Tag Archives: robots

The Apocalypticon ~ Around the world in hatey ways


Your world is going to shatter — So says Eric Hinton. But then, it always has and it always will. Trump shut down the US, and now there’s ‘untold morale problems’. This is what happens when giant ego strikes general workforce. The US may have added 304,000 jobs in January, but the shutdown boosted unemployment to 4%.
And people can’t afford to buy homes as their student dept is too high.
But hey, maybe a robot will call to ask how you’re doing?

The cold doesn’t help — Medical effects of extreme cold: why it hurts and how to stay safe. Meanwhile, it’s been toasty and humid in Auckland while Australia bakes under a record-breaking heat wave. [See-saw …]
Bangkok closing schools thanks to pollution — Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok has been dealing with shitty air quality all month, but now the incessant air pollution has forced the city to close schools for the rest of the week.

How about a war then? The US and Russia are stocking up on missiles and nukes for a different kind of war. [Coz you know, when you can’t govern, you’re messing up the planet but won’t admit it and there’s terrible pollution, why not go to war?]

Tech-wars — Yes, we have them too. A Russian government agency has reportedly been ‘strong-arming’ Apple.
A new website exposes the extent to which Apple cooperates with Chinese government internet censorship, blocking access to Western news sources, information about human rights and religious freedoms, and privacy-enhancing apps that would circumvent the country’s pervasive online surveillance regime. [To me, willingly colluding with a corrupt regime for profit is the same as being a corrupt regime.]
China’s so wonderful, right? A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for ‘subverting state power‘. [In other words, for criticising state power.]
Want to cut Microsoft out of your life? It’s probably no longer possible.
Billions of records getting passed around — When hackers breached companies like Dropbox and LinkedIn in recent years, stealing 71 and 117 million passwords, respectively, they at least had the decency to exploit those stolen credentials in secret, or sell them for thousands of dollars on the dark web. Now, it seems, someone has cobbled together those breached databases and many more into a gargantuan, unprecedented collection of 2.2 billion unique usernames and passwords, and is freely distributing them on hacker forums and torrents. [And you think governments won’t partake?]
Government hacks in Japan — The Japanese government has approved a law amendment that will allow government workers to hack into people’s Internet of Things devices as part of an unprecedented survey of insecure IoT devices. The survey will be carried out by employees of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Costly older Tinder daters —Tinder is supposed to dish out $US17.25 million ($24 million) worth of cash and in-app features to users over the age of 29 who were required to pay extra for their subscription services.

Want to eat better? It may be be better for the planet, but what will it do to you? Luckily, the simple answer is that a healthy pattern of eating is one that encompasses a broad array of foods. [Duh!]

And the good news? Give your anger a name and you may be able to tame it. And I like this story, too: researchers used a grainy photograph of a toppled train combined with an eyewitness account to analyse the deadly earthquake that struck San Francisco over 110 years ago.

The Apocalypticon ~ This is America, Around the World in awful ways, bullying, Trump, France, Saudi, Germany, Poland, China, World Bank, Russian Orthodox, robots, data, Facebook, digital hoarding


Bullying and the Trump Effect — Francis Huang of the University of Missouri and Dewey Cornell of the University of Virginia used data from a school climate survey taken by over 150,000 students across Virginia. They looked at student responses to questions about bullying and teasing from 2015 and 2017. The researcher found higher rates of bullying and certain types of teasing in areas where voters favoured Trump.
As federal workers miss their first pay-checks since the partial government shutdown began three weeks ago thanks to Trump’s attempt to ‘govern by tantrum’, frustration, anxiety and anger are rising. As the shutdown continues, it is going to have impacts in the billions of dollars.
Older Americans are disproportionately more likely to share fake news on Facebook, according to a new analysis by researchers at New York and Princeton Universities.
Cancer in America has been beaten back over the 25 years ending 2016, with death rates plummeting, particularly when it comes to the four most common types of the dreaded affliction. If you’re rich.
Too much cheese — The US has a 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus. The glut is the largest in US history: there is enough cheese sitting in cold storage to wrap around the US Capitol building. [Which currently sounds like a more productive move than what’s going on within the capitol.]

