The AI that Knows What You’re Thinking….

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If you are a scientist specialising in the development of AI, artificial intelligence,  then you are in demand, big time! Silicon Valley Facebook, Google and other leading tech companies are jockeying to hire top scientists in the field of artificial intelligence, while spending heavily on a quest to make computers think more like people. Forget humanoid robots doing chores… at least for the moment. The race is currently on for computers that understand exactly what you want, perhaps even before you’ve asked them. It’s to make the human-computer interface more even, more compatible and more intuitive.  But it could also mean that the AI will know what you’re thinking… and that’s a bit freaky!

Of course, we already have AI programs can already recognise images and translate human speech. But tech researchers and scientists want to build systems that can match the human brain’s ability to handle more complex challenges. These can include to intuitively predict traffic conditions while steering automated cars or drones, for example, or to grasp the intent behind written texts and spoken messages rather than interpret them literally and slavishly.

Google paid a reported $US400 million in January to buy DeepMind, a British start-up said to be working on artificial intelligence for image recognition, e-commerce recommendations and video games. DeepMind had also drawn interest from Facebook.

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The ultimate goal is something closer to “Samantha,” the personable operating system voiced by actress Scarlett Johansson in the film “Her”.

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Already, Google has used artificial intelligence to improve its voice-enabled search and Google Now, as well as its mapping and self-driving car projects. Google CEO Larry Page said this at a TED technology conference last month.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of exciting work going on, that crosses computer science and neuroscience, in terms of really understanding what it takes to make something smart.”

He then showed videos from Google and DeepMind projects in which computer systems learned to recognise cats from other animals and play games – without detailed programming instructions.

Google and Facebook both hope to do more with “deep learning,” in which computer networks teach themselves to recognise patterns by analysing vast amounts of data, rather than rely on programmers to tell them what each pattern represents. The networks tackle problems by breaking them into a series of steps, the way layers of neurons work in a human brain.

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For some, a powerful artificial brain that knows your preferences and habits and anticipates your wants and needs is a bit frightening and companies will need to consider ethics and privacy as they develop new services. The idea is to help us humans, not to cause us anxiety. If it all gets to much, you can always reach for the power switch and turn of the juice… but will the AI have anticipated that already? Click!

 

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Will l Live to be 200?

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A lot of people think there is no chance of celebrating their 100th birthday. But what about their 200th birthday? Inconceivable? Not at all!

Look at some facts: Life expectancy on average was a mere two decades-20 years- a thousand years ago. It leapt to 37  by 1800. Life expectancy is now about  80. Could you add another 120 years to that to make it 200? It is possible.

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Increasing life expectancy is big business right now. The very rich don’t want to doe just yet; so people like Larry Ellison (pictured above), Larry Page and Sergey Brin are investing large amounts of their considerable accumulated fortunes into helping them, and us, all live longer.

For those of us who are less than half-way through our lives, assuming we live to 85, we may be planning to retire at 65-70, and then have 15-20 years of retirement before we pop our clogs. But maybe that’s just too pessimistic. And a longer life is now not about being a frail 95 year old in a nursing home. A long, technology-enhanced life could now mean you being fitter and healthier at 150 than you were at 20. Really!

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You can seriously increase your chances of living a long life by considering how you can take advantage of upcoming health technologies:

The first thing you have to do is to stay as healthy as possible, with exercise, nutrition and current medicine. Do it now, not tomorrow. Neither the food industry nor the pharmaceutical industry are designed or optimised to benefit life expectancy. They are optimised and designed to deliver the best rewards to shareholders. Choose you food and medicines carefully. Consult your doctor too. He or she should be able to give you advice, or refer you to a nutrition health professional.

The next step is to be ready for DNA reprogramming. Yes, DNA is reprogrammable, just like computers. We can start to programme our bodies away from disease. In the next 10-20 years it is expected that we will be able to re-engineer new body parts. There are literally hundreds of drugs and processes in the pipeline that will modify the course of many of the diseases we face today. Clinical applications now at the cutting edge will be routine in the early 2020s. And cheaper.

