Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is That a Robot In Your Pocket? (Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?)

Robots are getting smaller--micro-robots, or microbots as they are called. Small and almost invisible, but with good optics. It is not impossible that you are being watched by a robot at this very moment. Especially if you are a terrorist.
Israel is developing a robot the size of a hornet to attack terrorists. And although the prototype will not fly for three years, killer Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs, are much closer than that.

British Special Forces already use 6-inch MAV aircraft called WASPs for reconnaissance in Afghanistan. The $3,000 WASP is operated with a Gameboy-style controller and is nearly silent, so it can get very close without being detected. A new development will reportedly see the WASP fitted with a C4 explosive warhead for kamikaze attacks on snipers. One newspaper dubbed it "The Talibanator."

Other engineers are developing microbots for exploring difficult to access caves and other planets.
In Phase I, we wanted to focus on robotic units that were small, very numerous (hence expendable), largely autonomous, and that had the mobility that was needed for getting into rugged terrains. Based on Dr. Dubowsky's ongoing work with artificial-muscle-activated robotic motion, we came up with the idea of many, many, tiny little spheres, about the size of tennis balls, that essentially hop, almost like Mexican jumping beans. They store up muscle energy, so to speak, and then they boink themselves off in various directions. That's how they move.

We've calculated that we could probably pack about a thousand of these guys into a payload mass the size of one of the current MERs (Mars Exploration Rovers). That would give us the flexibility to suffer the loss of a large percentage of the units and still have a network that could be doing recon and sensing, imaging, and perhaps even some other science functions.
AM: How do all these little spheres co-ordinate with each other?

PB: They behave as a swarm. They relate to each other using very simple rules, but that produces a great deal of flexibility in their collective behavior that enables them to meet the demands of unpredictable and hazardous terrain. The ultimate product that we're envisioning is a fleet of these little guys being sent to some promising landing site, exiting from the lander and then making their way over to some subsurface or other hazardous terrain, where they deploy themselves as a network. They create a cellular communication network, on a node-to-node basis.

You can find movies of microbots and scholarly papers here.

Here is a report discussing Micro-Air Vehicle research for the US Air Force.

You can read about earlier flying robots, and view a movie of a micro robo-copter flying here. State of the art microbots now are much smaller and potentially more letal.

If you could teach a continuously deformable microbot to fly, there is no end to the amount of mischief such a sneaky little bugger could create.

On Electing a Robot President of the US

Although he seems reticent to discuss some of the more exotic implications of his research, Indiana University Professor Karl MacDorman is bringing a more Asian approach to humanoid robots to the US. After spending five years researching the Japanese approach to lifelike robots, MacDorman is prepared to make IU the Mecca of humanoid robotics in North America.

The team is now so advanced in the skill of developing humanistic androids that a nearly exact double of a person can be created. It was Ishiguro who was robotically cloned.

"Some say it's narcissistic," MacDorman said. "I think they're wrong. If you look at the great artists, all of them have a self portrait."

....MacDorman said the replication of a celebrity is a possibility, but he sees serious legal complications accompanying such an undertaking, not to mention challenges presented by cultural differences.

"Japan actually has a very extensive sex-doll industry," he said. "And sometimes the public does get confused with our androids and their purpose."

While Japan has embraced the sexuality of humanoid dolls and robots without embarrassment, the US is much more prudish about that type of alternative sexuality. Still, if it can be done it will be done.

Which brings up the idea of a robot president. Eventually, humanoid robots will appear identical to humans--even be able to walk, talk, and interact in ways indistinguishable from a human. When robots are able to possess the intelligence of a normal human--hold press conferences, give stump speeches etc.--it will be very tempting for powerful interests from all major parties to create a robot just for the purpose of being president. Some have even suggested that Al Gore is an early prototype of such a robot, gone tragically awry.

And who hasn't wanted to be able to clone himself so as to be able to be two or more places at one time? With a robot clone, you can do exactly that. MacDorman's research seems to suggest that such things will be possible, eventually.

Have you received two or more invitations for speaking engagements on the same night, in different cities? No problem. You can do both. Have you been dreading going on that book-signing tour? Send your robot instead. Do you have multiple families living in different parts of the country who don't know about the others? There's no need for awkward confrontations. Your clones can keep the other beds warm until you get a chance to be there yourself.