Around the world in awful ways — Last week, public figures in Germany experienced the “biggest data dump” in the country’s history. Following a remarkably swift investigation, authorities say they have obtained a confession from the person responsible. Quieting fears that the doxxing attack against hundreds of politicians was state-sponsored: it appears the culprit is a 20-year-old high school student.
French Yellow Vests take out speed cameras — Members of the “yellow vests” protest movement have vandalised almost 60% of France’s entire speed camera network. The wilful damage is a threat to road safety, of course. The protest movement began over fuel tax increases, and saw motorists block roads and motorway toll booths, but some elements may be linked to right-wing groups.
A Huawei executive has been arrested in Poland on charges of spying for China, Poland’s counterintelligence service has reported.[To misquote Roger Daltry, ‘Huawei, who who, who who?’ The Poles really wanna know.] Meanwhile, the Chinese tech giant has been linked to Syria and Iran.
Saudi Arabia will now notify women by text if they have been divorced. Women in Saudi Arabia, who have long been subjected to a litany of misogynistic restrictions on their behaviour including totalitarian male guardianship laws, will soon receive text messages to inform them of changes to their marital status as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘reforms’ of the country’s monarchic government.
World Bank says robots aren’t taking your jobs. Yet. The World Bank has released its annual World Development Report, and the headline news this go round, as relayed by Bloomberg and others, is basically that Robots Aren’t Killing Jobs. Of course, the World Bank isn’t terribly concerned with the quality of jobs, just that they are there.
Cuban ‘sonic weapon’ turned out to be pretty innocent — Since 2017, the baffling case of US diplomatic staff in Cuba and elsewhere who developed symptoms resembling brain trauma after allegedly hearing strange noises (sometimes called Havana syndrome) have spawned plenty of theories of varying plausibility. But it was most likely to be, by jumpy, just crickets! [But hey, at least they got to exercise their paranoia.]
China is letting more than 2000 ethnic Kazakhs drop their Chinese citizenship and leave the country, according to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry. [I guess the alternative is to be persecuted like the Uigurs. Hm, Kazakhstan looks great!]
Russian Orthodox patriarch declares data is the Antichrist —The devil is in the downloads, says Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill warned that smart devices like cell phones and social networks could enable the rise of Satan’s chosen and the rule of darkness until the end times. [I thought the Antichrist was just logic, myself.]

Hey, we’ve reached data — Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections, has been fined £15,000 (roughly US$$19,000) in a UK court after pleading guilty to failing to comply with an enforcement notice issued by the national data protection watchdog.
NSA to release reverse engineering tool for free — The US National Security Agency will release a free reverse engineering tool at the upcoming RSA security conference. GHIDRA is a disassembler, a piece of software that breaks down executable files into assembly code that can then be analysed by humans. [Let the wild ruckus begin.]
Samsung users perturbed they can’t delete Facebook — Nick Winke, a photographer in the Pacific northwest, was perusing internet forums when he came across a complaint that alarmed him: On certain Samsung Electronics Co. smartphones, users aren’t allowed to delete the Facebook app. Winke bought his Samsung Galaxy S8, an Android-based device that comes with Facebook’s social network already installed when it was introduced in 2017. He found only an option to ‘disable’ rather than delete.
Digital hoarding is as bad for you as physical hoarding — Emerging research on digital hoarding (a reluctance to get rid of the digital clutter we accumulate through our work and personal lives) suggests it can make us feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as physical clutter. [I’m ruthless with my data, and happy for it … of course, it’s all backed up. But I also keep my computer desktop clear and only two screens of apps on iPad and iPhone.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump security, malware, gamers, climate, Robots, Hitler’s teeth, cockroach milk, NZ monster


Trump hates handing his phones over for security checks — US President Trump has at least two iPhones, one dedicated for making calls and another one for Twitter. But a new report states Trump is often reluctant to hand the phones over to the White House security team to check for vulnerabilities. The president reportedly calls it “too inconvenient.” Trump’s Twitter phone has gone for as long as five months without a security assessment.  [That just makes us all feel so much safer. Thanks Donald!] But he can’t block people on Twitter.US District Judge Buchwald issued a 75-page ruling [pdf] clearly articulating why Donald Trump cannot block Twitter users: in short, it violates their First Amendment rights.

Speaking of malware, the FBI says reboot your routers — Researchers from Cisco’s Talos security team first disclosed the existence of the malware last Wednesday. The detailed report said the malware infected more than 500,000 devices made by Linksys, Mikrotik, Netgear, QNAP, and TP-Link. Known as VPNFilter, the malware allowed attackers to collect communications, launch attacks on others and permanently destroy the devices with a single command. The report said the malware was developed by hackers working for an advanced nation, possibly Russia, and advised users of affected router models to perform a factory reset, or at a minimum to reboot, and the FBI concurs. [I reboot mine pretty much every day anyway, as thanks to my ISP Vodafone, the bloody broadband disconnects almost every day, forcing a router restart to get the connection back. This has only been going on for a few years, though …]
AMD thwarted — A group of German researchers have devised a method to thwart the VM security in AMD’s server chips. Dubbed SEVered (PDF), the attack would potentially allow an attacker, or malicious admin who had access to the hypervisor, the ability to bypass AMD’s Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) protections.
Banks and ransomware — A new report from cloud security specialist Carbon Black, based on responses from CISOs at 40 major financial institutions (including six of the top 10 global banks) seeks to better understand the attack landscape. Among the findings are that 90% of financial institutions report being subject to ransomware attacks in 2017.
Cisco Systems has warned that hackers have infected at least 500,000 routers and storage devices in dozens of countries with highly sophisticated malicious software, possibly in preparation for another massive cyber attack on Ukraine. A federal judge in Pennsylvania gave the FBI permission to seize an internet domain that authorities charge a Russian hacking group known as Sofacy was using to control infected devices.
But in good news, Cambridge Analytica has filed for bankruptcy.