Finally be prepared for the Nanotech revolution which will be our ticket to living to 200 years… and beyond. Perhaps immortality. The use of miniscule robots in our bodies to augment our immune system will be technically possible. At the current rate of technological change we are only decades away from achieving these breakthroughs. In essence, this would mean that no disease could kill us.

But accidents and war will still take their toll, unless the human race suddenly changes the way it thinks about its fellow man (and woman). Technology can’t perform miracles!

 

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Stephen Hawking and his fear of Artificial Intelligence

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In the blue corner we have Stephen Hawking, representing mankind; world renowned physicist, presenter, philosopher and cosmologist, author of the blockbusting book “A Brief History of Time”, and a brain the size of a small planet.

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In the red corner, a computer. Or a computer programme, perhaps, representing AI. Artificial Intelligence.

Seconds, away, Round One. Well, not just yet, this is to be a future bout of boxing, in the not too distant future. Humankind versus AI. Some would say it should never be a contest at all. We humans invented AI, and can control it. It is our baby, our spawn of the future, and it can never bite the hand that feeds…. or can it? Stephen Hawking thinks AI is a threat to all our futures…

Stephen Hawking, in an interview with a UK Sunday paper is quoted thus:

“Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”

Hawking thinks we are moving too quickly, too far, without considering the possiblerepercussions. From digital personal assistants to self-driving  cars- he believes we’re on the cusp of the kinds of artificial intelligence that were previously exclusive to science fiction films. Shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Hal 9000 and I, Robot? The possibility of smart robots roaming the streets is not so far-fetched.  he basically asks who will control AI when AI becomes programmed to control itself?

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It’s not just that there may be massive unemployment due to robotisation, if a robot is sufficiently intelligently programmed to consider itself “aware” or even “alive” then why would it allow anyone to control it, or worse still, switch it off? If the answer is no, then we could be on the way to a global conflict between humans and robots. Pure fantasy? Stephen Hawking doesn’t think so. Perhaps we should start dumbing down drones already….

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Paraplegic’s Robotic Exoskeleton to take First Kick of World Cup

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There are some World Cup Football Teams who you may think need a miracle in order to win the coveted World Cup. But a miracle, of sorts, will take place on the football pitch of the Arena Corinthians in  São Paulo at the opening ceremony of the World Cup at 5pm 12 June (local time). A young Brazilian will take a kick of a football on the centre spot.

But this is no ordinary young man, nor is the kick trivial. The boy, yet to be chosen from a shortlist of nine aged between 20 and 40,will be  a paraplegic. He will rise from his wheelchair and walk to the midfield and then kick the ball. How?

It’s down to Miguel Nicolelis and his team of neuro-engineers and scientists at Duke University in North Carolina. And if the event works as intended, it should spell the end for wheelchairs, and the evolution of mind-controlled exoskeleton robots. Here’s a picture of the robot:

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The mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton is a complex robotic suit built from lightweight alloys and powered by hydraulics. When a paraplegic person straps themselves in, the machine does the job that their leg muscles no longer can. But there are no buttons levers or controls to tell the robot what to do. Only the human brain.

The exoskeleton is the culmination of years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers on the Walk Again project. The robotics work was coordinated by Gordon Cheng at the Technical University in Munich and the French researchers built the exoskeleton. Nicolelis’ team focused on what many say is the most difficult bit; ways to read people’s brain waves, and use those signals to control robotic limbs.

To operate the exoskeleton, the person is helped into the suit and given a cap to wear that is fitted with electrodes to pick up their brain waves. These signals are passed to a computer worn in a backpack, where they are decoded and used to move hydraulic drivers on the suit. There’s a battery that powers everything, with a two hour life before it needs re-charging.

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The operator’s feet rest on plates which have sensors to detect when contact is made with the ground. With each footstep, a signal is transmitted to a vibrating device sewn into the forearm of the wearer’s shirt. The device fools the brain into thinking that the sensation came from their foot. In virtual reality simulations, patients felt that their legs were moving and touching something. Here’s a diagram showing the details.

Last month, Nicolelis and his colleagues went to some football matches in São Paulo to check whether mobile phone radiation from the crowds might interfere with the suit. Electromagnetic waves could make the exoskeleton misbehave, but they were reassured.

