thinking is dangerous

Autonomically correct

Business Week published an article on Autonomic Computing: Computer, heal thyself.

His idea was simple. Scientists needed to come up with a new generation of computers, networks, and storage devices that would look after themselves. The name for his manifesto came from a medical term, the autonomic nervous system. The ANS automatically fine-tunes how various organs of the body function, making your heart beat faster, for instance, when you're exercising or stressed. In the tech realm, the concept was that computers should monitor themselves, diagnose problems, ward off viruses, even heal themselves. Computers needed to be smarter. But this wasn't about machines thinking like people. It was about machines thinking for themselves.

Apparently IBM has been pushing the autonomic idea for a few years now, and has detailed the 4 major aspects of an autonomic system, and the 8 obstacles such systems face.

This is interesting to me, obviously, for several reasons. The drive towards self-regulating, autonomous systems is obviously a push for greater agency in these systems. But the interesting aspect is IBM's focus on the biological metaphor in describing the nature of autonomic systems, and borrows heavily from the philosophical and cognitive science research on the nature of agency. That last link includes reference to Damasio, for instance.

I will have to do more research on the idea before I can say anything substantive. Glancing over the manifesto makes me think this is deep into 'industry buzzword' territory, though I think the implications here are more theoretical and foundational than IBM lets on. I should stop to conisder some of the blogosphere phuzz on the article.

From Rough Type: Not like breathing

The real power of the idea is not that computers will run themselves, in the way that the autonomic nervous system runs itself. Rather, it's that, by automating many of the lower-level computing chores, like allocating computing, storage, and network capacity, setting up new applications, metering usage, and so on, people actually gain greater control over the systems. We become able to program the way the systems work at a higher level, establishing the criteria, for instance, that determines how different computing jobs get prioritized based on our company's business needs.

We don't want computer systems to breathe by themselves, in other words. We want to be able to tell them exactly how we want them to breathe, to be able to set and adjust their "heart beat" to suit our own requirements. Automating computing is - or should be - all about giving people, not machines, greater control.

This seems wrong. We don't want the computers to be dependent on us for their basic functioning. We want to be able to use them for whatever we want to do. That means that we do want them to breathe for themselves, but we don't want that breathing to interfere with our own projects and tasks. We want, in other words, the computer to run transparently to its underlying functionality. We want the computer's breathing to be unconscious, both from our perspective and its.
13:35 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Universal understanding

I'm about 1/3rd of the way through the picture story. Hold your fucking horses, its coming.

From the typically crappy D&D thread: Universe makes man to understand itself?

chuggasaurus said:
I've read through Cosmos, then came accross a certain rip of an updated version of the series from the 70s on TV when Sagan said something interesting.

"It's as if the Universe created us in order to understand itself."

It's not an exact quote, so if someone knows it ver batum, please correct me.

Regardless, it's been bouncing around in my head for the last few days and I've begun to ponder whether or not this could actually be true. If the universe is somehow a collective intelligence similar to God, only lacking the capacity to understand itself, it brings us into being in order to understand itself. Only we too are part of this collective intelligence albeit completely unaware of our place in it because we're such a small part. Almost as if the universe is looking inside itself through our eyes.

Well, if it did, it did a piss poor job, because we really don't have a very good perspective on the whole of the universe, being in a relatively large but otherwise quite plain galaxy, near a somewhat small but extremely common star, in a relatively young but generally mature solar system. If the universe wanted some perspective on itself, surely it could have made better observers capable of taking in more information from a better vantage point, and with a larger capacity for understanding.

I don't think the universe made man to understand itself, because I think that misunderstands the role of man in the universe. Man isn't here to understand anything. We aren't very good at it, and even when we do understand something we have problems articulating what in the hell we just did.

No. Man doesn't understand, we do things. And if the universe has intentions, and put us here for some reason, it is to micromanage the structure of the universe in our local area. And we are doing an AMAZING job at that. We have already effected the earth's orbit around the sun (by a few milimeters/century or something) by throwing so much material into space that it slows us down. Our effect on the surface of the planet is plainly evident, even from space. We are radiating all sorts of information in the form of radio waves and so on, and planets aren't supposed to radiate anything. Not to mention the fact that we have broken apart atoms, and created new particles and elements that have never existed in isolation, slowed down light, and all sort of other microeffects on local space-time.