Gamers on — Swatting gamers indicted A federal grand jury has indicted the gamer accused in Wichita’s fatal swatting as well as the two gamers involved in the video game dispute that prompted the false emergency call.
School shooting game [really!] Just a week after the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas that saw 10 people fatally shot and 13 others were wounded, Valve came under fire for a Steam school-shooting game that encourages you to “hunt and destroy” children. Active Shooter, which has been live on Steam and due for release on 6th June, is described by its developer as “a dynamic S.W.A.T. simulator.” The idea is you’re sent in to deal with a shooter at a school, but you can also play as the actual shooter, gunning down school children. There have been 22 school shootings in the US since the beginning of this year.
Robots that train themselves in battle tactics by playing video games could be used to mount cyber-attacks, the UK military fears. The warning is in a Ministry of Defence report on artificial intelligence. Researchers in Silicon Valley are using strategy games, such as Starcraft II, to teach systems how to solve complex problems on their own. But artificial intelligence (AI) programs can then “be readily adapted” to wage cyber-warfare, the MoD says.

Planet warming — sea rise blamed on ‘falling rocks’: Mo Brooks is just a plain-spoken man from Alabama with some theories on climate change. Since everything is terrible, he’s a congressman and sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee so he has a platform to float some of his entirely unfounded ideas like, for instance, sea levels are rising because rocks keep falling in the ocean. [Hey, America, maybe you should just IQ test everyone running for office? The world would surely thank you.]
The diminution of rice — As humans expel billions of metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere and raze vast swaths of forests, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our air hurries ever higher. That has the potential to severely diminish the nutritional value of rice, according to a new study published this week in Science Advances. For people who depend heavily on rice as a staple in their diets, such a nutritional loss would be devastating, says Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington.
Cost of missing climate goals to cost $20 trillion US — There are trillions of reasons for the world to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5C, the aspirational target laid out in the Paris climate agreement, according to a new study. If nations took the necessary actions to meet that goal, rather than the increasingly discussed 2C objective, there’s a 60% chance it would save the world more than $20 trillion, according to new work published this week in Nature by scientists at Stanford.
Giant worms invading France — In a Peer J study published on May 22, Giant worms chez moi! zoologist Jean-Lou Justine of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, entomologist colleagues, and Pierre Gros, outline a discovery that “highlights an unexpected blind spot of scientists and authorities facing an invasion by conspicuous large invasive animals.” About 100 citizen scientists ultimately contributed to the assessment of this alien invasion, identifying five giant predatory worm species in France that grow up to 10 inches long. [More blackbirds, maybe?]

Robots, Hitler’s teeth, cockroach milk and NZ monster — Members of the Culinary Union, who work in many of Las Vegas’ biggest casinos, have voted to approve a strike unless a deal is reached soon. On June 1, the contracts of 50,000 union workers (bartenders to guest room attendants) expire, making them eligible to strike. They want higher wages, but the workers are also looking for better job security, especially from robots.
Hitlers teeth showed cyanide — It looks like Hitler did indeed ingest cyanide, with an inspection of the fuhrer’s teeth revealing “bluish deposits” that “could indicate a ‘chemical reaction between the cyanide and the metal of the dentures”. [I thought he shot himself? I guess he wisely hedged his bets.]
The teeth are authentic, there is no possible doubt. Our study proves that Hitler died in 1945,” said professor Philippe Charlier. “We can stop all the conspiracy theories about Hitler. He did not flee to Argentina in a submarine, he is not in a hidden base in Antarctica or on the dark side of the moon.”
And speaking of cockroaches, some researchers believe insect milk, like cockroach milk, could be the next big dairy alternative. A report in 2016 found Pacific Beetle cockroaches specifically created nutrient-filled milk crystals that could also benefit humans, the Hindustan Times reports. Others report producing cockroach milk isn’t easy, either – it takes 1000 cockroaches to make 100 grams of milk, Inverse reports, and other options could include a cockroach milk pill.
New Zealand’s ‘saurian monster’ — At the slaughter yards of Frankton Junction, near Hamilton, New Zealand, in October 1886, workers found a sheep picked clean to the bones. Some creature, they reported, had taken the carcass from the hook where it hung, eaten its flesh, and then departed, leaving only a strange trail of footprints unlike any other they had seen. Men gathered their guns and revolvers and kept watch for its return.
These, New Zealand’s Daily Telegraph reported, were the “undoubted traces of a saurian monster.” The word ‘saurian’ means lizard-like – other papers concluded this monster must be an alligator or crocodile, despite New Zealand’s smattering of living reptiles being, without exception, only a few inches long.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Whereas people will undoubtedly panic, this panic reaction is often overstated in the popular perception and, besides, short-lived. In most cases, according to sociological studies like that of Quarantelli and Dynes, people react immediately to the disaster and its effects. People come together along familiar lines (ie, family and friends) then move as needed to larger groups with which they associate (to religious, sporting or other societal groupings, for example).”

The Apocalypticon ~ ‘Free’ speech, robots, ‘smart leaders’


How free is that speech? For most of modern history, the easiest way to block the spread of an idea was to keep it from being mechanically disseminated. Shutter the news­paper, pressure the broad­cast chief, install an official censor at the publishing house. Or, if push came to shove, a loaded gun at an announcer’s head. Now we’re in the Golden Age of free speech – and twitter bots and fake news. Here are six tales of modern censorship for you.
And Snap, an instant messaging service, had a simple message to its employees: leak information and you could be sued or even jailed. The chief lawyer and general counsel of Snapchat’s parent company, Michael O’Sullivan, sent a threatening memo to all employees last week. [OK, who leaked the memo?]. Sure, whose even heard of Snap? Apple isn’t allowing a new app developed by a university professor that detects when your internet is being throttled by ISPs from being listed on the app store. The company claimed the app contained “objectionable content” and “has no direct benefits to the user!” [From ‘Way to go, Apple!’ to ‘You have a way to go, Apple.] Eventually, though, it was allowed.

