Jun 082014

For anyone interested in an “open Internet” (not as the big cable companies and wireless carriers define it), take a look at this entertaining coverage of the new Net Neutrality proposal by the FCC. Please comment on the new proposal at the FCC website.

You can also learn more at the Entertainment Consumers Association website here. Through the ECA website, you can provide your information and it will generate form letters for your local representatives in Congress, the President of the United States, and the FCC.

Posted by Stettin
Jan 022014

I just ran across an article on Isaac Asimov’s predictions for 2014 from 50 years ago. I was thinking of a blog post to start out the year, and this popped out as a good opportunity. As anyone that reads this blog should know, Isaac Asimov is my favorite writer. His birthday is unknown for certain, but he chose to celebrate it on January 2nd. More information here. Anyway, back in 1964 at The World’s Fair, he made a few predictions. Some of the more accurate ones are below describing video phones, Robots, vehicular robots (Google car?), “Wall Screens” (not quite yet but very close), and a eerily accurate population estimate.

“Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.”

“Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”

“Vehicles with ‘Robot-brains’ … can be set for particular destinations … that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”

“Wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible.”

“The world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000.”

Some of the more comical misses are below:

“Mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014.”

“The most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!”

I also have a prediction for today, the birth of a friend’s baby that is now one week overdue. It would be awesome to share a birthday with Isaac Asimov, right?

For the complete list and link to the original article, click the links below.

Via Open Culture

New York Times

Posted by Stettin
May 132012

A few years ago, the Science Channel aired an episode of SciFi Science, “How to Build a Lightsaber” hosted by theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku. He explained some theories that might be used and developed a rough design that should be “workable in our lifetimes.” Of course almost all of his episodes end up with that qualification. Last month it looks like there was a breakthrough in the hardest part of making a lightsaber work, getting the blade to stop at a certain point.

Although the most prominent uses for controlling the depth of laser cutting are surgical and clinical, Fraser said the team is “very excited about the potential industrial applications,” especially since compared to clinics it’s easier to get new technology into industries.

Unfortunately, the goal is to make the lasers useful surgery, not chopping off alien arms at cantinas.

Via  National Post

If you’d like to watch the episode I’m referring to, use this Google Search: How to build a light saber on Youtbue

Posted by Stettin
Aug 152011
Luke Skywalker's Cyborg Hand

Luke Skywalker's Cyborg Hand

OK, maybe Luke wouldn’t envy this hand, but it looks like we are much closer to the technology in The Empire Strikes Back when he gets his hand lopped off by his father. Matthew James is a boy born with a defect that stopped the growth of his arm at the wrist. He just got a brand new hand with the help of the Mercedes F1 Team. Matthew actually wrote Mercedes, the car maker, to ask for help getting an i-Limb Pulse prosthesis in return for displaying their logo on it.

After receiving the letter in June, Mercedes invited Matthew to their headquarters, where he toured the factory and met racing legend Michael Schumacher.

The company [Mercedes] said they were unable to pay for the hand but agreed to help Matthew raise the money, by asking fans and sponsors to make donations.

Mercedes couldn’t pay for the hand? That seems hard to believe. Anyway, it’s a good read so check it out. There was a follow-up video that I’m embedding below.

Via The Telegraph

Posted by Stettin
Mar 222011

Quarreling parents, an annoying kid, and a lovable robot make this short film a fun trip into the near future. Who hasn’t wanted a robot playmate of their own? Blinky is no Robbie, but at least he tries. Check the 12 minute movie out for a treat. Be sure to go full screen and turn on HD if your connection can handle it.

—Edit— The original video was taken down for quite some time, but is back!

Blinky™ from Ruairi Robinson on Vimeo.

It looks like the original video was password protected. I found this version with Spanish subtitles.

via Geekologie

Posted by Stettin
Mar 122011

I ran across this ad recently for an amazing new product, promoted by my own favorite science fiction author, Isaac Asimov.

Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Pocket Computer turned my dreams into a reality. Now I can take the power of a true computer with me wherever I go.
— Isaac Asimov

The marketing guys chime in a few paragraphs later.

And it can also function just like a calculator — something a desktop computer can’t do.
— Radio Shack

Wait, what!? With a standard calculator included in just about every phone that I can think of, it is hard to imagine a desktop computer ever existing without that ability. Crazy, right? Now that I think of it, it wasn’t too far in the distant past that desktop computers couldn’t be used for voice communications, something a simple phone could do. So what does $169.95 actually get you?

From Dave Dunfield’s old computer page:

The machine was actually a Radio Shack branded version of the Sharp PC-1211, which features:

  • Sharp SC43177/SC43178 4-bit CPU running at 256khz
  • 1×24 character LCD display
  • 57 key “Qwerty” keyboard
  • 1.5k of RAM for user program storage
  • Pizoelectric buzzer

Be sure to check out the full breakdown at Dave’s TRS-80 Pocket Computer page

As a point of comparison, here are a few highlights of Motorola’s Droid 2 tech specs:

  • 1 GHz processor
  • 480×854 Pixel display (Characters displayed depends on the font)
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • 8GB flash (expandable to 32GB)
  • Support for stereo bluetooth (not sure if actual speaker is stereo or not)
  • 100’s of other features like camera, video capture, streaming video, and get this includes the ability to make phone calls. Sadly though, it can’t make you breakfast… yet.