Its like we are nanobots hard at work to restructure our small area of the universe.

LePoissonDeNoel said
Setting aside all the religious crap for a moment, I like this idea or philosophy. I am greatly amused by the idea of mankind being a dim-witted, stumbling, angry drunk with the ability to render a planet uninhabitable but without the ability to comprehend anything of real value.

Aww look at human civilization it's so cute aww

Its a bit more dark and ironic than that, because we pride ourselves on our knowledge and understanding. We think its what makes us special.
10:59 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Predicting the outcome

Here's some pictures, you fiends. I have 2 more rolls worth, which I will construct into a narrative at some point in the future. But I am too busy to satisfy your voyeuristic gluttony at the moment. Instead, I'll quote something about computers.

From Science Daily (which I admit is pretty shitty): Researchers Use Brain Scans To Predict Behavior

By peering into the minds of volunteers preparing to play a brief visual game, neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found they can predict whether the volunteers will succeed or fail at the game.

"Before we present the task, we can use brain activity to predict with about 70 percent accuracy whether the subject will give a correct or an incorrect response," says lead author Ayelet Sapir, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate in neurology.

Eleven seconds before volunteers played the game - discriminating the direction of a field of moving dots - scientists showed them a hint: an arrow pointing to where the moving dots were likely to appear. The dots were visible only for one-fifth of a second and therefore were easy to miss if a subject was not paying attention to the right area.

After the hint and prior to the appearance of the moving dots, researchers scanned the volunteers with functional brain imaging, which reveals increases in blood flow to different brain areas indicative of increased activity in those regions. Based on brain activity patterns that reflected whether the subjects used the hint or not, scientists found they could frequently predict whether a volunteer's response would be right or wrong before the volunteers even had a chance to try to see the dots.

So we can predict how you will behave in a game situation, eh? Thats nice.
18:11 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Waiting for pictures

I will post about my New York adventures soon enough, once I have all the pictures we took compiled. Gally took some pics that are up on the net somewhere, but I don't have the link on me at the moment. But patience, you will see pictures soon.

I should point out though, that in my absence a few good articles on human-machine interaction were published on the net. By Science and Theology News.

From: S&TN (under the heading "Real Life Religion")- A cyborg explores what it means to be human

"With a cochlear implant, the biology of your ear is not running the show anymore - the software controlling the electrodes is," said Chorost, who was partially deaf since birth. "You become a creature of software, and I found that a strange and creepy thought at first."

Since the surgery, Chorost says he relishes his new designation but realizes that "cyborg" is just a reductive label - simply the acknowledgment of his computer-aided hearing. He insists he experiences the same things as other people.

Also of interest from the same issue, same section: I, robot? Ethical considerations of cyborgs

Warwick writes that in a brain with both mechanical and human parts the "epicenter of moral and ethical decision making is no longer of purely human form but rather it is of a mixed human, machine base."

Crittenden said cyborgs may provoke humanity to engage in what he calls "self-deselection" - the idea that in replacing parts of our bodies with mechanical devices we will essentially be replacing ourselves with another species. Our technologically based culture is the first step in the descent toward self-deselection, he said.
11:41 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Trust me

I'm tellin you baby you're wonderful.

From Wired: War-Zone Test for Babel-Fish Tool

But even the best computerized translation is still prone to errors. At worst, a single botched translation can spur a string of miscommunications.

"No one in the military would make life or death decisions based on a machine translation," Benjamin said. But when you have to sift through lots of information quickly, "it's an extremely effective triage device."


What do we say when we do make a life or death decision based on machine translation? Thank you?
13:07 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Another Google Post

Yes, I'm a fanatic.

From PBS's I, Cringely: Google-Mart

The same follows for the rumor that Google, as a dark fiber buyer, will turn itself into some kind of super ISP. Won't happen. And WHY it won't happen is because ISPs are lousy businesses and building one as anything more than an experiment (as they are doing in San Francisco with wireless) would only hurt Google's earnings.

So why buy-up all that fiber, then?

The probable answer lies in one of Google's underground parking garages in Mountain View. There, in a secret area off-limits even to regular GoogleFolk, is a shipping container. But it isn't just any shipping container. This shipping container is a prototype data center. Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box. We're talking about 5000 Opteron processors and 3.5 petabytes of disk storage that can be dropped-off overnight by a tractor-trailer rig. The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid.

