Tagtechnology

Where Do Companies Get Ideas for New Robots? They Look at Areas with Lots of Manual Labor

Cup of Robots

Julia Kirby writes:

I heard about other applications — the use of robots to inspect sewers for damage, to automate warehouse operations, to harvest crops in fields. The list goes on. In response to one would-be entrepreneur’s question, “How do you come up with a good idea to turn into a business?” a panel of CEOs had no end of answers.

Charles Grinnell, who leads Harvest Automation, said simply: look at places where there is still a lot of manual labor. When his team did that, he says they narrowed things down to 15 very viable product ideas. Deborah Theobald, CEO of Vecna Technologies, put it this way: “In whatever field you work in—ours is healthcare—you see what the issues are. If as you look around, robots are on your mind, you see the applications everywhere.”

Harvard Business Review: Seeing Robots Everywhere

(via Race Against the Machine)

Artwork by hobvias sudoneighm

60% of Science/Technology/Engineering/Math Majors Dropout or Change Majors

The New York Times on the problem with training the next generations of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, etc.:

Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors. […]

MATTHEW MONIZ bailed out of engineering at Notre Dame in the fall of his sophomore year. He had been the kind of recruit most engineering departments dream about. He had scored an 800 in math on the SAT and in the 700s in both reading and writing. He also had taken Calculus BC and five other Advanced Placement courses at a prep school in Washington, D.C., and had long planned to major in engineering.

But as Mr. Moniz sat in his mechanics class in 2009, he realized he had already had enough. “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Do these practice problems, then you’re on your own.’ ” And as he looked ahead at the curriculum, he did not see much relief on the horizon.

New York Times: Why Science Majors Change Their Minds

Possibly related, 30-60% of college students fail their first computer programming class. I’m a big advocate of people learning to program, but research indicates that it might be impossible to teach most people to program by the time they reach college age. It’s not clear yet whether improvements in earlier education could reduce the failure rate, or whether most people’s brains simply aren’t wired in such a way that they can actually learn to program.

However, many of the students like Moniz mentioned above, clearly have the intellectual capacity for these majors. The NYT notes:

The National Science Board, a public advisory body, warned in the mid-1980s that students were losing sight of why they wanted to be scientists and engineers in the first place. Research confirmed in the 1990s that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game or designing an alternative energy system, than listening to lectures. While the National Science Foundation went on to finance pilot courses that employed interactive projects, when the money dried up, so did most of the courses. Lecture classes are far cheaper to produce, and top professors are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates.

Combine the problems outlined above by the NYT with the fact that most students seem unable to learn how to program and the fact that most students don’t learn much in college and we’ve got some serious issues with trying to ever get our population’s science, math, engineering and computer science up to snuff. Hopefully universities will follow the advice of this article and integrate more project work. I have very mixed feelings about my alma mater The Evergreen State College, but I think they’re on to something with project work and interdisciplinary approaches to learning (for example, the Science of Mind course is 16 credits and covers neurobiology, cognitive psychology, statistics and philosophy).

Look a bit further and you’ll discover that our best minds are working on finding better ways to serve ads. Grim times indeed.

Technoccult TV: R.U. Sirius and Richard Metzger Interview

I interviewed Richard Metzger and R.U. Sirius last week at Contact. We talked about the Occupy movement, what it’s like to start a new publication today and whether tools for free speech have room for improvement.

I apologize in advance for the audio quality – I didn’t have a windscreen for my microphone, so things get pretty noisy when the wind picks up.

R.U. Sirius was the co-founder and editor of the influential cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000. He also ran for president on the Revolution Party ticket in 2000 and has worked for publications such as Wired and H+ Magazine. He recently started a new online publication called Acceler8or. He’s also working on an open source history of Mondo 2000. My previous interview with him is here.

Richard Metzger was the co-founder and creative director of Disinformation, where he served as the host of the online show Infinity Factory and the Channel 4 show Disinfo Nation. He’s now the editor and host of Dangerous Minds. My previous interview with him is here.