MacDorman, although quite coy, is a worldly fellow, and surely understands where his research is leading. The rest of us should stay tuned for further developments.

The Inner Life of the Cell--Longer Version with Narration

Here is the longer version of the Harvard movie on the inner workings of the cell accompanying leukocyte extravasation. It includes a useful narration, that describes what you are seeing. Not as mesmerizing as the video without narration, but perhaps more educational.

Thanks to Snowcrash at Biosingularity.

Mathematical Ability in Men and Women

La Griffe du Lion has a new essay on intelligence guaranteed to burn the thong off any self-respecting professor of Women's Studies. Liz Spelke and Nancy Hopkins may have trouble with occasional dizzy spells if they are unwise enough to read it. Donna Shalala should likewise maintain her distance.

The world of data can be cruel to one's ideological conceits.

Thanks to iSteve.

Update: This article in the Independent goes even further in claiming that there are twice as many men with IQ > 120 than women with IQ > 120.

Dr Paul Irwing is a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester University. He claims that men are more intelligent than women.

All the research I've done points to a gender difference in general cognitive ability. There is a mean difference of about five IQ points. The further you go up the distribution the more and more skewed it becomes. There are twice as many men with an IQ of 120-plus as there are women, there are 30 times the number of men with an IQ of 170-plus as there are women.

I don't know why this is, all I can say is that we have a huge amount of data.

In my 2005 paper in the British Journal of Psychology we looked at 22 surveys sampling 20,000 university students. In 21 out of the 22 studies males always had an advantage.

Hat tip Fatknowledge Blog.

The above research appears to fit with work by J. Phillippe Rushton, Richard Lynn, and Helmuth Nyborg. In addition, such research should exonerate Larry Summers, if not for the perverse bias caused by radical political correctness in academic circles.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Power of the Sun--Driving Climate Change

The science behind climate change is anything but settled. Just ask Cambridge astrophysicist Nigel Weiss, or astrophysicist and mathematician Habibullo Abdusamatov, head of the space research laboratory at the St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo Observatory.
Typically, sunspots flare up and settle down in cycles of about 11 years. In the last 50 years, we haven't been living in typical times: "If you look back into the sun's past, you find that we live in a period of abnormally high solar activity," Dr. Weiss states.

These hyperactive periods do not last long, "perhaps 50 to 100 years, then you get a crash," says Dr. Weiss. 'It's a boom-bust system, and I would expect a crash soon."

In addition to the 11-year cycle, sunspots almost entirely "crash," or die out, every 200 years or so as solar activity diminishes. When the crash occurs, the Earth can cool dramatically. Dr. Weiss knows because these phenomenon, known as "Grand minima," have recurred over the past 10,000 years, if not longer.

The upper layers of the world's oceans are - much to climatologists' surprise - becoming cooler, which is a clear indication that the Earth has hit its temperature ceiling already, and that solar radiation levels are falling and will eventually lead to a worldwide cold spell, Abdusamatov said.

"Instead of professed global warming, the Earth will be facing a slow decrease in temperatures in 2012-2015. The gradually falling amounts of solar energy, expected to reach their bottom level by 2040, will inevitably lead to a deep freeze around 2055-2060," he said, adding that this period of global freeze will last some 50 years, after which the temperatures will go up again.

"There is no need for the Kyoto Protocol now, and it does not have to come into force until at least a hundred years from now - a global freeze will come about regardless of whether or not industrialized countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions," Abdusamatov said.

The rush to reduce CO2 levels is not only massively expensive, but totally unnecessary, according to these learned solar experts. Certainly everyone with any knowledge should understand that global cooling is far more threatening to human life than the mild global warming currently being experienced.

Politicians such as Al Gore have vested monetary interests in exaggerating the climate effects of CO2. Likewise, climatologists such as Michael Mann have achieved fame, prestige, and easy grant money through the use of shoddy research methods. The route to grant money in climate science currently lies through the gate of CAGW--catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Those are the magic words.

Reality is much larger than that. It is foolish to fixate upon one seemingly obvious explanation for cyclic climate behaviour of epochal duration. Many junkies of "global warning" enjoy the thrill of the apocalypse. Others have more mundane motivations, such as going along with the perceived flow.

Regardless, it pays for people who actually want to know what is going on, to keep their eyes and minds open.