While Google could put these containers anywhere, it makes the most sense to place them at Internet peering points, of which there are about 300 worldwide.

This is more than another Akamai or even an Akamai on steroids. This is a dynamically-driven, intelligent, thermonuclear Akamai with a dedicated back-channel and application-specific hardware.

There will be the Internet, and then there will be the Google Internet, superimposed on top. We'll use it without even knowing. The Google Internet will be faster, safer, and cheaper. With the advent of widespread GoogleBase (again a bit-schlepping app that can be used in a thousand ways -- most of them not even envisioned by Google) there's suddenly a new kind of marketplace for data with everything a transaction in the most literal sense as Google takes over the role of trusted third-party info-escrow agent for all world business. That's the goal.

Say the containers cost $500,000 each in volume and $500,000 per year to run. That's $300 million to essentially co-opt the Internet. And you know whose strategy this is? Wal-Mart's. And unless Google comes up with an ecosystem to allow their survival, that means all the other web services companies will be marginalized. There will be startups and little guys, but no medium-sized companies. ISPs, which we've thought of as a threatened species, won't be touched, but then their profit margins are so low they aren't worth touching. After all, Wal-Mart doesn't try to own the roads its goods are carried over. And the final result is that Web 2.0 IS Google.

Microsoft can't compete. Yahoo probably can't compete. Sun and IBM are like remora, along for the ride. And what does it all cost, maybe $1 billion? That's less than Microsoft spends on legal settlements each year.

Game over.
12:03 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


Thats right. Uh huh.

From WaPo: Deal Reached on Managing the Internet

TUNIS, Tunisia -- A U.N. technology summit opened Wednesday after an 11th-hour agreement that leaves the United States with ultimate oversight of the main computers that direct the Internet's flow of information, commerce and dissent.

Although Pakistan and other countries sought a takeover of that system by an international body such as the United Nations, negotiators ultimately agreed, as time ran out, to a create an open-ended international forum for raising important Internet issues. The forum, however, would have no binding authority.

The onus now lies with the developing world to bring in not just opinions, but investment to expand the Internet to their benefit, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael D. Gallagher.

David Gross, the U.S. State Department's top official on Internet policy, told reporters that despite the U.S. hand in ICANN, Internet governance was not the provenance of one specific country.

"The term ... is quite broad. It is very inclusive," he said, trying to dismiss claims that the U.S. is holding onto its position as the arbiter of the Internet.

What we need to see now is the US backing off of any appearance of control over ICANN, and ICANN itself taking measures to distance itself from US policy.

The bloggers on hand at the convention don't seem to know what to make of this news. In general they seem disappointed with the EU's handling of the situation, which began well but fizzled quickly. For instance:

It is a far cry from the inter-governmental oversight body that was proposed by the European Union in September. That proposal, which shocked the US as much as it pleased Brazil, China and Iran, pushed the previously unnoticed issue of internet governance on to the world stage and turned the topic into the main focus of the WSIS.

Just as surprising as the EU's proposal, however, has been its failure to push that model in Tunis this week. In fiery opening statements, China and the US laid down their same, strong positions, but when it came to the EU to speak, delegation head David Hendon said only that it had "looked carefully at all positions, including our own" and deferred to the chair of the committee over which direction the meeting would take.

In any case, this is happy news. And to celebrate the happiness, here's an article on the $100 laptops developed by MIT to help quash the digital divide across the world, which is really the main focus of WSIS. According to the BBC, "worldwide only 14% of the population is online, compared to 62% in the US."

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WaPo: MIT Is Crafting Cheap -- But Invaluable -- Laptops

Yes, thats a hand crank.

*** UPDATE *** - This post has been linked by Slate, which officially counts as the biggest media coverage I have thus far recieved. Let that influence your opinion on Slate accordingly. It quotes a dumb comment I made, probably while high, so I am a bit too embarassed to let this occupy a new post. However, I'd like to say that I appreciate the word 'maven', though I admit having to look it up to make sure it didn't have any feminine connotations.
10:36 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


Biological or atomic?