Robotic progress and fears — An interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is with the former Army Ranger who led the team that established the US Defense Department policy on autonomous weapons (and who has written the upcoming book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War).
Paul Scharre makes the case for uninhabited vehicles, robot teammates, and maybe even an outer perimeter of robotic sentries (and, for mobile troops, “a cloud of air and ground robotic systems”). But he also argues that “In general, we should strive to keep humans involved in the lethal force decision-making process as much as is feasible. What exactly that looks like in practice, I honestly don’t know.”
Our greatest fear these days may be the singularity: when the abilities of AI and robots surpass those of humans, growing so advanced that civilization is forced to reboot as humanity spirals into existential dread. Or worse, the machines turn us into batteries, à la The Matrix. But perhaps we should instead consider the dangers of the Multiplicity.

Smart leaders smart — Intelligence makes for better leaders, from undergraduates to executives to presidents, according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. [I’m more afraid of idiots who think they are smart. You know, like really, really smart.]
And how ‘smart’ is this? In September 2017, Mark Zuckerberg quietly bought a 106.68m ‘exploration yacht’ for $US150 million. However, a Zuckerberg spokesperson has soundly denied the Facebook CEO bought the ship. It’s potentially a giant escape yacht’. The massive ship “can sail halfway around the world without refuelling and is designed to endure the toughest weather conditions” – making it the perfect vessel to wait out an impending apocalypse that only the billionaire creator of Facebook knows about. [Well, Zuck, you’ve got to get to that yacht first.]
But wait … dirt might save us. And California is going to close its last nuclear power plant.

Futurology ~ Space, robots, ancient Americans, dinosaur eggs and what’s coming


Alien megastructure is ‘just dust — An analysis by more than 200 astronomers has been published that shows the mysterious dimming of star KIC 8462852 – nicknamed Tabby’s star – is not being produced by an alien megastructure. The evidence points most strongly to a giant cloud of dust occasionally obscuring the star, reports The Guardian.
~ Well to me, that’s a relief. But hey, surely a cloud of dust should have been their first call, not ‘alien megastructure’?!

The border of earth and space — A new NASA mission, the first to hitch a ride on a commercial communications satellite, will examine Earth’s upper atmosphere to see how the boundary between Earth and space changes over time. GOLD stands for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, and the mission will focus on the temperature and makeup of Earth’s highest atmospheric layers.
~ Another mission, another future iteration of space junk. 

Smart bot could build homes on Mars — Built by the German space agency DLR, humanoid bots are being groomed to build the first Martian habitat for humans. Engineers have been refining Justin’s physical abilities for a decade; the mech can handle tools, shoot and upload photos, catch flying objects, and navigate obstacles.
Now, thanks to new AI upgrades, Justin can think for itself.
~ Here’s a better idea – the smart Alec can build a house for itself on Mars.

Soft robot may actually be useful — A burgeoning field called soft robotics promises to bring more “natural” movements to the machines. And today, a pair of papers in Science and Science Robotics detail a clever new variety of robotic “muscle,” a series of oil-fueled pouches activated with electricity. This actuator (aka the bit that moves a robot) is as strong and efficient as human muscle, but can pull off more contractions per second. Which could make for a prosthesis that moves more naturally, perhaps—or maybe farther down the road, soft yet strong robots that help you around the house without accidentally terminating you.
~ And I honestly do prefer not being accidentally terminated. 

Ancient Americans we didn’t know about — She died 11,500 years ago at the tender age of six weeks in what is now the interior of Alaska. Dubbed ‘Sunrise Girl-child’by the local indigenous people, the remains of the Ice Age infant, uncovered at an archaeological dig in 2013, contained traces of DNA, allowing scientists to perform a full genomic analysis. Incredibly, this baby girl belonged to a previously unknown population of ancient Native Americans – a discovery that’s changing what we know about the continent’s first people.
All Native Americans can trace their ancestry back to a single migration event that happened at the tail-end of the last Ice Age. The evidence, gleaned from the full genomic profile of the six-week-old girl and the partial genomic remains of another infant, suggests the continent’s first settlers arrived in a single migratory wave around 20,900 years ago. But this population then split into two groups: one group that would go on to become the ancestors of all Native North Americans, and another would venture no further than Alaska. This is a previously unknown population of ancient North Americans now dubbed the Ancient Beringians.
~ Then they got ‘back-migrated’. 

Ancient dinosaur eggs perfectly preserved — Chinese construction workers digging on Christmas day found a gift that was wrapped 130 million years ago in the form of 30 incredibly preserved dinosaur eggs. The discovery was made in the city of Ganzhou at the future site of a new middle school, but work on the new facility had to be put on hold after the ancient eggs were discovered.
~ Here’s the plan, then: grind them into snake oil medicine. 

But wait, Gizmodo has more: All The Wild Stuff We’re Going To Do In Space And Physics In 2018.

Futurology ~ Earth-like, antimatter bombardment, cute lil lander, 2040 Museum mag, Quantum computing, human DNA hacked, robots and aged DNA


Museum has already published its 2040 edition.