You Want a Catastrophe? Here's Your Goddam Catastrophe!

Some people are just catastrophe junkies. It's one thing if they have an imagination, and can dream up their own vivid catastrophes. I can respect that. I'll still give them drugs, if they come to me, but I respect them.

It's the small-minded dweebs who hate a warm, sunny day that I despise. They want every warm pleasant day to be a massive portent of disaster. They thrive on epinephrine, but a peculiar type. They thrive on the epinephrine they get from reading mainstream journalist's portrayals of how other humans are destroying the earth. This makes them feel superior and totally innocent.

They are derivatives-of-derivatives junkies. Third-hand junkies with no crap detectors and no imaginations.

Yes, there are things that could destroy the world. But lame-minded conformists who only know what the propaganda machine tells them, will never know what they are.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Civilisation--How Long?

Demography argues for the decline of western culture, as the defenders of the west are replaced by the defenders of the true faith, Islamofascism. Look at what is happening to Russia:

There are ten million people in Moscow. Do you know how many of them are Muslim? Two and a half million. Or about a quarter of the population. The ethnic Russians are older; the Muslims are younger. The ethnic Russians are already in net population decline; the Muslim population in the country has increased by 40% in the last 15 years. Seven out of ten Russian pregnancies (according to some surveys) are aborted; in some Muslim communities, the fertility rate is ten babies per woman. Russian men have record rates of heart disease, liver disease, drug addiction and Aids; Muslims are the only guys in the country who aren’t face down in the vodka.

Faced with these trends, most experts extrapolate: thus, it’s generally accepted that by mid-century the Russian Federation will be majority Muslim.

As far as the rest of Europe, what to expect?

If Islam is incompatible with democracy, that's not a problem for Iraq, it's a problem for Belgium, you know, because Iraq until, you know, a few months back had no democracy to lose. They can easily adjust to the way it's always been.

For Belgium or for Denmark or for the Netherlands, they've got real democracies and they are likely to lose and as you see, I think that is really the issue here, that when these contradictions are pointed out, Europeans essentially refuse to acknowledge them. Yet at the same time they're making capitulations to the most naked form of political bullying --and that's when Islam is officially a minority of, you know, 10% or so. In those cities it's a lot higher already. What happens when it's 30%? I mean, this is a question they never, ever ask themselves and you're right, they do take a dim view. I think at some level there's something else going on there, too, that a lot of these countries, you know, -- we talk about the Middle East, democratize the Middle East - we forget Spain was a dictatorship 30 years ago, Portugal, a little over 30 years ago, Greece, same 30 years ago.

Italy and Germany and France, you've got to go back half a century, but in essence the idea of living under non-democratic regimes is not foreign to these people and I think they think of themselves, their identities less as Europeans are less bound up with ideas of liberty than it is for the U.S. You know, the U.S. is an ideological project in a way that Italy isn't and so I do think that also accounts for part of the way they look at it.

Science Fiction author Orson Scott Card looks at historical examples of falls of civilisation. He speculates about what will happen when the west falls to the barbarism that is always nipping at its heels:

Our global economic system is a brilliant creation, imperfect of course, but powerful and effective in creating more prosperity for more people than ever in the history of the world. It is a creation of America's military and America's benign government of the world -- so benign they pretend we don't govern it.

Our enemies and most of our "allies" and many of our own citizens are working as hard as possible to bring the whole thing crashing down, though that is not at all what they intend.

They just haven't learned the lessons -- the principles -- of how great economic empires are maintained. They only look at the political dogmas du jour and spout their platitudes. People like me are ridiculed for seeing the big picture and learning the lessons of history.

And if we're lucky, and get out of this intact -- i.e., if we go ahead and continue this war, break the power of Iran and Syria, and inflict crushing defeat on radical, expansionist Islamicists (which will require that Europe do the same with their own increasingly revolutionary Muslim populations, either expelling them or crushing their radical, Saudi-funded leadership) -- then I will still be ridiculed, because there will be no evidence that I would have been right.

Well, I'll be happy to be ridiculed for being such a doomsayer, if we are able to avoid collapse. I want to be wrong.

A global economic system is something of a house of cards. It wouldn't exist without the protecting power that guarantees global trade and shipping from piracy. Without the use of force to protect economic activity, the world descends into piracy, brigandry, and warlordism.