From Scientific American: Wait a Second

Leap seconds are needed because the earth's spin is slowing down, gradually and unevenly. The rotational changes arise because of tidal forces exerted by the moon and inertial effects related to the liquid outer core sloshing around and to the cycle of evaporation, in which water at the equator gets deposited at the poles as ice that melts seasonally.

The present system is a compromise between taking advantage of the most accurate timepieces--that is, atomic clocks--and respecting traditional timekeeping via the sun's position. To people who want to end leap seconds, Levine explains, "the really fundamental quantity is not time but frequency--and frequency comes from quantum mechanics; it is a property of atoms. And what these folks really want is for time to represent frequency in a smooth, continuous way." Levine does not speak officially for NIST, but he is the person who, on December 1, will formally alert authorities to add the leap second at the end of the month.

The existing compromise system, Levine notes, also sows confusion. For one, the leap second occurs in the middle of the day in Asia and Australia, causing a time hiccup during stock trading. For another, the more timescales there are, the easier it is for a programmer to make an error in calculations.

I like the idea of time 'hiccups' on the trading floor of a stock exchange with people rabidly screaming and waving their arms, and then everything coming to a sudden halt for a second or two, and then everything picking back up again. I find the general prospect of attempting to fit geocentric (and hence, biological) time to our more accurate and technologically advanced atomic time pieces, and that the imprecision of the fit allows for gaps and fits and jerks, like a computer slowly booting up.

I suppose the pragmatic efficiencies of switching to unified and universal time makes it the defacto forerunner in this debate, but there is something crude and exacting and mechanical in severing the concept of time from the biorhythmic process that yielded its discovery.

edit: For anyone who cares, you can read all the live blog updates on the WSIS proceedings here. I'll try to keep abreast of the details.
18:10 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Floating in the ocean

Google is just one of the key players in the current battle over centralization over the internet.

NYT: Control the Internet? A Futile Pursuit, Some Say

"Everyone seems to think that the D.N.S. system is a big deal, but it's not the heartbeat of the Internet," said Leonard Kleinrock, a computer scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who did pioneering research in data packet switching, the fundamental technique underlying networks. "Who controls the flow of the ocean? Nobody controls it, and it works just fine. There are some things that can't be controlled and should be left distributed."

Icann was created at the Clinton administration's behest as a private-public alliance to oversee Internet addresses. Although Icann says it is advised by more than 80 nations and has had citizens of many countries on its board, it operates under a memorandum of understanding with the Commerce Department.

Icann was founded with the intent of becoming an independent or "denationalized" group. But in June, the Bush administration backed away from that plan, saying in a "statement of principles" issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that the United States had the right to maintain oversight of Icann indefinitely.

"The idea of taking over Icann is a nonstarter," said Robert Kahn, who as a Pentagon executive oversaw the financing of the original Arpanet and was later responsible, with Vinton G. Cerf, for the design of the Internet's crucial software framework, known as TCP/IP. "There is nothing in there to control, and there are huge issues that the governments of the world really do need to work on."

Unlike centralized networks with a single point of failure and control, the Internet was designed to suffer damage and continue to function. That same quality makes it exceedingly difficult to control or filter.

"The idea of Internet control is an oxymoron," said Robert Taylor, who as a director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Pentagon during the 1960's initiated the development of the Arpanet.

Having written about the idea of using computers for communications during the 1960's, Mr. Taylor rejected the idea of basing the network on a centralized computer and instead adopted a proposal put forward by an electrical engineer, Wesley A. Clark, to build a network with no center point of control.

"I didn't trust big centralized organizations," he recalled.

Now he suspects that part of the political conflict is about the vast wealth that has been created by the Internet. "I suspect there is a belief there is money to be made," he said.
13:33 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

The Freedom of Information

Google is in the news a lot lately. They just opened their Analytics service, The Google Story goes on sale tomorrow, their resident Evangelist has been appearing before congress, and the NYT published this article:

NYT: If Books Are on Google, Who Gains and Who Loses?

But the categories are all wrong. Organized information - information given shape and meaning - is never really free. And the virtues of "open source" software are not simply that it avoids corporate ownership. The operating system Linux, for example, has succeeded not just because varied individuals are freely contributing to its evolution, but also because companies are supporting it, and panels of overseers and a strict organizational procedure govern its specialized licenses.