Earth-sized world just 11 light years away — Astronomers have discovered a planet 35% more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun. Ross 128 b likely exists at the edge of the small, relatively faint star’s habitable zone even though it is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun. The study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics finds the best estimate for its surface temperature is between -60 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius.
Proxima Centauri b is closer at less than 4.3 light years away from Earth and in the star system closest to our Sun. Even so, due to a variety of factors, Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86.
~ Meanwhile, we are hell-bent on making our own Earth less Earthlike. 

Mystery of Earth being bombarded by antimatter — New observations of nearby pulsars – lighthouse-like neutron stars beaming energy – seem to have deepened a mystery that’s been bugging scientists for around a decade. The Earth is being hit with too much antimatter from outer space, and no one is sure why.
~ Veritably antimatter-spattered, we are. 

Moon Express MX-1E Lander is heading for the moon or bust — After multiple extensions and a couple of flameouts, five teams are racing toward the March 2018 launch deadline, and the cutest contender might be the MX-1E, an R2-D2–shaped lander designed by space startup Moon Express.
~ The MX-1E fits inside a launch vehicle from partnering with the New Zealand company Rocket Lab.

Museum magazine publishes 2040 issue — The Alliance of American Museums has just published an ambitious Nov/Dec 2040 issue of Museum, the Alliance’s magazine. The columns, reviews, articles, awards, and even the ads describe activities from a 2040 perspective, based on a multi-faceted consensus scenario.
Besides virtual reality centers (and carbon-neutral cities), it envisions de-extinction biologists who resurrect lost species. It also predicts a 2040 with orbiting storehouses to preserve historic artifacts (as well as genetic materials) as part of a collaboration with both NASA and a new American military branch called the US Space Corps. And of course, by 2040 musuems have transformed into hybrid institutions like “museum schools” and “well-being and cognitive health centers” that are both run by museums.
~ Future retro-futurism …

Should we be excited about Quantum Computers? They’re fragile, and need to be kept at temperatures close to absolute zero. Quantum computers aren’t much like the desktop PCs we’re all so familiar with – they’re a whole new kind of machine, capable of calculations so complex, it’s like upgrading from black-and-white to a full colour spectrum. Gizmodo goes further.
~ Solves things so complex we don’t even have the minds to boggle at their complexity. 

Scientists edit DNA within the human body — For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA inside of a patient’s body, in an attempt to cure a genetic disorder by permanently changing the human genome. The news represents a major landmark in science.
~ Now it has been edited, it’s called ‘human DNB’.

Robots advance, dance and enhance — Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS Robot is now a backflipping cyborg supersoldier [you know how we all need that] and wait till you see the firm’s new Robodog, and we’re already robotising our workers – but these are human workers with bionic enhancements working at Ford.
~ Where’s Waldo?

Super-old people get their DNA analysed — Scientists looking for clues to healthy longevity in people in their 90s and 100s haven’t turned up a whole lot. It is thought that the DNA of the very old may be a good place to look, but people over 110 are one in five million in the United States. The New York Times has chronicled one scientific quest to collect their DNA.
~ So forget good health and sobriety, let’s find a magic bullet instead. 

Futurology ~ Interstellar Visitron, robots, Genetic revolution, Neanderthal with social support


This NASA animation shows the path of A/2017 U1 — an object likely of interstellar origin — through the inner solar system. A/2017 U1 made its closest approach to the sun on Sept. 9 and is now zooming away 97,200 mph (156,400 km/h) relative to the sun.Interstellar visitor — For the first time, scientists have observed an object they believe came from outside our solar system. The object is in a hyperbolic orbit that will send it back into interstellar space. The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
It’s unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma (the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet’s core) so the object’s name was amended to its current asteroidal designation.
~ How about we call it ‘Visitron’?Robots, robots, robots — Fanuc is a secretive Japanese company with 12,192 square-metre (40,000-square-foot) factories where robots made other robots in the dark, stopping only when no storage space remains. About 80% of the company’s assembly work is automated, and its robots then go on to assemble and paint cars, build motors, and make electrical components.
The Guardian GT (above) from Sarcos Robotics has 2-metre ( 7-foot) arms that replicate human motions with incredible smoothness and accuracy, but each limb can lift 227kg (500 pound) weight yet also  manipulate the most delicate of objects. Watching it in action is both hypnotic and unsettling.
And in the latest example of Philip K Dick-inspired nightmare becomes real life, Saudi Arabia just became the first nation to grant citizenship to a robot. The robot’s name is Sophia. It is artificially intelligent, friends with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and arguably, a glimpse into the dark future that will kill us all.
~I’m working on my own robot invention: it’s a double-spherical self-motivating oared boat I’m calling the RowBot. Kickstarter, anyone?

Genetic revolution — The genome editing technology CRISPR revolutionised genetic engineering by allowing scientists to cut and paste tiny snippets of DNA with more precision than ever before. Now, one of the groups responsible for that technology has harnessed the power of CRISPR to also edit RNA, a molecule that, like DNA, is essential in the coding, regulation, and expression of genes. This development could eventually allow scientists to alter the expression of genes in the human body without having to change the genome itself. (And Wired has more.)
~ So now we’re messing with life’s vital macromolecules – a theologian’s nightmare. 

