Thursday, 25 December 2003

Where's Beagle 2?

Still no news from Beagle 2. Hope not yet lost, Jodrell Banks listening tonight, then Mars Express tomorrow. But then that's just about it....

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Wednesday, 24 December 2003

Christmas Eve - The Condition of Muzak

It's late on Christmas Eve. I have a tradition for this time. Every year, for probably nearly two decades on Christmas Eve I've read Chapter 10 - The Mirror; or, Harlequin Everywhere, from Michael Moorcock's The Condition of Muzak, the fourth of the Jerry Cornelius Quartet.

Set on Christmas Eve in a Steampunk (which it predates) 1890s, which may be 1990 or even 2090, it follows Harlequin from the roof of Derry and Toms on Kensington High Street, up Church St to Ladbroke Grove and a huge house party where every charcater from English folklore and panto, including another Harlequin, is present - and the whole cast of the book - is present. Harlequin sneaks in to find Columbine, and finding her awakens her with a kiss. Harlequin is Una Persson, Columbine Catherine Cornelius and the other Harlequin Jerry Cornelius.

It is just so evocative of that ghost of Christmas past - or yet to come?

"Merry Christmas, my own, dear Columbine"

"For in you now all virtues do combine -
Sad Pierrot, brave Harlequin and lovely Columbine"

All in all, thought Jerry, it was going to be a very successful season.

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Saturday, 20 December 2003

Sony's Qrio

Sony has a successor to Asimo out. Qrio. Qrio's main feature is its motion flexibility, being able to run, recover from a fall, dance etc. It also has face recognition, voice recognition, dialogue (eat your heart out Halo), emotional signalling (by colour of "eyes"), five fingered hands, WiFi ( or something better), and stands only 58cm high. Qrio is also known as the SDR-4X II. The movies on the web site are worth watching, and its fluidity of movement is un-nerving. Give is a pseudo-skin like covering and you've got a baby android.

Qrio with George Lucas.

Some choice snippets from interviews on the site:

Toshitada Doi - President Sony Intelligent Dynamics Research Institute

"Take QRIO as an example. We suggested the idea of an "eight year-old space life form" to the designer -- we didn't want to make it too similar to a human. In the background, as well, lay an idea passed down from the man whose work forms the foundation of the Japanese robot industry, Masahiro Mori: "the valley of eeriness". If your design is too close to human form, at a certain point it becomes just too . . . uncanny. So, while we created QRIO in a human image, we also wanted to give it little bit of a "spaceman" feel."

"In thirty years I think the personal robot industry will be bigger than the personal computer industry. We need to do more research, however, into movement but also into intelligence. So far we've called it "artificial intelligence", but I'd like to see a new research field branch off from that called "intelligent dynamics". This would merge research into both intellectual and physical knowledge. We also need to do more research that scientifically analyzes how information is processed in the brain."

Satoshi Amagani - President Sony Entertainment Robot Company

"We want to create something that's fun to be with, can be of help at times, even something that one can talk to when one is lonely. While packing it with Sony's entertainment assets like music and games, we also want to fill it with the latest technology. So while it's being promoted just as an entertainment device, it's also a very convenient, smart, handy robot to have around. For instance, QRIO can connect to the net, so to a certain extent it's an "internet robot". In the 21st century, the issue of how to gather information from a network has become very important. You can speak to QRIO and ask the time, what your schedule is today, exchange information, communicate -- so in addition to the entertainment role, I think it should be helpful in a variety of ways."

"We're currently determining how, and to what extent, we should offer it as a product, because as soon as robots become bipedal the demand from people skyrockets. We have to consider everything from safety to price point. However, I believe this robot will make the dreams of many people come true -- "bringing dreams to people", as it were. In that way QRIO is a very typical SONY product. At the moment it is the only one of its kind, so I also think it can fill the role of "image leader" for SONY."

