robots


After the death of all of it’s polar bears, presumably because being dead is simply a more reasonable and respectable lifestyle choice than being a polar bear in St. Louis, the St. Louis Zoo has decided to make the most retarded decision possible over what to do for their Christmas display. That decision? To replace the dead bears with animatronic facsimiles. Which is to say, robotic polar bears.

Merry Fucking Christmas, Kids.

Really shitty robotic polar bears.

You can tell this is a retarded decision because PETA supports it, and it’s a well known fact that PETA is a front group for the meat industry designed to make every person who has even a semblance of respect for animal rights look like a brain damaged asshole through the consistently ludicrous, offensive and well publicized actions of PETA.

While Gizmodo expressed the completely reasonable concern that the development of a robot bear army is bad news, there is worse to this decision than just it’s implications in the inevitable robot uprising. It will serve as a nightmarish warning to the rest of the zoo’s charges, who will only be able to reasonably conclude that their departed bretheren have been returned to them in a state of horrific un-life, unable even in death to escape the dread clutches of St. Louis.

The folks at Chuck E. Cheese have to be fucking elated at this development though, knowing that they have a whole slew of new business opportunities building shitty robotic versions of actual animals that are too difficult or expensive for small zoos to acquire or keep. Did your rare white tiger get mauled to death by a pair of lions? Why not replace it with a version that costs half as much, never needs medical care or food, and erupts into a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ every hour on the hour?

And why stop at making inroads into crafting zoo animals that can also play the banjo and terrify children? When real polar bears go extinct in ten years, we can just place animatronic bears on ice floes to star in our wildlife films and keep elephant seals in their fucking place.

‘Robots that stay in the kitchen making me a damned sandwich’ joined ‘my real hip’ and ‘the years of my life I spent raising you ungrateful kids back’ this week on the constantly expanding list of Things Old People Want.

You Think Youre Better Than Me? Youre Not Better Than Me.

You Think You're Better Than Me? You're Not Better Than Me.

A recent survey of Atlanta area residents found that all respondents, and especially older respondents, were more likely to be interested in a robot that would do housework for them rather than one that would try and interact to them. To which I respond: DUH! People want robots so it will essentially be legal to own slaves again, not so they can take shit about their exercise habits from the goddamn refrigerator. Did we really need a survey to tell us that all we want out of a robot is Rosie from the Jetsons without the attitude and abiding
sense of smug superiority.

The notion that the elderly are more inclined than the rest of us to want a robot that keeps it’s mouth shut is pretty unsurprising.  After all, despite advances in robot technology that stretch their life spans to grotesque parodies of humanity, they are still old, and they will still die before you and me. Which means they won’t be around to see the inevitable bloody robot coup that follows decades of silent, steely, relentless changing of bed pans.

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.

Oh, BBC, you’ve put me in a wicket that is ever so sticky.

On the one hand, I’m as ready as anyone for a serious rethinking of how we use Predators and other UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s particularly important in the latter theater, where civilian casualties caused by drone strikes play a major part in turning public opinion against US and NATO forces. The fact of the matter is that we don’t win the war against the Taliban in the region until we end public perception that we are the enemy, and we don’t end that perception until we stop killing civilians. Because frankly, until we stop killing civilians, we are the enemy to the vast majority of people on the ground in Afghanistan.

Since I’m on record as feeling this way, I couldn’t be happier to hear that Professor Noel Sharkey, who has been talking for years about the need for a reconsideration of whether the new face of modern warfare is a net improvement. For the soldiers who get to control these heavily armed automatons from half a world away, it certainly seems like it. But if we’re unable to distinguish civilian from combatant – a task that’s often difficult enough for a soldier on the ground – then are we really making wars more winnable? Or are we just making the rules a little different?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

Maybe, by their definition, there’s no such thing as a safe weapon. But there’s a clear line between weapons that are ready to be used safely and ones that aren’t. And it’s time for a serious conversation about where UAVs and other robotic weaponry are in that process. Are they highly advanced? No doubt – technology has made undeniable strides from the days when all that robot warriors could do was rock ’em and/or sock ’em. But are they fool proof? Hardly, and when they’re not, the results are disastrous. So yeah, I’m happy that the media is giving the subject some love.