Neanderthals had social support — A re-analysis of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skull shows that, in addition to enduring multiple injuries and debilitations, this male individual was also profoundly deaf. Yet he lived well into his 40s, which is quite old by Paleolithic standards. It’s an achievement that could have only been possible with the help of others, according to new research.
~ And we’re still doing it – look how US senators are still propping up Trump. 

The Apocalypticon ~ NSA and Dotcom, nuclear, beer, robots, EVs, cats and dogs, too-hot Asia, web habits, clever escape, AI beer names


According to new documents from New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), the NSA illegally used technology to spy on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom. The New Zealand Herald first reported that the GCSB told the nation’s high court that it ceased all surveillance of Dotcom in early 2012, but that ‘limited’ amounts of communications from Dotcom were later intercepted by its technology without the bureau’s knowledge,” reports The Hill. [And this went on under Obama. Nothing like this would ever happen under a reasonable, rational man like Trump …]

In a major blow to the future of nuclear power in the United States, two South Carolina utilities said they would abandon two unfinished nuclear reactors in the state, putting an end to a project that was once expected to showcase advanced nuclear technology but has since been plagued by delays and cost overruns..
[A reactionary lash-back.]

Two Chinese chatbots have proved they can develop real intelligence. The chatbots, BabyQ and XiaoBing were designed to use machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out conversations with humans online. But they have been pulled. Why? BabyQ, a chatbot developed by Chinese firm Turing Robot, had responded to questions on QQ with a simply “no” when asked whether it loved the Communist Party.
In other images of a text conversation online, which Reuters was unable to verify, one user declares: “Long live the Communist Party!” The bot responded: “Do you think such a corrupt and useless political system can live long?” Meanwhile, China is pioneering new ways of combatting dissent on the internet.

Electric vehicles not the answer to pollution — Professor Frank Kelly said that while electric vehicles emit no exhaust fumes, they still produce large amounts of tiny pollution particles from brake and tyre dust, for which the government already accepts there is no safe limit. Toxic air causes 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, and the environment secretary, Michael Gove, recently announced that the sale of new diesel and petrol cars will be banned from 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.
But faced with rising anger from some motorists, the plan made the use of charges to deter dirty diesel cars from polluted areas a measure of last resort only. Kelly’s intervention heightens the government’s dilemma between protecting public health and avoiding politically difficult charges or bans on urban motorists. [But hey, how to measure that pious feeling?] And self-driving cars are confusing humans – and insurance companies.

Cats and dogs contribute to climate change — Pet ownership in the United States creates about 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, UCLA researchers found. That’s the equivalent of driving 13.6 million cars for a year. The problem lies with the meat-filled diets of kitties and pooches, according to the study by UCLA geography professor Gregory Okin. [Hey, finally someone else to blame.]
We’re all going to die from climate change anyway – it’s just matter of when.

No outside life in South Asia — Venturing outdoors may become deadly across wide swaths of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by the end of the century as climate change drives heat and humidity to new extremes, according to a new study. These conditions could affect up to a third of the people living throughout the Indo-Gangetic Plain unless the global community ramps up efforts to rein in climate-warming carbon emissions. [Start tunnelling?]

Six figure salary to protect Earth from aliens — Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a hero? How about the protector of mankind? Well now NASA is looking for just that, and it’ll pay a six-figure salary for the honour. Other duties include advising Safety Mission Assurance officials on planetary protection matters and ensuring compliance by robotic and human spaceflight missions. [Too late. Just look at the White House.]

Users secret web habits ‘easy to expose’ — Two German researchers say they have exposed the porn-browsing habits of a judge, a cyber-crime investigation and the drug preferences of a politician. The pair obtained huge amounts of information about the browsing habits of three million German citizens from companies that gather ‘clickstreams’: detailed records of everywhere that people go online.

Attacks on the US press tracked — The US Press Freedom Tracker is a newly launched website that intends to document press freedom violations in a place that hasn’t historically required it: the United States. [Another Trump innovation.] Argentinians, meanwhile, are so sick of the media, they are inventing their own.

Student escapes kidnappers with nerves of steel and manual transmission — A college student in Columbia, South Carolina was kidnapped by three men at gunpoint. Fearing the worst, she used some Jason Bourne level-problem solving and her manual transmission car to get away safely. 20-year-old Jordan Dinsmore found herself in one of the worst situations possible when three men approached her, pushed her to the ground and put a gun to her head. The publication reports that they forced her to drive her car and withdraw money from an ATM and then told her that she was going to be taken to a location to be raped.
But Dinsmore had one advantage: when the men first put her into the car they couldn’t drive it because it had a manual transmission, so they made her take the driver’s seat. That is when she concocted a plan to escape[So impressed!]

At least we can have a new beer, thanks to AI — Brewers are running out of beer names, so scientist Janelle Shane (who uses artificial intelligence for this purpose frequently) decided to set AI onto the problem. The results: an IPA called Yamquak, a Cherry Trout Stout and Fire Pipe Amber Ale. [Yikes!]

Futurology ~ Planets, Mars, probes, seafloor, robots, weather and mass extinctions


The Rosetta probe is having its comet-ride closest to the sun
The Rosetta probe is having its comet-ride closest to the sun

‘Young Jupiter’ — Astronomers from Stanford and the Kavli Institute have discovered a new exoplanet orbiting 51 Eridani that strongly resembles a young Jupiter. They say its similarities could help us to understand how our own solar system formed. It’s a convenient discovery, because 51 Eridani is less than 100 light-years away, and only about 20 million years old.
~ Phew, it’s still youthful! 