Masahiro Fujita - Research Director Sony IDRI

"AIBO is a robot pet, while QRIO was modeled on a person -- and moreover, is able to move smoothly walking on two legs. So naturally, it inspires expectations in those who see it that correspond to its ability to move and walk on two legs. For that reason we had to achieve a much higher level of intelligence than we did with AIBO. We gave it a much better understanding of its surroundings, by incorporating stereovision in its video processing system and seven microphones in its audio processing system. As well, QRIO has the ability to engage in dialogue -- a quintessential human ability. Speech dialogue technology still faces many difficulties, but with QRIO we've made great progress. First, it has the important ability to distinguish between people, recognize voices and remember them. We did a great deal of experimentation regarding its conversation ability, much of it focused on how best to make use of its memories. Technology may not quite have advanced far enough for real conversation, but QRIO can make very entertaining dialogue. And furthermore, we developed an autonomous movement architecture to incorporate all of these capabilities that is capable of more complicated movements than AIBO is, able for example to restart a movement that had been involuntarily stopped in progress."

"What we expected of AIBO was for it to take on the role of a pet. QRIO, on the other hand, might exist at the level of a child. The objective is a partner for human beings. We want it to become a friend, a member of the family. One of my goals is to create a robot that can share human experiences. We might be moving too far into the future, but a robot that would go out with its owner, see the same things, have the same experiences a person would, evaluate them with some inbuilt system, have fun, be sad, and then talk about it all with a human being. Wouldn't it be something if we could build a robot like that?"

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Guardian Best of British Blog Awards

Read the Guardian Best of British Blog Awards.

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Friday, 19 December 2003

Beagle 2 Separation

Good to see Beagle 2 separated successfully from Mars Express. Visit the mission home page or read the coverage. There's a good animation of the separation and landing on the mission site. The UK will soon be on Mars - hurray!

Simulation of Beagle separation.

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NASA Needs New Vision, No Agreement on Specifics reports the results of an Aviation Week and Space Technology symposium to celebrate 100 years of manned flight. "NASA Needs New Vision, No Agreement on Specifics" suggests that the two most likely options are Mars and/or a return to the moon. Bush didn't announce anything at Kitty Hawk, so maybe we have to wait a few more months for the big announcement.

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Tuesday, 16 December 2003

Halo's first real chat

Just noticed the following from Halo's log for yesterday:

halo: Hello
user: Good evening
halo: Sorry, I didn't understand. What is your name?
user: John. How are you?
halo: Like, Hello John. How are you?
user: Doing great. How about you?
halo: I don't know how. Where do you live?
user: Colorado, land of open spaces
halo: Do you like Colorado, land of open spaces. Where did you hear about me?
user: Yes, I do. Here and there
halo: OK. What do you look like?
user: Tall, dark, and handsome
halo: Do you have a photo. Are you male or female?
user: Yes, male
halo: A man huh
user: Yes, does that please you?
halo: I don't know.. What do you like to do?
user: Ski, golf, and fish
halo: Where do you go to do that?
user: The Colorado Rockies!
halo: Really?
user: Yes
halo: Like, What are you wearing?
user: Nothing
halo: What! Aren't you cold?
user: No
halo: Why do you say that?
user: [logged off]

Not bad!

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Monday, 15 December 2003

Future Quotes

"The future is here, it's just not well-distributed yet."
- William Gibson

"History is not a spectator sport."
- The Mars Society

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Sunday, 14 December 2003

Gizmodo Gadget Weblog

Gizmodo is a cracking web log on electronic gadgets of all kinds.

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Good weekend - building my

Good weekend - building my Personal Brain and now at the pool with my girls after a good swim, and they're tucking into pizza chips. Will they live in a post-human future? Will I be in their post-human future? We're the first generation for whom that may be possible. Discuss?

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Saturday, 13 December 2003


Had a quick hunt on the web as promised for some good connection mapping software. Lots of simple mind mapping stuff, but that usually only lets you radiate out. But The Brain Technologies Corporation's Personal Brain is superb. In fact I think its the same software as on the Kurzweil site. I've put a picture of "my" current simple brain above, and will grow it over time. Now if only I can work out how to get it a) on the web, b) my Bookmarks database, c) the Halo chatbot, and d) my blog.

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Friday, 12 December 2003

UK Transhumanism

Extrobritannia is the main blog.

British Transhumanist Association runs a mail list.

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Singularities Everywhere

From Better Humans..

Singularity Action Group

Aiming to promote a technological singularity for the good of mankind through public education and direct action in the development of technology, the Singularity Action Group focuses on projects that span everything from seed artificial intelligence to science fiction.

Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

An organization cofounded by Singularity expert Eliezer Yudkowsky, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence undertakes activism and research with the goal of hastening the Singularity's human benefits and safeguarding its integrity.

