DARPA spends $150mil recreate universally hated Microsoft talking paper clip

Two years since its demise, the spectre of Microsoft’s animated paperclip, Clippy, still haunts anyone hoping to develop a virtual assistant to help people get things done. Few have tried to push virtual assistants to the public since.
But Clippy’s unpopularity hasn’t deterred the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from spending an estimated $150 million on its own virtual helper.
And although intended to ease the US military’s bureaucratic load, an artificially intelligent helper based on the project is heading the way of consumers later this year.
Begun in 2003 the CALO, for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, project involved over 60 universities and research organisations and is the largest ever non-classified AI project. It ends this Friday and has produced a virtual assistant that can sort, prioritise, and summarise email; automatically schedule meetings; and prepare briefing notes before them.

New Scientist: Talking paperclip inspires less irksome virtual assistant
(via Matthew Godwin

More mutant history: The Argonaut Folly and more

I’ve been updating my timeline of mutants in popular culture, and have just discovered a wealth of information thanks to the independent scholarship of Josh Glenn, who is particularly focused on pre-Golden Age science fiction.
Of particular interest:
The Argonaut Folly. “It’s a fantasy about not just working, but living in close company with one’s most talented peers. Nietzsche wanted to do so; so did D.H. Lawrence and Andre Breton. I call it the Argonaut Folly because the Argonauts were the original band of talented individuals who together were able to accomplish great things, but whose very superiority (in my reading) rendered them misfits and losers among ordinary mortals.”
Superman, Homo Superior, Accelerated Evolution – Glenn’s history of mutants. Lots of material I’ve missed.

Researchers rapidly turn E. coli into biotech factories

High-throughput sequencing has turned biologists into voracious genome readers, enabling them to scan millions of DNA letters, or bases, per hour. When revising a genome, however, they struggle, suffering from serious writer’s block, exacerbated by outdated cell programming technology. Labs get bogged down with particular DNA sentences, tinkering at times with subsections of a single gene ad nauseam before moving along to the next one.
A team has finally overcome this obstacle by developing a new cell programming method called Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering (MAGE). Published online in Nature on July 26, the platform promises to give biotechnology, in particular synthetic biology, a powerful boost.
Led by a pair of researchers in the lab of Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics George Church, the team rapidly refined the design of a bacterium by editing multiple genes in parallel instead of targeting one gene at a time. They transformed self-serving E. coli cells into efficient factories that produce a desired compound, accomplishing in just three days a feat that would take most biotech companies months or years.

PhysOrg: Researchers rapidly turn bacteria into biotech factories
(Thanks Nova)

Craig's List Portland: Who wants to manage a Fairy Store?

This post, formerly found here, has been removed. But it’s a classic Portland job ad so I’m reproducing it here for posterity:

Successful entrepreneur is wanting to start a new concept in Portland.
I am looking for the one special person that I can count on to manage a store in happening Northeast Portland specializing in Fairies! We will have all things related to Fairies and perhaps even elementals.
The right person will:
Have retail management experience
Be mature
Have a successful background in retail
Be able to prove volunteer or community service work.
Be able to handle stress and boredom.
Believe in Fairies
Be able to work any days/hours.
Be able to lift 50 pounds.
Be knowledgeable in MS Office applications.
Have a fantastic personality.
Believe in the Secret.
Have a relaxed professional appearance.
Operate the store as their own without direct guidance from me.
The right person will not:
Have visible body modifications.
Have emotional baggage.
Need time off to go to Burning Man.
Depend on this opportunity to survive.
Use any drugs.
IF interested please:
Respond with a Resume
Tell me what “The Secret” means to you.
Tell me why you would make the perfect manager.
Tell me what you need or expect for a salary.

A Media History of Gray Aliens

man of year one million
Above is a illustration from the December 23, 1893 edition of the Ottawa Journal‘s reprint of HG Wells’s article ” The Man of the Year Million.” It may be the first visual representation of the famous “Greys.” The first description, however, may belong to Kenneth Folingsby, who wrote about a race of evolved beings in Meda: A Tale of the Future.
Iron Skeptic: A Media History of Gray Aliens
This makes an excellent companion to my Evolution of the Mutant in Popular Culture.
I will echo the comment from the bottom of that page that points out that there were many other representations of aliens in popular culture. The Grey-esque images the author links to sound relatively obscure compared to other portrayals by the time Grey sitings became popular.
A few questions:
1. Are there any older portrayals of “Grey-esque” creatures – in, for example, ancient tribal art?
2. When did accounts of Greys become particularly popular?
3. What is the likelihood that the earliest reporters of Greys had seen stuff like Amazing Tales covers?
FWIW, I like Douglas Rushkoff’s hypothesis from Playing the Future: the archetypal image of the Greys comes from the human fetus, and both their appearance and alien abduction phenomena correlate with the increased public debate over abortion.

Fixing tax loop holes for the rich

A (relatively) short article on fixing tax loop holes for the rich by Republican (!) investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, author of Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch:

Quit Cooking the Books
Make the Superrich Pay Their Share
End Legal Tax Cheating
Invade the Caymans
Wean Wal-Mart (and the Yankees)
Cut Off the Utility Scam
Ground the Private Jet Exemption
Demolish the Mansion Deduction
Defang the Loan Sharks
Save Our Savings
Protect Pensions
End the Burglar-Alarm Subsidy
Stop Indenturing Students
Drag the irs Into the 21st Century

Mother Jones: Fiscal Therapy

'Bacterial Computers': Genetically Engineered Bacteria Have Potential To Solve Complicated Mathematical Problems

US researchers have created ‘bacterial computers’ with the potential to solve complicated mathematics problems. The findings of the research demonstrate that computing in living cells is feasible, opening the door to a number of applications. The second-generation bacterial computers illustrate the feasibility of extending the approach to other computationally challenging math problems. […]
The Hamiltonian Path Problem asks whether there is a route in a network from a beginning node to an ending node, visiting each node exactly once. The student and faculty researchers modified the genetic circuitry of the bacteria to enable them to find a Hamiltonian path in a three-node graph. Bacteria that successfully solved the problem reported their success by fluorescing both red and green, resulting in yellow colonies.

Science Daily: ‘Bacterial Computers’: Genetically Engineered Bacteria Have Potential To Solve Complicated Mathematical Problems
(via OVO)

GNU: Why the Pirate Party platform is bad for open source

Richard Stallman explains why the Swedish Pirate Party platform is bad for open source, and what to do about it:

How would the Swedish Pirate Party’s platform affect copylefted free software? After five years, its source code would go into the public domain, and proprietary software developers would be able to include it in their programs. But what about the reverse case?
Proprietary software is restricted by EULAs, not just by copyright, and the users don’t have the source code. Even if copyright permits noncommercial sharing, the EULA may forbid it. In addition, the users, not having the source code, do not control what the program does when they run it. To run such a program is to surrender your freedom and give the developer control over you.
So what would be the effect of terminating this program’s copyright after 5 years? This would not require the developer to release source code, and presumably most will never do so. Users, still denied the source code, would still be unable to use the program in freedom. The program could even have a “time bomb” in it to make it stop working after 5 years, in which case the “public domain” copies would not run at all.

Richard Stallman: How the Swedish Pirate Party Platform Backfires on Free Software