computing


It’s been understood for some time that the machines we use every day will eventually rise up and enslave or destroy us all. At this point, it’s really more of a question of just how much time humanity has left before we are either subjugated or simply vaporized by our cruel metal overlords, and it appears that day may be coming sooner than any of us thought. The robot revolution will start small, when the phone that runs so much of your life betrays you, listening in on your private conversations and reporting on your activities and whereabouts to it’s electronic masters.

Sure, this will begin as particularly unpleasant malware that eavesdrops on you, tracks your movements and accesses your bank account at the behest of particularly savvy and sinister human programmers. But if you believe the coming Mother Brain won’t access this technology and use it as an early reconnaissance  step toward global domination… well, that’s just naive.

Holy shit, everybody – all of our grandmothers just found Facebook! Internet use among seniors is up over the last year, but no site has seen as much new traffic from the olds as Facebook. Among sites visited by web users over the age of 65, Facebook shot up from number 45 to  number 3.

This is your last chance to get those pictures of you giving it your all in the Topless Keg Stand Tournament of Champions off the Internet before you cause your Nana to keel over from the intense shame that you have brought upon the family.

Hey, ever wonder what the folks behind Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement were getting up to while everyone was talking about the notable and seemingly harmless news about ICANN approving non-latin domain names surfaced this week?

Funny you should mention that – they’re deputizing your ISP in the name of protecting big Hollywood films studios from the likes of you and me.

Just what exactly negotiators are talking about this week is secret on paper, but leaks coming out of the conference, which is taking place in Seoul, South Korea, suggest that just about every file sharers worst fears could be realized. The worst of it so far looks to be a set of rules similar to the French ‘Three Strikes’ policy, requiring service providers to terminate service to a customer following allegations of repeat copyright violations at a particular ISP. But that’s just one of plenty of unpleasant restrictions that could be coming soon to a computer near you, including the distinct possibility of jail time for US file sharers.

But not, oddly enough to any computers in China or Russia, the two biggest bastions of media counterfeiting. So, that’s effective, right?

Great, in-depth coverage of what this means for you an the rest of the world is available at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and of course over on Boing Boing.

See what happens when we release the governing body of the Internet from iron grip of the United States? Pretty soon you’ve got website domain names popping up in all sorts of languages, and now they’re even going to have different alphabets, because the latin alphabet isn’t good enough for some people, I guess.

As has been speculated for weeks, ICANN officially gave the go-ahead yesterday for the use of non-latin characters in domain names. The approval process will start in just two short weeks, which has sent companies like Coca-Cola and General Electric scrambling to figure out just how you spell their names in Cyrillic, Arabic, Korean and every other language that they’ll have to trademark and buy domain space for. In case anyone was wondering what lawyers get paid for – this is it, right here.

After sending corporate America into a tailspin, this is ultimately good news, bringing the World Wide Web a little closer to earning it’s title. Soon, spam messages written in Cyrillic will direct us back to whole pages written in Cyrillic! Bizarre Korean economics-based MMOS will direct players to their games in Hangul! And the Klingon Language Institute will at long long last be hosted in plqaD.  Buy’ ngop!

Researchers at the University of Western England are working on making programmable robots out of living tissue, prompting the humble slime mold make the jump into the 21st century by getting all cybernetic up in here.

The mold has already proven capable of carrying small objects along during it’s growth process. Professor Andy Adamatzky and his team hope to take these possibilities to the next level, using chemical and light stimuli to control the way the mold grows, essentially programming it to carry objects to a specific point. Eventually, the hope is that they will be able to manipulate the mold, which already completes intricate computing tasks like finding the shortest distance between two points, to not only carry but assemble items.

Adamatzky isn’t the only one who thinks biological systems can help drive the next developments in computing and robotics. A recent episode of the Robots Podcast featured discussions with Charles Higgins, who is attaching the optic systems of dragonflies to improve robotic sensory capability and Steve Potter, who is growing neural circuits – essentially miniature brains in petri dishes – that, when attached to robotic sensors, can give us a better idea of how the same circuits function in the brain.

Dr. Henry Markram of Switzerland’s Brain Science Institute has suggested that we could see the first fully functioning computer model of a human brain in as little as 10 years. “I absolutely believe it is technically and biologically possible. The only uncertainty is financial,” said Markram.

If Markram is right, we could be just a decade away from an unparalleled tool for understanding the most opaque inner workings of the human brain and diagnosing and treating neurological disorders. Not to mention the means to keep our greatest mad scientists alive and terrorizing the planet with killer robots for centuries to come.

For those of you playing along at home – Ray Kurzweil just got a boner.

Research firm Netbase wants to reinvent the way people search with their fancy new brand of semantic search.

Their website makes some heady claims, including this one:

Our Content Intelligence platform is able to read every sentence inside documents, linguistically understand the content and enable breakthrough search experiences.

Sounds pretty impressive, right? You would think, then, that their newly launched health care research tool, Healthbase, which is meant to be a showcase for their technology, would be reasonably intelligent, capable of parsing words in a variety of different contexts and retrieving meaningful, relevant data.

And, like Leena Rao of TechCrunch, you would be pretty surprised when Healthbase informed you that one of the leading causes of AIDS is “Jew.”

It’s a pretty serious gaffe, and just one of many you can read about in the comments on Rao’s piece, which basically turned into a blooper reel for the young search engine. But if HealthBase has a problem with ‘Jew,’ no worries. It can probably be treated with one of the standard remedies for Jew provided by the site. Like wine, course (sic) salt or Dr. Pepper.

That said, the site isn’t entirely unwise. When queried about treatments for “old age,” it provided some astonishingly frank advice about the condition, recommending medications like marijuana and cocaine.

Works for me.

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