Let me whip out my calculator on my i7 Desktop Computer! The Droid 2 has a 3,906.25 times faster processor (just based on clock rate, not actual computational power) and has 5,592,405.33 times more storage. That seems crazy right? The TRS-80 pocket computer came out in 1980, about 20 years ago. I wonder how people will feel about our state of the art smartphones in 2020? That is assuming we haven’t been taken over by robots gone wild, destroyed ourselves with nukes, or succumbed to a raging nano-plague. But that is all just science fiction.

Isaac Asimov promotes Radio Shack's TRS-80 Pocket Computer

Isaac Asimov promotes Radio Shack's TRS-80 Pocket Computer

Posted by Stettin
Feb 172011

For all of you geeks that have had your head in the sand, artificial intelligence has hit a milestone. Yesterday, IBM’s Watson trounced these bags of meat known as Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in Jeopardy. If I ruined the result of the match, I apologize, but I figure posting a day after is enough notice for anyone that was following this from the start. For some more background on Watson and behind the scenes info, check out my original post on this. I have to admit that I was rooting for Watson from the start. I was a bit worried when after the first day in the tournament Watson was only tied for first place. I’m not sure what happened between the first and second matches, but Watson rocketed ahead in the second day and never looked back.

I think IBM might have been in a rush to show off their new creation. It was interesting to see the answer confidence levels during the rounds, often revealing some really wacky possible answers. Watson crashed several times during the second day of filming, nothing a regular viewer would notice while watching the recorded match on TV.  One criticism I’ve heard about the match was that Watson was fed the questions electronically rather than relying on voice and character recognition. I have to agree that the electronic delivery could have been an advantage.  Had voice recognition and OCR  functionality been used in Watson, the victory would be quite a bit more impressive. I could clearly see the two mere mortals struggling to buzz in and shake in frustration when Watson was faster. The producers touted the physical buzzer plunger that Watson had to activate, but I still think that Watson had the advantage.

I would be interested to see a rematch in a year but with only inputs into Watson be voice and video of the Jeopardy board. After all, Deep Blue was given a second chance versus Garry Kasparov, so why not give the humans a second chance on more equal footing? It is quite possible that programming algorithms over the year would improve enough so that Watson still would win, despite the reliance of voice recognition and OCR. In that case, the victory would mean that much more. Even if you know the outcome already, I still recommend watching the matches. I already saw the Nova special, so I skipped through most of the background stuff from the IBM folks. Here is a link to my YouTube  playlist that has the three episodes broken into 6 videos. Check it out! Then you can tell your grandchildren how you watched a computer beat humans in Jeopardy for the first time. Then they’ll ask, “Humans were allowed to play Jeopardy back then?”

Posted by Stettin
Feb 142011

Tonight with my wife, I watched an interesting episode of Nova titled “The World’s Smartest Machine.” Romantic, right? You can tell we are a couple of geeks at heart. Being a huge fan of Asimov and his robot creations, I am continually amazed at the progress of robotics and artificial intelligence. As a kid I was playing chess as early as the 3rd grade. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good chess player. When I heard about a computer that supposedly could beat a world champion chess player, I was intrigued. Garry Kasparov battled IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in 1996 and won, however he eventually lost a rematch in 1997. Well, IBM is back at it, this time taking on Jeopardy. Nova takes us behind the scenes with the developers of “Watson,” the next step in AI. I was disappointed when the episode ended and it didn’t say who won. I didn’t realize until logging on PBS.org that the contest actually was taking place while I was watching Nova (on my media center PC). After some frantic Google searches, I eventually came across a Twitter feed with a link to a Youtube posting of the episode. This was not quite 2 hours after the episode aired! Isn’t technology great? I expect the Youtube post to be served a DMCA take down, so watch it soon if you plan on it. In addition to the episode at the end of this post, I’ve embedded the Nova preview and an humorous parody of the challenges Watson overcame during his development. I suggest watching the Nova episode first. If you are at all interested in AI, you must check these out!

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Jeopardy Robot Watson’s Untold Game Show History (VIDEO)

Jeopardy Feb. 14 2011 – Human vs Machine IBM Challenge Day 1 Part 1/2

Jeopardy Feb. 14 2011 – Human vs Machine IBM Challenge Day 1 Part 2/2

There are two more nights to the match, airing Tuesday February 15th, and Wednesday the 16th. Be sure to check them out, along with some live blogging on PBS.org. I find myself rooting for Watson, not because I want to see humans defeated, but because I want to see humans capable of making something smart enough to do it. Who do you think will win? Who do you want to win?

Posted by Stettin
Jan 092011

I just got a Stumble to Pharyngula’s science blog that has a link to a YouTube video of Isaac Asimov. He is speaking about what he thought the top science story of 1988 was. I like running across videos of him speaking because it is nice to put a voice and face to my favorite author. The video goes out of sync about half way through unfortunately. Check it out!

Via Pharyngula

Posted by Stettin
Dec 272010

I just ran across a cool video of a flying robot playing Jingle Bells on an electric piano. The tempo seemed a bit off, so I clicked through to YouTube to see if there were any more videos. A link for how it works popped up, so naturally I clicked it. Base off of the video, it looks like a human was controlling the robot, so not as impressive as I initially thought. They show some background on “co-pilot” routines that assist the human controllers to keep them from making mistakes. I find this interesting because eventually with AI, these little machines could be completely automated. This reminds me of the creepy surveillance robots from Dark Angel. With special routines to keep these from bumping into obstacles, I can definitely see them flying around our cities sometime in the near future. If you want to see the Jingle Bells video, click through the via link at the bottom. I found this video more interesting though.

via Geekologie

Posted by Stettin

All original content © 2006-2017 The Science Fiction Review