Rosetta probe now in serious tanning range — The European Space Agency has released pictures taken by the Rosetta probe at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as it reached its closest approach to the Sun. The comet has now travelled 750 million kilometers since Rosetta arrived, and the increased solar radiation has caused ices to sublimate and created jets of gas.
~ Break out the sunblock! You are at perihelion!

Mars One still completely full of s__t — After watching a two-hour debate on the feasibility of the Mars One mission last night, Maddie Stone thinks she finally understands its problem. “It’s not that the company is broke. It’s that we don’t yet have the technology to sustain human life on Mars, and Mars One still won’t admit it.”
~ That’s fighting’ talk. But basically, if you go there, you will die, but you might not even make it as you might die on the way. Not really selling it, Mars One.

Hubble might soon look like a toy — The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will be “in many ways a hundred times” more capable than Hubble, isn’t launching until 2018, but already astrophysicists are thinking about its successor. They’re calling it the High Definition Space Telescope (HDST) which would have a 12-metre segmented mirror.
~ I actually already have toys that look like toys – much cheaper.

PinataDigital seafloor map can help in climate change predicting — We know less about the deep ocean than we do about the surface of Mars. But if we want to really understand how humans are impacting the Earth, we need to start looking deep into the murk. That’s why scientists created the first digital map of the seafloor’s geologic composition. The latest map, published in the journal Geology, is the first to describe the diverse sedimentary composition of the seafloor. And that’s important, because patterns in sediments can help scientists unravel past environmental changes and predict our planet’s future.
~ But it looks like a piñata. And it missed New Zealand again. 

Universal language — We know a lot about language but we know relatively little about how speech developed. Most linguists agree a combination of movement and sound like grunts and pointing probably got us started, but how we decided which sounds to use for different words remains a mystery. Now, an experimental game has shown that speakers of English might use qualities like the pitch and volume of sounds to describe concepts like size and distance when they invent new words. If true, some of our modern words may have originated from so-called iconic, rather than arbitrary, expression—a finding that would overturn a key theory of language evolution.
~ And you were hoping it was love …

Cheap, 3D-printed stethoscope challenges top model — Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician working in the Gaza strip, has 3D-printed a 30-cent stethoscope that beats the world’s best $200 equivalent as part of a project to bottom-out the cost of medical devices. It out performed the gold-standard Littmann Cardiology 3. They now intend to make a range of ultra-low cost medical devices for the developing world.
~ Yay! I can hardly wait for the affordable pulse oximeter. And also to know what that is.

Robot builds robots, learns and builds better ones — An experiment was carried out at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with ETH Zurich, and the results were published in the journal PLOS One. A mother bot (a big robotic arm) designed, built, and tested “generations” of ten “kids”: tiny, cube-shaped bots. The mother used what it observed in each experiment to churn out even better-performing offspring the next go-around.
~ I think the best response is ‘oh shit’.

Robo-Weather — Microsoft researchers Ashish Kapoor and Eric Horvitz are using machine learning to make more accurate weather predictions over a 24-hour period. So while this robo-brain won’t be able to help you with a five-day forecast, it can more accurately tell you if rain or shine is more likely during the course of your day.
~ If only we could tell if it was raining just by feeling, seeing or hearing it …

Robots simulate mass extinctions — By simulating a mass extinction on a population of virtual robots, researchers have shown these cataclysmic events are important contributors to organisms’ ability to evolve, a finding that has implications to evolutionary biology, the business sector – and even artificial intelligence.
~ OK, this is now all too robo-incestuous.

Futurology ~ Asteroid Games, robots, steel concrete, toilet archaeology, dog origins, 6th extinction


A sperm whale circled a robe-camera several times
A sperm whale circled a robo-camera several times – all caught on film 598m below the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

PHD Asteroid Games — There’s a 300-metre asteroid headed straight for the Earth. You’ve got five days to come up with a plan, or go the way of the dinosaurs. This is the scenario being war-gamed by a roomful of PhDs as we speak.
~ I say ‘Blast off for the moon with Richard Branson!’

Scary robots of the future might be closer than we think — The new doco Inhumankind is a sobering exploration how our robot fears might be more realistic than we think. The Motherboard crew go talk to the teams that are developing humanoid robots for the government, as well as to critics who warn about the dangers of that might arise if artificial intelligence and military technology do collide.
~ Haven’t they always collided?

Robot-whale encounter goes swimmingly — The robot ‘Hercules’ is a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) designed for ocean explorers, and well suited to study archeology, biology and geology and more in the deep sea down to depths of 4000m. Here it meets an interested sperm whale.
~ Majestic.

