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A Spy Machine of DARPA’s Dreams

May 21, 2003

Going beyond the controversial Total Information Awareness database project, DARPA is currently asking businesses and universities for research proposals for its LifeLog research project, intended to gather every bit of information about a person’s life and activities, index it, and make it searchable.

LifeLog would combine this information with information gleaned from a variety of sources: a GPS transmitter to keep tabs on where that person went, audio-visual sensors… read more

Chimps are human, gene study implies

May 21, 2003

The new study found that 99.4 percent of the most critical DNA sites are identical in the corresponding human and chimp genes. With that close a relationship, the two living chimp species belong in the genus Homo, says Morris Goodman of Wayne State University in Detroit.

It’s a knockout: first rat to have key genes altered

May 20, 2003

Researchers have altered genes in rats to create strains with genetic characteristics of their choosing, a long-sought tool for studying disease.

The animals, called knockout rats, were stripped of a gene that suppresses breast cancer in humans and will help researchers unravel the genetics of the disease. Future knockout rats will help researchers study other cancers and diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Roaches today, robots tomorrow

May 20, 2003

Stanford University researchers are building robots that will replicate the cockroach’s remarkable speed and agility, overcoming the drawbacks of conventional wheel-based robotic locomotion.

Connections to Broadband Increase 50%

May 20, 2003

The number of American households that connect to the Internet via broadband cnnections grew by 50 percent in the last year, raising to nearly one-third the portion of home Internet users who now use broadband connections. But the rapid growth rate is unlikely to continue.

Telescopes of the World, Unite! A Cosmic Database Emerges

May 20, 2003

In the past 25 years, the number of CCD pixels (each acting as a miniature astronomical instrument) in all the world’s telescopes has exponentially increased by a factor of 3,000, a beneficiary of Moore’s Law.

The resulting total amount of astronomical data collected every year is doubling; surveys of millions of astronomical objects now contain about 100 terabytes of distributed data in the “National Virtual Observatory.”

‘Our Final Hour’: Global Warning

May 19, 2003

In his new book, Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, gives civilization as we know it only a 50-50 chance of surviving the 21st century.

Risks include bioterror or bioerror, self-reproducing nanoparticles that could eat us and every other living thing on Earth, and certain physics experiments that might be even more catastrophic.

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.”

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