Technology also keeps unsettling the categories. Some new forms of control will be needed to prevent unrestricted copying, but technological innovation will undermine attempts to apply too much control. Some flexibility is needed to prevent the stifling of communication and commerce, but technological innovation will foil those who believe it should not exist at all. This doesn't make things easy; it makes them unpredictable.

The internet is clearly evolving, and Google is its brain.
10:50 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Neutral thoughts

A few more thoughts about internet neutrality. This issue, which is undoubtedly raging through the blogosphere right now (of course cleverly instigated by Google's own propaganda machine), is perhaps the biggest one facing the shape of the internet today, and our own social communications more generally. How these issues are decided will determine the future of the online world.

One of the things that set the debate off recently was SBC CEO Ed Whitacre's remarks about Google 'using thier pipes for free' in a recent interview:

How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google (GOOG ), MSN, Vonage, and others?

How do you think they're going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! (YHOO ) or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

To anyone who uses the internet with any regularity, this statement feels horribly backwards and ignorant to the point of being dangerous. First off, Google pays its bandwidth bills, as do every user of SBC's services. Everything going through SBC's pipes has been paid for. What he is complaining about, however, is that Google's services are only possible through the network infrastructure that SBC have invested a lot of money in.

Its as if SBC built a bridge connecting Google on the one side, and its users on the other, and tolls each as they cross. But then it realizes that the bridge it built is the only way customers can go back and forth to Google, and Google keeps making lots of money on SBC's initial investment- so SBC decides to charge Google again for each customer it serves.

Now, if just SBC were of this mindset it wouldn't be a huge problem: users would stop using SBC's pipes, and SBC would suffer because of it. You can't limit Google from your users without expecting some backlash. But this is just the iceberg in a general attack on internet neutrality across the board.

From ars technica: Monitoring traffic to nickel and dime you

I've seen the future, and it's a tad bit scary. Here's what in the works: networking analysis technology that "knows" what kind of content is being passed on a network, and can act appropriately. Perhaps it will block the traffic. Or, maybe you'll be charged for it. The future, in some places, is now.

Could it happen in the US? Yes and no. The US already has laws on the books that would make it illegal for a carrier to block traffic from a competitor, but don't worry, Narus' president of marketing Jay Thomas has it all figured out. Prepare to be incensed.

"But there's nothing that keeps a carrier in the United States from introducing jitter, so the quality of the conversation isn't good," Thomas says. "So the user will either pay for the carrier's voice-over-Internet application, which brings revenue to the carrier, or pay the carrier for a premium service that allows Skype use to continue. You can deteriorate the service, introduce latency [audible delays in hearing the other end of the line], and also offer a premium to improve it."

These attempts to centralize control over the internet are exactly what Vint Cerf was arguing against in the House Commerce and Energy hearings. The fact of the matter is that keeping internet neutrality is beneficial to both the consumer and the businesses, provided that their business model is geared towards a neutral internet, as Google's is; and Google is fighting for regulation to maintain that neutrality. It just so happens that Google's interests coincide with our own, but thats not merely a happy coincidence- Google's entire business model rests on its users and contributors for content and information. Google needs us as much as we need it. But the older, more established telecom companies, like SBC, who have a top-down model of their consumers, sees neutrality as a threat to their centralized control over the internet, and it is a threat being launched on the infrastructure that they built.

Any way you slice it, it doesn't look like it will be a nice, neat battle. And there is a lot at stake. Hopefully this starts to get more media coverage in the near future.

For more information, ars technica linked to a paper (PDF) by Barbara van Schewick that is worth reading.
10:44 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Internet neutrality

Vint Cerf gave a letter to congress about the impending telecommunications bill. Read the full letter at Google Blog.

The remarkable social impact and economic success of the Internet is in many ways directly attributable to the architectural characteristics that were part of its design. The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control. By placing intelligence at the edges rather than control in the middle of the network, the Internet has created a platform for innovation. This has led to an explosion of offerings - from VOIP to 802.11x wi-fi to blogging - that might never have evolved had central control of the network been required by design.

My fear is that, as written, this bill would do great damage to the Internet as we know it. Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity. Allowing broadband providers to segment their IP offerings and reserve huge amounts of bandwidth for their own services will not give consumers the broadband Internet our country and economy need. Many people will have little or no choice among broadband operators for the foreseeable future, implying that such operators will have the power to exercise a great deal of control over any applications placed on the network.