‘Ferroc’ came from a failed lab experiment — It’s made from the waste of steel mills (steel dust) and doesn’t use the same heat-intensive production process of cement. It’s also more durable and stronger than cement. But it’s biggest selling point may be the fact this mixture of chemicals actually sucks up CO2 and traps it.
~ China alone used as much cement in the last three years as the US used in the last 100 – and cement pushes carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Quest to fix toilet reveals archaeology — Fifteen years ago, Luciano Faggiano of Lecce, Italy sent his sons out digging for a broken sewer line. They didn’t find the pipe, but they did find a Messapian tomb, a Roman granary, a Franciscan chapel and even etchings from the Knights Templar.
Faggiano ended up creating an underground museum. Descending into the Museo Fagganio today is like descending through the city’s history, with stops in the Roman, medieval and Byzantine eras.
~ And the sons eventually found the broken sewer pipe after several years of digging.

Where dogs come from — For years researchers have argued over where and when dogs arose. Some say Europe, some say Asia. Some say 15,000 years ago, some say more than 30,000 years ago. But now they might be close to identifying the place.
~ And some, like me, say ‘who cares?’

Oldest stone tools — Researchers say they have found the oldest tools made by human ancestors: stone flakes dated to 3.3 million years ago. That’s 700,000 years older than the oldest-known tools to date, suggesting that our ancestors were crafting tools several hundred thousand years before our genus Homo arrived on the scene.
~ Genius genus. 

Sixth extinction — Earth has seen its share of catastrophes, the worst being the ‘big five’ mass extinctions scientists traditionally talk about. Now, paleontologists are arguing that a sixth extinction, 260 million years ago, at the end of a geological age called the Capitanian, deserves to be a member of the exclusive club.
~ I reckon have as many as you want, as long as they’re in the past. 

Futurology ~ space photography, our other moon, robots, Eiffel power, Xerox DNA, wooly rhino baby


A view of deep space resulting from the next generation of IFU spectroscopy.
A view of deep space resulting from the next generation of IFU spectroscopy.

3D view of deep space — This deep space photo is a view of space no one has ever seen before.
The picture comes from the European Southern Observatory’s ultra-powerful and very aptly-named Very Large Telescope. It took over 27 hours for the telescope’s MUSE instrument to capture the photo, but it means they can now see at least 20 objects that were previously unseen even by Hubble’s exceptionally powerful eye, plus get a better idea of how some previously-known galaxies are situated.
~ No one’s every seen it before? Who nows who’s out there?

Dark Energy Camera snaps Lovejoy — In a happy accident, Comet Lovejoy just happened to be in the field of view of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, the world’s most powerful digital camera. One member of the observing team said it was a shock to see Comet Lovejoy pop up on the display in the control room.
~ I do love that headline.

Wide-angle selfie from Mars — NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has snapped a spectacular — if not inexplicable — wide-angled self-portrait at the Mojave Site on Mount Sharp where the probe is currently drilling for samples.
~ Look at me, mom!

3753 Cruithne  makes a nice pattern, anyway
3753 Cruithne makes a nice pattern, anyway

Earth’s other moon — The moon is not the Earth’s only natural satellite. Here’s what you need to know about 3753 Cruithne and what its weird orbit reveals about the solar system.
As recently as 1997, we discovered that another body, 3753 Cruithne, is a quasi-orbital satellite of Earth.
~ But it’s only ever spotted once in a blue 3753 Cruithne.

Dissolving robot inner-body self-dissolving grippers — As robots get small enough to easily swim around inside the human body, they will soon be used to perform medical procedures all from within a patient. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are making such an idea even more plausible with the development of tiny robotic grippers that will actually dissolve away inside a patient after a medical procedure is complete.
~ They can be remotely positioned to grab things or release drugs.

3D printed jet engines — Working with colleagues from Deakin University and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), researchers from Australia’s Monash University have created the world’s first 3D-printed jet engine. While they were at it, they created the world’s second one, too.
~ Come back to me when you can print its fuel. 

3D printers invade the kitchen — Such devices are still too expensive and too special-purpose for home kitchens, professionals in restaurants and large cafeterias are figuring out ways they can automate certain time-intensive tasks. For example, pasta is a perfect material to print.
~ Print me dinner, I’m hungry!

Robots taking white collar jobs — University of Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne estimated in 2013 that 47% of total US jobs could be automated and taken over by computers by 2033. That now includes occupations once thought safe from automation, AI, and robotics. Such positions as journalists, lawyers, doctors, marketers, and financial analysts are already being invaded.
~ Some of these jobs have been mindless for a long time.

Eiffel Tower has hidden wind-powered energy generators — If you look closely at the cross-bracing of the tower, you might spot them: two vertical-axis wind turbines installed about 120m above ground level, positioned to catch as much wind as possible. The turbines were installed by Urban Green Energy, a seven-year-old company based in NYC. To make them less conspicuous, the company painted the turbine blades the same shade as the tower’s legs.

Super-mouse might result from ‘Xeroxed Gene’ — Researchers have expanded the size of mouse brains by giving rodents a piece of human DNA. Another team recently topped that feat, pinpointing a human gene that not only enlarges the mouse brain but also gives it the distinctive folds found in primate brains.
~ If they grow the brains, don’t they also need to grow the skulls to accommodate them?

First baby wooly rhino discovered — Siberian hunters have stumbled upon the remains of a 10,000-year-old baby wooly rhino. It’s the first discovery of its kind, and one of only several wooly rhino specimens ever found. As reported in The Siberian Times, the rhino was about 18 months old when it died. Its wool was well preserved, while an ear, one eye and its mouth remain intact.
~ Now I’m picturing wooly rhino jackets.