Thursday, January 23, 2014

Robots as Appliances

I've been thinking about robots again.  And the more I think, the more I believe that they should use a common operating system.  If they need to have a specialized routine for an arm movement, they should be able to go to a central site to get that routine.  But what's more, eventually they will all be part of a centralized mindset.  while they will be individual machines, they will all be part of the same network.  Possibly the same being.  This is actually an old idea, perpetrated by science fiction.  I offer the following quite as evidence.  The italics are mine:

Quote from "The Age of the Pussyfoot" by Frederik Pohl

     A girl with hair like transparent cellophane greeted him.  "I have your reservation, Man Forrester.  Will you follow me, please?"
     He did, walking behind her across a quartz-pebbled court and into the hall that was the tea room, admiring the swing of her hips and wondering just what it was that she did to her hair to make it stand out like a sculptured puffball and rob it of opacity.
     She seated him beside a reflecting pool, with silvery fish swimming slowly about.  Even with the peculiar hairdo, she was a pretty girl.  She had dimples and dark, amused eyes.
     He said, "I don't know what I want, actually.  Anyway, who do I order from?"
     "We are all the same, Man Forrester,"  she said.  "May I choose for you?  Some tea and cakes?"
     Numbly, he nodded and, as she turned and left, watched the sway of her hips with an entirely different kind of interest.
     He sighed.  This was a confusing world!

     The self-programming, shared-time girl with the dark, grave eyes brought Forrester his tea and cakes.  "Thank you," he said, staring at her.  He was still not quite sure of his deductions about her.  He tried an experiment.  "Can you give me my messages?" he asked.
     "Certainly, Man Forrester, if you wish," she said promptly.  "Alfred Guysman wishes to see you on political business.  Adne Benson asks you to return her message of this morning.  The Nineteenth Chromatic Trust informs you that arrangements have been made for you to establish banking facilities with them---"
     "That's enough," he said, marveling at how nicely a shared-time transponder could be packaged.  "I'll take the rest later."

Eventually, if we forget our phones at home, we can simply go to any machine that is connected to the net, and interact with it in a casual conversation, asking it for email, or what have you. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wynright Robotic Truck Unloader (RTU)


I originally found this story in Modern Materials Handling, published by Peerless Media LLC.  It's in the November issue, under News & Trends.  It originally appears in Robotics Business Review.  I find it amusing that not only does it put another job that was the exclusive domain of humans on the endangered list, but it also puts a job on the endangered list of robotic palletizers.  That's right.  Robots stealing jobs from other robots.  The cycle is complete.  This means that we aren't going to go extinct.  Most of us are still working.  So now everything just needs to equalize, so we all can get on with our lives.  All the kill robots/kill humans arguments just got shot full of holes. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Uncanny Valley? What Uncanny Valley?

I have to tell you, I'm at the point where physics rendering engines are getting ridiculously scary good.  In the YouTube video below, the room is unbelievably real.  But more importantly, it's not the Miku model that looks so real, but the shadows she's casting! 

Wow.  Just.... wow.

http://youtu.be/57EiJJdrlbU

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Elusive Master Wallet

Ever since Google made their announcement that they would be doing a wallet for their Android OS, It seems that everyone has been jostling for a piece of the pie. Google, Paypal, Amazon, MasterCard and Visa have all pushed to be the premier "go to" service.  But not one of them has been able to see beyond using "coin of the realm" for making purchases.  Which is really limiting themselves.  Why should I use any of their wallet systems, when all I need to do is swipe a piece of plastic?

The world is changing.  Anyone that doesn't realize that fiat money is all digital really needs to educate themselves.  Especially now that FinCEN has declared that true digital currencies earned from gaming can indeed be tracked, regulated, and most importantly, without emphasizing it, taxed.

What *I* need and want, not what some financial conglomerate *thinks* I want, is an app that I can put my Gaia Online, Second Life, IMVU, Bitcoin, and whatever other digital points and coupons into.  I want to use those values, because FinCEN says they're values.  AS fiat money!  That app needs to go to whatever international financial center that says "On this day, that measurement of value is worth such and such. Go spend it!"  I shouldn't have to go to a third party exchange and turn L$ into US$.  Now I have nothing against third party exchanges.  They're the ironic link between the virtual and the physical.  But the tech exists to do this automatically.  Especially when the exchanges themselves track the  values daily.

Until these guys stop bickering over whether NFC or Bluetooth 4 is the best carrier and working with FinCEN or whichever agency to get those digital values, I just don't see the practicality of pulling out a wireless device, picking whichever service I choose to use, all of which have my credit card numbers, btw, and "tapping" it.  It's quicker to grab the trusty leather pouch and swiping that thin plastic card directly.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Contextual Web

I learned of an approaching paradigm shift this week: the contextual web.   Normally, I would file this bit of fluff in the back of my head as "that's nice", and forget it about 10 minutes later.  But I decided to do a quick Google for the terms "conceptual internet", and got a link from scobleizer.com.  Normally, I file anything from Robert Scoble in the back of my head in the same manner.  But this time it made me raise my eyebrows.

Mr Scoble is one of those personalities that you either accept anything he does with open arms, ignore anything he does, or keep him at arms length because of the manner he does things.  I've learned to follow him on the odd chance that he will turn up some interesting tidbit of tech, or a stinker I want to stay away from.  Case in point; I watched an NBC Nightly News report where Robert was praising Pinterest.com.  I tweeted that just because Scoble was into Pinterest, I was not going to flock with the masses.  Or something to that effect.

I read his blog, and was thoroughly sold on the contextual web.  It is a concept that absorbs "social networking", "ubiquitous computing", "cloud", and the "semantic web", and attempts to make sense of them all.  We seriously need to pay more attention to this in the upcoming months.  Not years.  Months.

And BTW, I've recently opened a Pinterest account.  I found something there that I'd been looking for for months.  Not because of Robert Scoble.  Because of Google.  But I had to at least acknowledge that Robert was right on this one, too, even if I fought it tooth and nail.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Avoiding the Uncanny Valley

I've been pondering how realistic the models are in many of the Miku Muku Dance videos I watch on YouTube.  Some movements are painstakingly crafted in the program.  And many are motion data that was created by a live dancer using capture software.  Many are so pretty that you can seriously forget that you're watching a computer program.

It can be argued that the Japanese have been leading the way with robotics and artificial life.  The illusion of life and realism seems to be their driving force. So how far can they go before you get to a point where your machines and programs become creepy?  Quite far, actually.  MIT did a report a few years back just to understand the creepy factor.  It says that for a robot to be considered in the uncanny valley, facial features need to be just a bit "not right" (my quotes).

So how does Japan avoid the creepy factor?  In my opinion, it's in using manga and anime facial features.  Stay with me on this.  A human body can be created physically or virtually to a standard of perfection, and everyone 'oohs & ahhs'.  The chest needs to be larger, or the bottom smaller, or the male parts more endowed.  Or even included!  Put a human head on it, and it scares the bejesus out of them.  If that same perfect body has an anime head on it, with it's cartoon eyes and neutral facial features, those same people have no problem whatsoever with accepting their new best friend.  I know I don't.  There have been some videos on YouTube that I've watched dozens of times just to see the body movements in dance.

Are we desensitizing ourselves from the foundations of 'true humanity'?  Not really.  We're just broadening our concepts of what is humanly acceptable.  Isaac Asimov had seen this pattern years ago when he wrote his robot and foundation novels in the 1940s and 1950s.  I think the acceptance of anime characters in games and videos is paving the way for a broader acceptance of robotics and AI in general.  I've been in the uncanny valley a few times now.  And anything that bridges that valley can only be a good thing!