As we move to a broadband environment and eliminate century-old non-discrimination requirements, a lightweight but enforceable neutrality rule is needed to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive. Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online.

Centralizing control over the internet would be one of the most distructive acts to our social network, including our freedom of speech and expression, and our freedom of assembly, that the government could pass.
22:43 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


Our interconnections are almost wholly inorganic and entirely technological now. We do not touch, but we still converse. Interestingly, this conversation does not take the form of words and symbols, but in terms of images and sounds and colors and movement and icons that have inclusive meaning. Personal meaning. That doesn't imply the meanings of our interactions aren't public- they obviously are. But we have let these cultural icons penetrate into our very core identity.

This isn't anything new, of course. What is new is that this identity is constituted not by our biological humanity but by our technological interconnections.

The Guardian: Growing up with the wired generation

But the effects of technological advancement are unavoidable. Three out of four children have access to the internet via a computer at home. One in three children who use the internet makes friends online. Children in the UK aged between 10 and 19 own approximately 7.5m mobile phones, on which they send many of the 89m text messages written daily. And one pound in every 10 of disposable income was spent by teenagers on mobile products and services this year.

It is an astonishing level of penetration. The mobile phone, especially, has become an integral part of a young adult's everyday life. Ringtones are a badge of identity as much as the clothes you wear; text and picture messaging is the way to spread the word. A phone in your pocket is not only reassuring but commands respect. Graham Brown, chief executive of DhaliwalBrown, which runs Wireless World Forum (W2F) and mobileYouth, says: "Mobile music is a tool for timeless psychological needs - the need to belong through peer group reinforcement and the need to be significant, through status." Knowledge is power

For the new MTV generation, the mobile is also one of many sources of information. And knowledge is power. What to wear, what to listen to and where to go: modern technology provides the answers.

"Word of mouth as a source of information has always been trusted, especially by younger generations," says the report. "The speed of the internet means that websites can provide information quicker, and its size means that a far greater pool of talent can potentially be accessed in a single sitting. Its information is trusted more because it is perceived to resemble word of mouth... This is why viral marketing campaigns work so well."
13:01 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

iRobot enters the public space of reasons

AKA the market

From The Boston Globe: Test for iRobot

n a rare public stock sale by a robot maker, iRobot issued 5 million shares for $24 per share yesterday, raising $120 million for the company. IRobot will begin trading on the Nasdaq exchange this morning under the symbol IRBT.

IRobot's initial public offering will be a test of whether robotics, a field that long has drawn public fascination but Wall Street skepticism, is finally ready to emerge as a business sector worth investing in. The company's public launch will also measure the health of the nation's IPO market, largely frozen since 2001, which has been slowly thawing the past two years. The ability to take a company public is critical to entrepreneurs and their backers.

I have faith in the American consumer to take advantage of our robot brethren. iRobot has a particular kind of quaint charm (that of course comes right out of Brook's own academic work on AI), but I'm not as sure that the company will take robotics outside of the 'charmingly useful' arena and into the 'essential social infrastructure' level.
16:11 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Google simmers

From WaPo: My Dinner With Google

"Every night I would rummage around my kitchen for something to eat and then go in the back room to look through cookbooks," said Hourihan, the former Massachusetts software engineer who is considered the pioneer of Google cooking. "Then I thought, 'Why am I looking through cookbooks when I can just sit at my computer and Google it?' "

"It's good when you don't have a clear idea of what to make with an odd combination of ingredients," said Hourihan, 60, who Google cooks at least once a week. "You take your chances, but it really pays off. I have never put in a combination that I did not find a recipe for."

And therein lies the appeal of Google cooking: It helps you build a meal from bottom up (vs. recipe down), while also purging your kitchen of languishing edibles, aging produce and meats, or overstocked perishables (i.e., that crate of pineapples bought impulsively during a Hawaiian vacation).

"It's good for helping those lacking creativity or for spur-of-the-moment cooking," said Charlie Ayers, former Google company chef. "It can also clear out the dead inventory or clean out the refrigerator."

Do I need to put questions here for you to get the point?
11:40 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Tag team back again

Party on, party people

From Wired: Cars Chat and Park Themselves

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Toyota displayed some of the most impressive demonstrations at the show, including its Intelligent Parking Assist, currently available in Japan and Europe. Toyota officials said these add-ons will likely be released in the United States in 2006.

