Weird Science – Watch and Learn


Outside it is not much to look at, little more than a discoloured rock dredged up from the sea floor. But an x-ray scan of the object, actually a pocket watch recovered from a 17th century shipwreck, has revealed that the internal mechanism has been perfectly preserved. The computer aided tomography system used was sensitive enough to pick out the tiniest details, included the engraved name of the master watchmaker, one Niccholas Higginson of Westminster, London (Gizmodo).

As if more proof were needed that they don’t build them like they used to, a UK group has started collecting donations to build the first fully working version of Babbage’s “Analytical Engine”. The original design, dating from 1837, was never completed, possibly due to a combination of the strict engineering tolerances needed and Babbage’s notoriously prickly temperament. If the final machine works as advertised, it will be very strong confirmation of the claim that Babbage designed the first general purpose, programmable computer (BBC News).

Meanwhile, in Slovenia, Borut Povse and his team are busy teaching a modern descendant of Babbage’s design to hit people. Somehow Povse has convinced six volunteers to let an industrial robot hit them on the arm with various sharp or blunt implements in an effort to determine how much pain each blow causes. Obviously this has a beneficial use in that robots can be programmed not to exceed certain levels of force near a human obstacle, but will also be of immense interest to the machines during any future robot uprising (New Scientist).

Another robot out to supplant humans is HRP-4, a gynoid (female android), that has learnt to sing by copying the inflection and expressions of a human performer, right down to the breathing. The hope is to make robots behave in a more convincingly natural way, and so overcome the so called ‘uncanny valley’. From the video, it looks like they’ve still got a way to go (Daily Mail).

Much more convincing is Hatsune Miku, a completely computer generated performer in Japan’s ubiquitous ‘anime’ style, who is filling the stadiums nightly in her sell out live tour. Yup, via a bit of video magic, this CGI songstress appears ‘live’ on stage with her (entirely real) backing band and performs for thousands of adoring fans. What’s more, for a tad under $200, you can buy a version of the software package that provides her movements and voice and have her perform just for you (Singularity Hub).

But as the machines make great strides in their stealthy campaign to replace us, worry not, for surely mankind’s greatest minds are on the case. Or maybe not, judging by artist Kate Hartman’s latest work. As part of her grandly titled “Initial Investigatory Research for Glacier-Human Communication Techniques”, Ms Hartman has invented a portable glacier embracing suit that will allow environmentally conscious travellers to give these mighty rivers of ice a friendly hug. No, I don’t know why either (Boulder Pavement).

Finally, some regulars may remember the umbilical trailing flying baby ad from one of Paul’s FOTMM a few months back. Well it turned out to be part of the Born Free campaign for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and entirely worthy NGO that accounts for a quarter of all international funding to prevent AIDS, two thirds for tuberculosis, and three-quarters of international malaria funding. Sadly they have been badly effected by the recent poor economy too, and this year have only managed to raise $11.7 billion of their $20 billion target (all money comes from corporate and government contributions, they don’t solicit for individual donations); this is not even enough to cover their current prevention programmes which total $13 billion (Nature News).

(Picture Source: Gizmodo, AU.)




Comments
On the HRP-4 I have two words they need to consider: Robotic Vagina
Posted by ANON in Nowhere on 10/22/10 at 04:18 PM
watch- cleaned and put in a new case with repacement of the damaged outer parts, i bet it'd work perfectly too.

babbage- meh, we have functioning computers now. where is the big intrest in this guy's particular woulda, coulda, shoulda?

robots- message to all the phds working with robots. they are faster and stronger and calculate more quickly than us. DO NOT TEACHE THEM TO HIT HUMANS!

gynoid- ? what a word.

concerts- getting people to pay to see a 'live' concert by a computer generated performer, what a scam!

hugging glaciers- getting people to pay...

global fund- not a suprise, things are bad everywhere. no one is escaping it.

bd as for you robot vagina, what if it malfunctions while in use?
squeeze, squeeze, CRUSH!
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 10/22/10 at 10:49 PM
oh, btw, great post dumbfounded!
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 10/22/10 at 10:50 PM
it would look like the glacier had ticks captain! gulp
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 10/25/10 at 01:30 AM
great point dumbfounded! better get al gore on it asap! LOL
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 10/25/10 at 10:21 AM
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