A Bitcoin-based E-Bay for Illegal Drugs

Drugs

Gawker is running an unbelievable story on website called Silk Road – an open market for mail ordering illegal drugs. And it’s only accessible through TOR:

Mark, a software developer, had ordered the 100 micrograms of acid through a listing on the online marketplace Silk Road. He found a seller with lots of good feedback who seemed to know what they were talking about, added the acid to his digital shopping cart and hit “check out.” He entered his address and paid the seller 50 Bitcoins—untraceable digital currency—worth around $150. Four days later the drugs, sent from Canada, arrived at his house.

“It kind of felt like I was in the future,” Mark said.

Gawker: The Underground Website Where You Can Buy Any Drug Imaginable

Buyer beware: TOR is not untraceable. And an update from Bitcoin’s development team indicates that Bitcoin isn’t 100% anonymous either.

For more information on how Bitcoin works, see my interview with developer Gavin Andresen.

From a comment on Facebook:

The only thing that Jeff Garzik, the Bitcoin developer, forgot to mention are the extremely useful Bitcoin Laundries. They allow you to obscure and obfuscate the origin of a Bitcoin, allowing you to effectively ‘launder’ the Bitcoin so that network analysis would be futile. And they are free, simple, and widely available. They probably “forgot” that because it would make it seem even EASIER than it already is to buy drugs online.

I would still urge caution in using this service.

Changing Perceptions of Science and Technology in the 19th Century

Jess Nevins shares an excerpt from Hawthorne’s Mad Scientists:

Earlier, “technology” had meant something more accessible to the average man. Elements of Technology, a book published in 1829 by Harvard professor Jacob Bigelow, was essentially a recipe book, more like the “do-it-yourself” manuals of modern counterculture than an MIT textbook. By most accounts, Bigelow, whose job at Harvard was to bridge the gap between Yankee inventors and collegiate research scientists, was the first to use “technology” in its modern sense….

Jess Nevins: Changing perceptions of science and technology in the 19th century

Interview: How Bitcoin Created a Decentralized Crypto-Currency

Bitcoin

I interviewed one of the developers behind Bitcoin for ReadWriteWeb:

Bitcoin is an open source, peer-to-peer electronic currency created by Satoshi Nakamoto and maintained by a small team of developers. As part of what’s turning into an ongoing series on the distributed Web, I talked to contributor Gavin Andresen about how the software works. This is a technical overview. If you’re interested in an economic or political look at the software, you can read the Wikipedia entry or Niklas Blanchard’s essay on the project.

ReadWriteWeb: Interview: How Bitcoin Created a Decentralized Crypto-Currency

See also: The New Currency War

My Predictions for 2011 at ReadWriteWeb

Here are my predictions for 2011:

Predictive analytics will be applied to more business processes, regardless of whether it helps.

The U.S. will add new provisions to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement to include leaked classified information.

Despite this and other measures taken by governments and corporations, leaking will continue.

Cybersecurity hype of 2011 will dwarf that of 2010.

We’ll see more CouchApp clients for popular web services.

Almost all the big social enterprise players will have some sort of “app store” offering.

Adobe will try to acquire Joyent.

ReadWriteWeb: 2011 Predictions: Klint Finley

Explanations for each is available at the link.

More predictions from RWW staffers:

RETINEX – an Augmented Reality Comic Book

Metaverse One (creator of that awesome AR anatomy education app) gives us a preview of an upcoming issue of Retinex by 3Satva featuring an augmented reality reality app created by SpiralConcepts. Metaverse notes that there have been comic that have used AR before, this is the first use he’s seen that actually integrates AR into the story.

Metaverse One: RETINEX – an Augmented Reality Comic Book

You can view some preview pages of the comic here here and buy 3Satva’s previous comic Triad Sphere (no AR) here.

RETINEX

NSA and Raytheon Team-Up for Cybersnooping Project

Nuclear Power Plant in  Limerick, Pa.