When the driver moves into position to begin parallel parking and puts the car in reverse, a rear view comes up on the Prius' standard dashboard screen, displaying the available spot. The screen also uses the painted parking lines as guidelines and draws its own lines over them on the display -- similar to how television sports commentators draw on top of an image.

When the driver clicks on the screen to let the Prius take over the parallel parking, the wheel moves on its own. The driver uses only the brake pedal to control speed. The whole operation takes just several seconds.

The system will "take (away) the fear of parallel parking for new drivers," said Allan Pett, another Toyota engineer.

Another technology, which may take a few more years to fully deploy, is vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Using the upcoming 802.11p wireless standard, General Motors equipped two cars with wireless transponders that broadcast various pieces of information such as speed and braking status to nearby cars. When one car brakes in front of another, even one down the road and out of sight, a small icon on the dashboard of the trailing vehicle indicates a stopped automobile up ahead.
11:20 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

You must acquit

20:10 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Please help me

From Seattle PI: Amazon creates artificial artificial intelligence

Amazon.com has launched a new program called Amazon Mechanical Turk, through which a computer can ask humans to perform tasks that it can't do itself.

"Today, we build complex software applications based on the things computers do well, such as storing and retrieving large amounts of information or rapidly performing calculations," the company said. "However, humans still significantly outperform the most powerful computers at completing such simple tasks as identifying objects in photographs -- something children can do even before they learn to speak.
10:21 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

I popped my cherry

Yep. I was put on probation for the first time in my almost 4 years at SA, in a thread entitled "Philosophy: whats left?". This picture sums up the situation nicely (thanks, ReindeerF).

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

So no more posting for the next 68 hours. Whoopee.

Also, for the record, thanks Zwichenzug, I finally installed the code, and it seems to work fine. I thought about putting in trackbacks but I realized no one reads my blog anyway. But that wont prevent me from cleaning it up for myself. Next project: labels to file posts under.
22:50 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Google sees

and it knows what it sees.

Play this game: Guess the Google.

The interesting thing is how easy this is. The answers are usually obvious, by looking at the pictures.

But Google lacks common sense, right? Right? Guys?

edit: Oh, if you think I am fanatical about Google, take a look at this guy. And he works for Microsoft.
17:25 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Ninni Niddi Niche

We interrupt your normally scheduled programming for this breaking news

From Nature: Evolutionary theory: Personal effects (may need uni proxy)

In the Negev Desert of Israel, small organisms can have a big impact. Take the cyanobacteria that live in the soil. Some species secrete sugary substances that form a crust of sand and soil, protecting the bacterial colonies from the effects of erosion. When the rains come, the crusty patches divert water into pools in which wind-borne seeds can germinate. These plants in turn make the soil more hospitable for other plants. Thanks in part to these bacteria, patches of vegetation can be found where they might not otherwise exist. The action of the bacteria, together with local climate change, could lead to the greening of large parts of the desert.

The Negev cyanobacteria, and organisms like them, are also having an impact on evolutionary biologists these days. Examples of creatures altering their environment abound - from beavers that dam streams and earthworms that enrich the soil to humans who irrigate deserts. But too little attention has been given to the consequences of this, say advocates of niche construction. This emerging view in biology stresses that organisms not only adapt to their environments, but also in part create them. The knock-on effects of this interplay between organism and environment, say niche constructivists, have generally been neglected in evolutionary models. Despite pointed criticism from some prominent biologists, niche construction has been winning converts.

"What we're saying is not only novel, but also slightly disturbing," says Kevin Laland, an evolutionary biologist at the University of St Andrews in Fife, UK, and one of the authors of the idea. "If we're right, it requires rethinking evolution."

The conventional view of evolution sees natural selection as shaping organisms to fit their environment. Niche construction, by contrast, accords the organism a much stronger role in generating a fit by recognizing the innumerable ways in which living things alter their world to suit their needs. From this perspective, the road between organism and environment is very much a two-way street.

Finally, the scientists are catching up to me.

Discussion questions:

1) Can the distinction between organism and environment be maintained on the niche constructivist view?

