledge and understanding of the universe, and through Technology we enhance our power over it.

Technopotheosis (Technological Apotheosis) describes that process and answers the the question: What are we becoming?

We are becoming gods.

Until then,
Stay Alive