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My Son, the Robot

May 18, 2003

Will technology end human life as we know it? Yes, says Bill McKibben in his new book Enough (a warning about the dangers of genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechnology).

But the book has flaws that make it unresonant: it’s sophomoric, unoriginal, naive about genetic determinism, and “takes it for granted that we are at an inflection point of history, suspended between the prehistoric and the Promethean,” according to the… read more

‘Matrix’ virtually frames the future

May 16, 2003

“Essentially, virtual reality at the level of realism portrayed in ‘The Matrix’ will happen, and we will spend most of our time in virtual environments” by the 2030s, says Ray Kurzweil.

“Thanks to wireless communications, future Neos won’t have to tether their brains to a computer. And despite the trilogy’s dark plot — and dire warnings from computer scientist Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems — technology won’t run amok.… read more

Computers That Speak Your Language

May 16, 2003

Voice recognition that finally holds up its end of a conversation is revolutionizing customer service. Now the goal is to make natural language the way to find any type of information, anywhere.

Giving Robots the Gift of Sight

May 16, 2003

Foveola, a new shape-recognition system, closely mimics the human visual system and is capable of recognizing a broad range of objects, the company claims.

The software mimics the processing pathway in humans’ upper visual cortex. It extracts shapes from a visual scene and assigns them a “mathematical signature.”

It can read signs, recognize faces, and dramatically improve the accuracy of handwriting recognition.

Wired to the Brain of a Rat, a Robot Takes On the World

May 15, 2003

Georgia Tech researchers have created a hybrid mechanical/biological robot controlled by the neural activity of rat brain cells grown in a dish.

The neural signals are analyzed by a computer that looks for patterns emitted by the brain cells and then translates those patterns into robotic movement, providing real-world feedback to the neuron.

Voices From The Grass Roots Call For Responsible Nano Policy

May 14, 2003

Two new organizations — the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and the Nanotechnology Policy Forum — are addressing public concerns (fueled by Bill Joy’s article in Wired Magazine and Michael Crichton’s novel Prey) about the risks of nanotech, cultivating informed public dialogue on the issues.

Genes, Medicine, and the New Race Debate

May 14, 2003

The International HapMap Project will use highly automated genomics tools to parse out the common “haplotype” patterns in DNA among a number of the world’s population groups.

The reseasrch promises to offer new tools for medicine (forewarning at-risk individuals and predicting adverse drug reactions, for example), but raises the possibility of perpetuating ethnic stereotypes.

AI Founder Blasts Modern Research

May 14, 2003

“AI has been brain-dead since the 1970s,” said AI guru Marvin Minsky in a recent speech at Boston University.

Minsky accused researchers of giving up on the immense challenge of building a fully autonomous, thinking machine.

“The worst fad has been these stupid little robots,” said Minsky. “Graduate students are wasting 3 years of their lives soldering and repairing robots, instead of making them smart. It’s really shocking.”

New breed of robots, gizmos take war to next level

May 13, 2003

“The transition to mechanized weaponry is key to the military’s transformation from heavy ground forces to smaller human units fortified with robotic weapons. The goal: to limit casualties.

“Within 20 years, squadrons of unmanned planes will swarm enemy sites like killer bees, launching missiles and avoiding detection with sophisticated jamming devices.

“Self-programmed submarines will replace dolphins to detect and disarm mines. Robotic mules the size of pickups will… read more

The Evelyn Wood of Digitized Book Scanners

May 13, 2003

New book-scanning robots can turn the pages of small and large books as well as bound newspaper volumes and scan more than 1,000 pages an hour — speed and quality control unattainable by manual systems.

Magnetic-sensing microscope removes barrier to further shrinking of integrated circuits

May 13, 2003

Scientists at Brown University have created a magnetic-sensing microscope that allows them to watch electricity flow through the world’s tiniest components. They are using the device to find defects in integrated circuits and micromachinery.

The scanner removes a barrier to further shrinking of integrated circuits: as circuits get smaller, non-visual defects become harder to find.

They are using the technology to pinpoint how electrical current can form pinholes… read more

Pattern Recognition Method Zeroes in on Genes that Regulate Cell’s Genetic Machinery

May 13, 2003

Using a new technique for recognizing patterns in biological databases, a team of scientists and geneticists from Stanford University, Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute has developed a practical computational method that zeroes in on the genes responsible for controlling the genetic machinery of a cell.

The new computational method makes the experimental process much more efficient. It identifies regulatory candidates for testing in the lab and predicts how… read more

New virtual reality array allows immersive experience without disorienting 3-D goggles

May 13, 2003

The University of Pennsylvania has developed LiveActor, a virtual reality system that allows a participant to experience full-body interaction with a virtual environment without the hassle of bulky, dizzying 3-D glasses.

The system combines an optical motion capture system to monitor the body’s movements with a stereo projection system to immerse users in a virtual environment. The combination lets users interact with characters embedded within virtual worlds.

The… read more

Proteins Are Transformed, Then Put to More Uses

May 13, 2003

Duke University scientists say they have developed powerful computational techniques to alter proteins so they can perform new functions, such as detecting the explosive TNT and the brain chemical serotonin (for possible use in a diagnostic test). They used a computer program to predict how to alter the protein so it will bind to something different.

How to Grab an Atom

May 13, 2003

Researchers at Osaka University have used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to move atoms, marking the first time single atoms have been manipulated using a purely mechanical technique, rather than one involving electric current.

The new method could allow researchers to maneuver single atoms of nonconductive as well as conductive materials, perhaps for nanoscale circuits of the future.

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