2) Notice that machines are clearly examples of niche construction on this view. In this sense, the article agrees with Arendt, in that machines are not merely instrumental: they constitute the furniture of the world, which we have constructed. However, Arendt maintains that machines are not just furniture of the world, but actors (laborers) in their own right. This gives a somewhat different reason to deny my claim that machines can participate in human activities. On the other hand, the complexity of interaction between organism and environment, and the quality of feedback between the two, seems to make this less problematic, or at least raises the question: does the environment participate in our activities, on the niche constructionist view?

3) Don't you hate it when people pronounce 'niche' in the way the title of this post suggests?
13:49 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Arendt VIII

One more after this

One thing is certain: the continuous automatic process of manufacturing has not only done away with the "unwarranted assumption" that "human hands guided by human brains represent the optimum efficiency," but with the much more important assumption that the things of the world around us should depend upon human design and be built in accordance with human standards of either utility or beauty. In place of both utility and beauty, which are standards of the world, we have come to design products that still fulfill certain "basic functions," but whose shape will be primarily determined by the operation of the machine. The "basic functions" are of course the function of the animal's life process, since no other function is basically necessary, but the product itself- not only its variations but even the "total change to a new product"- will depend entirely upon the capacity of the machine.

To design objects for the operational capacity of the machine instead of designing machines for the production of certain objects would indeed be the exact reversal of the means-ends category, if this category still made any sense. But even the most general end, the release of manpower, that was usually assigned to machines, is now thought to be a secondary and obsolete aim, inadequate to and limiting potential "startling increases in efficiency." As matters stand today, it has become as senseless to describe the world of machines in terms of means and ends as it has always been senseless to ask nature if she produced the seed to produce the tree or the tree to produce the seed. By the same token, it is quite probably that the continuous process pursuant to the channeling of nature's never-ending process into the human world, though it may very well destroy the world qua world as human artifice, will as reliably and limitlessly provide the species man-kind with the necessities of life as nature herself did before men erected their artificial home on earth and set up a barrier between themselves and nature.
09:50 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Arendt VII

Almost done

The discussion of the whole problem of technology, that is, of the transformation of life and world through the introduction of the machine, has been strangely led astray through an all-too-inclusive concentration upon the serviceor disservice the machines render to men. The assumption here is that every tool and implement is primarily designed to make human life easier and human labor less painful. Their instrumentality is understood exclusively in this anthropocentric sense. But the instrumentality of tools and implements is much more closely related to the objects it is designed to produce, and their sheer "human value" is restricted to the use the animal laborans makes of them. In other words, homo faber, the toolmaker, invented tools and implements in order to erect a world, not- at least, not primarily- to help the human life process. The question therefore is not so much whether we are the masters or the slaves of our machines, but whether machines still serve the world and its things, or if, on the contrary, they and the automatic motion of their processes have begun to rule and even destroy world and things.
12:36 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Arendt VI


The channeling of natural forces into the human world has shattered the very purposefulness of the world, the fact that objects are the ends for which tools and implements are designed. It is characteristic of all natural processes that they come into being without the help of man, and those things are natural which are not "made" but grow by themselves into whatever they become. (This is also the authentic meaning of our word "nature", whether we derive it from its latin root nasci, to be born, or trace it back to its Greek origin, physis, which comes from phyein, to grow out of, to appear by itself.) Unlike the products of human hands, which must be realized step by step and for which the fabrication process is entirely distinct from the existence of the fabricated thing itself, the natural thing's existence is not separate but is somehow identical with the process through which it comes into being: the seed contains, and, in a certain sense, already is the tree, and the tree stops being if the process of growth through which it came into existence stops. If we see these processes against the background of human purposes, which have a willed beginning and a definite end, they assume the character of automatism. We call automatic all courses of movement which are self-moving and therefore outside the range of wilful and purposeful interference. In the mode of production ushered in by automation, the distinction between operation and product, as well as the product's precedence over the operation (which is only the means to produce the end), no longer make sense and have become obsolete. The categories of homo faber and his world apply here no more than they ever could apply to nature and the natural universe. This is, incidentally, why modern advocates of automation usually take a very determined stand against the mechanistic view of nature and against the practical utilitarianism of the eighteenth century, which were so eminently characteristic of the one-sided, single minded work orientation of homo faber.
09:59 :: :: eripsa :: permalink