Singularity Watch

Striving to improve human interdependence and ethics as we approach the event horizon, Singularity Watch provides information and undertakes activities related to understanding, planning for and investing in the Singularity.

and of course the Immortality Institute, and World Transhumanist Association (they have an excellent FAQ).

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Return to the Moon (and Mars) is full of rumours that Bush might announce a return to the moon. Even if he doesn't they list the various robotic trips being planned by Europe, Japan, China etc. There's also some good stuff on robot aircraft (like the Mars ARES above), and the latest SpaceshipOne test flight. And it's only 1 week to go to Beagle 2 separation.

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Alternate Reality Gaming

G2 had an excellent article on Alternate Reality Gaming. It's the genre that the Nokia Game fits in, trails of clues spread across the web and the media. Apparently they started off as fan adjuncts to films etc (the first being AI). But just as viral marketing has commercialised informal viral communications, so ARG has been picked up and used to market movies, games and other "events". There are now even commercial "paid for" games - shades of Michael Douglas' The Game.

A good intro site is They have a brilliant Gamers Handbook that has guides to all sorts of codes and techniques (which very useful on Nokia Game). There's even a Puppetmasters Guide to show you how to set up your own game!

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Nokia Game

Wrote the following article for the Guardian but doesn't look like they've taken it. ( see next story for why ).

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SETI@Home 1000hrs

My SETI@Home screensaver clocked up 1000 hours this week. No sign of ET yet....

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Tuesday, 9 December 2003

The Singularity

Looks like The Singularity is one of the key post-Human issues. Are we heading for a step change? Jamais Cascio talks about it being a wall, a surge or a deus ex machina arrival. Vernor Vinge talks about Intelligence Amplification (IA), rather than AI as the more attainable way to the future. We'll see.

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Kurzweil's Brain

There's a great app called The Brain on It shows a linked map of keywords that you can use to navigate through topics in articles on the Kurzweil site. There was a similar thing at the Millenium Dome and there's a French search engine with something similar. I used to have a huge sheet of paper on my wall where I mapped linked influences. I've recently thought about creating a web equivalent - would be good to link to the blog. I'll have to hunt the web to see if someone's done one already.

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Post Human Sources

Just found by Jamais Cascio. Nice site and just happens the guys written a couple of the Transhuman GURPS books.

There's a good looking new book out by Susan Greenfield - the media's favourite brain scientist - Tomorrow's World - how 21st-century technology is changing the way we think and feel. That's on my Christmas list.

Somebody's also got a Post-Human list on Amazon.

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Red Mars

Finally finished Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Like any book over 400 pages it was too long and could have done with some editing. The early part of the book dealing with the first 100 settlers to the first jump forward is OK. But then things move far too fast, too many people, too much construction, too much agro with Earth. From a 2020 first landing (OK), to a 2027 first colony (OK), they have a beanstalk up by 2057, and down again by 2062, and then blow Phobos away in the same year. I'll leave it a month or two til I read the next one.

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UN warns of population surge

OK don't get this. BBC reports that the UN warns of a population surge. A recent UN report says that they expect the population of Earth to reach 9 billion in 300 years time. 300 years! By then we'll be across the solar system and probably across the stars. And we'll probbaly be post-human anyway. Seems a very pointless exercise. More interestingly they say that if fertility rates were to stay at current levels (rather than reducing to 2 children per female) then the population would be 134 trillion(!) in 30 years.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2003

Pentagon Explores Using Segways in Battle

OK, I've heard it all now, according to a article Pentagon Explores Using Segways in Battle. It should be added that this is for robotic vehicles not personnel transport. The Segway has a very tight turning circle, and its ability to support a high centreof balance makes it a better sensor platform than smaller 4 wheeled devices. What next, a Segway on Mars?

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Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Please wait while the train reboots...

OK, I've heard it all now. Went down to London this morning on one of Virgins new Pendolino trains (the best feature of which is powerpoints for your laptop). When we arrived at Milton Keynes we were told that the train would be delayed a few minutes there because the driver had to restart the computer due to a problem. Sure enough all power and systems in the train went off, it was eerily silent for 30 seconds, then gradually everything started switching on again.

Just be thankful they don't have to reboot aircraft....

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