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Making Robots, With Dreams of Henry Ford

December 26, 2002

IRobot is perhaps the only company in the world that develops and sells robots to the military, researchers, large corporations, and consumers. Most robotics makers focus on just one segment, and 2002 has been a busy year for the company.

The Matrix Makers: virtual cinematography

December 25, 2002

The two sequels of “The Matrix” will feature photorealistic virtual actors that are impossible to tell from real ones, say the producers. “The Matrix Reloaded” arrives in theaters on May 15, “Matrix Revolutions” in early November.

Actor performances are captured on five high-resolution digital cameras; a complex algorithm calculates the actor’s appearance from every angle the cameras missed and allows for creating scenes with virtual actors.

Many Tools of Big Brother Are Up and Running

December 25, 2002

Most of the technical prerequisites for the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness national surveillance system are already in place. Computerized data sifting and pattern matching that might flag suspicious activities are not much different from programs already in use by private companies.

The Origin of Religions, From a Distinctly Darwinian View

December 24, 2002

Dr. David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University, a renowned evolutionary biologist, argues that the religious impulse evolved early in hominid history because it helped make groups of humans comparatively more cohesive, more cooperative and more fraternal, and thus able to present a formidable front against bands of less organized or unified adversaries.

Sony soon to deliver child robot

December 23, 2002

Shades of A.I. the movie: Sony is developing a 24-inch child-like robot that can interact with its “carers,” expressing emotions through words, songs and body language. It can recognize up to 10 human faces and voices and adapt its behaviour according to the way it is treated. The SDR4X Dream Robot will be available April 7 for $60,000 to $80,000.

False Dawns in the Brave World of New Genetics

December 21, 2002

Gene science has the potential to transform the course of our lives, from “designer babies” to slowing the aging process. But how far advanced is it — and exactly where is it going? Scientists at its cutting edge separate the hype from the reality.

The end of history, tech version?

December 20, 2002

Do you think machines will become more intelligent than people in the next 100 years? Won’t that present a danger to humankind? What can be done to keep that from happening?

These are among the questions in a survey pitting views of the future by Bill Joy against those of Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec.

Small RNAs Make Big Splash

December 19, 2002

Recent discoveries indicate that a class of RNA molecules called small RNAs operate many of the cell’s controls. They can shut down genes or alter their levels of expression.

In some species, truncated RNA molecules literally shape genomes, carving out chunks to keep and discarding others. There are even hints that certain small RNAs might help chart a cell’s destiny by directing genes to turn on or off during… read more

Rat-Brained Robot

December 19, 2002

Rat neuron cells on silicon are the brains behind a new robot—a breakthrough that may lead to better computer chips. The “hybrot” is in essence a rat-controlled robot, and marks the first instance in which cultured neurons have been used to control a robotic mechanism.

The device contains thousands of rat neuron cells on a silicon chip that’s embedded with 60 electrodes connected to an amplifier. The electrical signals… read more

Lasers reveal rewiring of the living brain

December 19, 2002

A new technique for imaging the brains of living animals known as “two photon microscopy” represents a breakthrough in understanding rewiring of the brain that will have far-reaching implications for neurobiology, researchers say. It involves shining laser light into the brains of living animals and picking up the “returning light” produced by neurons engineered to express fluorescent proteins.

Web Searches Take Cultural Pulse

December 19, 2002

Google, Lycos and other search sites have unleashed lists of the year’s top search terms, which many say are an accurate barometer of cultural fads, fears and obsessions.

Fractal Magnets May Fracture Old Technologies

December 18, 2002

Plastic magnets with fractal magnetic field may one day be the heart of computer hard drives small enough to power nanotechnology-based devices.

Plastics with fractal magnetic fields “may provide ways to store a high density of information” in a very small space because of their intensely ordered structure, says Arthur Epstein, director of the Center for Materials Research at Ohio State University.

News tip: Walter Purvis

Building the sensitive robot

December 17, 2002

Vanderbilt researchers are working on a robot that can sense human emotion, using measures of human heart rate, skin conductance, and facial muscle activity.

Airships tested as telecom beacons

December 17, 2002

“Stratellites,” spherical airships at 19,000 meters in altitude, will be used as high-flying telecommunications platforms to supply two-way Internet access across the United States and into Mexico and Canada ihin 2004. They offer the advantages of satellites without the launch costs and transmission latency.

Review: ‘Minority’ tech mostly on target

December 17, 2002

The seeds already have been planted for much of the technology portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” including biometrics, ads that call you by name, holographic displays, motion capture, and swarm robotics.

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