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This is ground-breaking robotic/artificial intelligence/mind-control technology all rolled into one: Let’s keep our fingers crossed that  we will all witness the miracle first kick of the World Cup on 12 June.

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From Fruit Bats to Flying Robots?

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Flying robots always seem to be more difficult to create than other types of land-based or underwater robots. While we have seen a variety of robots that are vaguely humanoid in shape and can emulate human movements, we haven’t seen anything significant flying that isn’t a drone or toy helicopter .  Where are our Transformers and Frank Herbert’s Dune Ornithopters? It might be because we’ve never managed to fly like birds ourselves, and have had to use engine-powered flight or fixed-wing gliders.  But that may be about to change. Think bat.

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Last month in the Journal Physics of Fluids, researchers at Virginia Tech’s Computational Fluid Thermal Science and Engineering Lab published looked at how bats rapidly flap their wings in flight and considered that this could promote new designs of flying robots. The Researchers studied how fruit bats use their wings to manipulate the air around them. Understanding how these processes work in this branch of nature could help engineers design mini flying robots, known as “micro air vehicles”  equipped with rapidly flapping wings.

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Danesh Tafti

Over to Danesh Tafti, a Professor in the department of mechanical engineering and also director of the Engineering Lab. He said-

“Bats have different wing shapes and sizes, depending on their evolutionary function. “Typically, bats are very agile and can change their flight path very quickly — showing high manoeuvrability for  prey capture, so it’s of interest to know how they do this.”  The bats have feathers on their wings like birds, but have wings made of flexible webbed membranes that connect to their fingers and can stretch to almost 7 inches.

The scientists collected measurements of live flying bats and used specially designed computer software to analyse the relationship between the animals’ movements and the motion of airflow around their wings. Much to their surprise they found that bats can instinctively change their wing movement to generate increased forces from their flapping. The bats can expand the area of its wings by almost a third to create a powerful down-thrust and maximise lift. When flapping their wings upward, the wing size is minimised to prevent adverse effects of gravity slowing their flight.

By copying these flapping motions and wing-size changes, engineers could design more efficient small-scale flying robots.  It may not mean that we are ready now to design a robotic bat-man any, or swarms of tiny robotic vampire bats to descend on and harry an enemy, but these findings are likely to be taken forward somewhere….

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Robots: Now a Force for Good- Anyone for Anybot?

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In the 1950’s comics and sci-fi films were renown for portraying Robots as being evil, running amok and like Prometheus Unbound (Frankenstein’s monster) biting the hand that created and fed them. While there were some benign robots, the theme of treacherous robots continued unabated, think  HAL 9000 in 2001:A Space Odyssey, I robot (the book and film) , and even Transformers where robots battled it out on our behalves with us looking on like dim-witted spectators.

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But here in 2014, the reality is quite different. Robots are getting more and more sophisticated and all are helping, not hindering mankind. Examples you want?  Here’s one. He (or she?) is called QB and is being sold by the company Anybots-

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In a nutshell it  is a remotely controlled, self-balancing, “virtual presence robot/avatar”.  If you want more catch-phrases for this form of communication, how about “mobile telepresence”.

The Anybot is controlled through a browser-based interface and allows you to be in virtual attendance at any event or meeting that you can’t make in person.  Anybots are equipped with a speaker, camera, and video screen.  They connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi and you activate them as well as control them remotely from your computer.  Hook up a camera to your computer, you can show live video of yourself while interacting through the robot in a remote location anywhere in the world.

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How to steer your robot? You use your keyboards four arrow keys to make it turn or go forward & back.  A built-in guidance system augments the driver’s commands, making it easy to safely avoid people or objects and move through narrow doorways. It has a ground-breaking balancing system and unlike your home computer or server at work, won’t fall over!

Practical examples? A doctor could visit their patient from a remote location and those who are home-bound could use this robot to attend social gatherings, be they in or out-of-doors.  The Anybot could be used in education to allow sick students to still participate with their classmates in and out of the classroom, as well as allowing educators the ability to check in or give lectures when they are away from the classroom.

There’s a lot of additional features and software you can add to make your Anybot individual and tailor-made for your needs.

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So far, none of them have gone beserk and attacked humans!

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