A piece I wrote for RWW today:

The Wall Street Journal reports, citing unnamed sources, that the NSA is launching a program to help protect critical infrastructure – including private enterprises – from cyber attacks. According to the paper, defense contractor Raytheon has received the contract for the project, which would rely on a series of sensors to detect “unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack.” This follows the Lieberman-Collins bill passing committee in the Senate.

The Orwellian nature of the name was alledgedly not lost on Raytheon: The Wall Street Journal claims to have seen an internal Raytheon e-mail saying “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.”

ReadWriteEnterprise: Do Private Enterprises Need the NSA to Protect Them From Cyber Attacks?

Virtual reality veteran FSK1138 talks about his new low-tech lifestyle – Technoccult interview

FSK1138

Electronic musician and artist Donald Baynes, aka FSK1138, spent 10-12 hours a day exploring 3D virtual worlds in 1996 and 97. But now he spends less than 3 hours a week online. He spent an hour of his weekly Internet time chatting with me from a park to tell me why he decided to unplug.

Klint Finley: You say you were “addicted” to virtual reality in the late 90s. How did you get started with VR and what were you doing with it?

FSK1138: During that time – I was what you would call cyberpunk – I spent days plugged into a body suit, data glove, and HMD [head mounted display]. I explored virtual worlds and was surfing the web in 3D. Searching, always searching, for others and A.I out there in the sea of information.

What sort of equipment were you using?

Virtual io HMD, Nintendo Powerglove, dual cpu pPRO.

Did you have broadband back then or was this on dial-up?

I was using dial-up but I moved to Toronto because there was faster Internet – this thing called ISDN.

I remember ISDN. Basically it was using two phone lines to achieve faster speeds, right?

Yes. It was a dream – so much faster. It made 3D surfing VRML [Virtual Reality Markup Language] a reality.

So you were surfing VRML sites then? What were those virtual worlds like back then?

Low rez – like Quake or the first DOOM but at the lowest settings. There was a whole underworld of VRML BBS sites at the time.

And what did you typically do on the BBSes? Chat, socialize?

Chat, socialize, share data – much like what people are doing right now but like the Sims or SecondLife.
FSK1138

Are you still using VR?

No – I think it is a very bad thing. Even back then 3D was considered bad for your eyes and brain. I don’t think we were made for this type of input.

What makes you say that?

The reaction of any one who has seen avatar – when people who have seen it talk about it they always seem to have a smile on their face – the same smile…

He later sent me this article mentioning health concerns surrounding prolonged 3D gaming in children

FSK1138

You say now use the Internet for less than 3 hours a week and do not own a TV, phone, or stove. What brought you to the point that you decided you had to unplug like that?

I lived in Guyana for 4 years. You can have days when you have no power, and I survived. I feel that people think that the Internet will always be there. I feel it will not and the day is coming soon. I have seen the Internet change over the years – it has changed alot. The day is coming, I feel, that the can not remain a free utility.

Life really is not hard without technology if you learn to live without it. But if you’re addicted – what then?

When did you decide to cut back your use of technology?

When I realized it was taking up so much of my time – 2007 – I started closing down websites that I was using. I cut back to Myspace and YouTube – there were so many. And I cut my surfing – I use RSS now, I do not surf. By 2008 I did not have a landline or cell or Internet at home.


Above: Video FSK1138’s “Catch the Man,” a cover of Front 242’s “Headhunter.”

It looks like you use a lot of technology to make your music – have you thought about going towards a more low-tech approach to making music?

I am in a way back to where I started with making music. When I could not get a sampler or computer I used found objects – metal and glass and things you could bang together to make noise.

So you’re not using computers for music music any more?

I am using computers still – I just did a track for The 150-Years-of-Music-Technology Composition Competition.

Do you have any opinions of augmented reality? Have you used any AR applications?

I think is a cool concept. I just hope it doesn’t become the next form of spam.


Above: Video for FSK1138’s “Digital Drug”

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