But really, BBC – did you have to run Jason Palmer’s excellent story on the matter under the headline ‘Call for debate on killer robots‘?

Hats off to Professor Masatoshi Ishikawa of the University of Tokyo, who has turned his scientific prowess in the field of robotics toward a subject  we can all get behind – creating the next generation of android athletes, superior to their human counterparts in every way, except for their inability to feel love.

Ishikawa’s laboratory is now home field for a robotic pitching arm that can throw strikes 9 times out of 10 and and a batting arm that can never swings at anything outside of the strike zone, and bats almost 1.000 on pitches inside the zone. Of course, that’s a tainted sample size at best, as right now it’s only swinging at 25 mph lobs across the plate.

But Ishikawa hopes that future iterations of the technology will be able to throw curves and sliders at upwards of 90 mph, hit with power to all fields and spout situationally appropriate baseball cliches. Which is great, but it’s still a couple generations of technology and a laser gun arm away from the ultimate sport – baseball played by fighting robots. Fighting robots that we can also train as gangs of ninja crime fighters.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and that’s nothing to scoff at.

World, meet the first drug resistant case of H1N1 swine flu. The bad news has been mostly a foregone conclusion to this point – you’re likely to see drug resistant cases crop up in almost any disease, and researchers have been waiting for the other shoe to drop on a case of H1N1 swine flu that’s unhindered by the Tamiflu treatment that’s been so effective until now.

As far as drug resistant strains go, it’s far from a nightmare scenario. It cropped up in a single, isolated patient in Denmark, who we’re told has recovered after being treated with a different flu drug, Relenza, and early indications are that it’s not a strain that has been found elsewhere in the public yet. More importantly, the strain doesn’t seem to have crossbred with last years seasonal H1N1 flu, a situation that would have the potential to be mightily unpleasant for a great many people.

But with flu season in the offing in the southern hemisphere, and new cases of swine flu continuing to come up on world health radars with troubling regularity, the disease certainly doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. That being the case, a meeting of the minds between H1N1 swine flu and a more deadly or more drug resistant strain of flu isn’t even unlikely. And at the risk of sounding alarmist, that’s plenty of reason for me to keep washing my hands and covering my mouth – especially after taking a good look at just how much area an average cough can cover below.

 Awesomest Toy Ever of Sinister Engine of Doom?

Awesomest Toy Ever of Sinister Engine of Doom?

A question: If you were building a planet striding, globe dominating giant robot designed to crush all who dare stand in it’s way, would you build it in secret? Or would you be savvier than that, and build it right out in the open, billing it as a big, goofy publicity stunt?

If it were me, I’d go with the latter, acting for all the world like my titanic engine of destruction was just a gaudy three story tourist attraction. I’d make sure it could be seen from highway overpasses and let families take their kids their to picnic in it’s towering shadow, never guessing that this overgrown action figure is poised to one day conquer all it surveys.

Now I don’t actually think that the 60 foot tall piece of robot armor recently constructed in Tokyo is actually the most simultaneously impressive and nerdy weapon in the history of warfare. But if it was, and the Japanese military was smart about it, no one would be saying that until this beast suddenly turned on it’s thrusters, drew a particle beam rifle and left a smoldering crater where North Korea used to be.

That said, functioning or not, this life size replica of the classic RX-78 -2 Gundam is wicked cool, and you can check out some really great pictures of it here. Pictures taken, by the way, by a member of the US Navy.

Coincidence? You be the judge. I for one will believe it’s a harmless stunt only when Bandai, who’s footing the bill for the six story tall model mecha, encloses it in an enormous plastic box to safeguard it’s value on EBay.

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