Office of Naval Research to draft robot code of conduct

February 24, 2009

This is one of those really cool moments where reality looks strangely like science fiction. Because more and more military operations are being outsourced to machines, the Office of Naval Research have been assigned the duty of drafting an advisory report on how to deal with robotic soldiers.

Of course, this brings to mind Isaac Asimov’s classic three laws of robotics: protect people, obey orders, protect yourself. Sounds good at first. But there’s a problem. How can you program robotic soldiers to protect human life if they’re their very purpose is to kill enemy combatants?

The ONR suggests implementing a “warrior code” in all future military robots. Basically, we need to program our ‘bots with some form of ethics in order to prevent a Terminator-style uprising, but we can’t tell them not to hurt anyone. It’s a tricky challenge. And even trickier are the human-side ethics issues surrounding robot soldiers. If, for example, one of them goes rogue and starts killing civilians, who’s to blame: the robot, the programmers, or the military leaders?

And if Sci-Fi has taught us anything it’s that programming them to simply follow orders and say “By your command” is not the best plan.


Bees hold the secret to better eyesight for AIs?

January 27, 2009

New research from Monash University bee researcher Adrian Dyer could lead to improved artificial intelligence systems and computer programs for facial recognition.

Apparently honeybees can learn to recognize human faces very well even from different viewpoints. So bees might hold the key to improving facial recognition software in computers, which currently are very poor and unreliable at distinguishing faces. Let’s just hope they don’t use it identify John Connor.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.23.08

December 23, 2008

creationism-cartoon-i-will-not-teach-horse-shit1/3 of teachers in England and Wales think creationism should be taught in school – And only one quarter apparently recognize that Young Earth Creationism is total nonsense.

Also, Phil Plait reports:

The UK newspaper The Guardian has a big article in it about convicted criminal Turkish Muslim creationist Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya.

Autism Speaks cowardly playing both sides – This is according to antivaccinationist David Kirby.

“We are committed to exploring the role of vaccines”
– Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr

“The vaccine-autism issue has really been put to bed”
– Autism Speaks Vice President of Scientific Affairs Dr. Andy Shih

I wonder if I can get my donations refunded. Pick a side!

This year in woo – Here’s a list of the top paranormal events of 2008


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyLife’s Origin: Did RNA Fusion Start Evolution? – “With the aid of a straightforward experiment, researchers have provided some clues to one of biology’s most complex questions: how ancient organic molecules came together to form the basis of life.”

Evolution: Life Took 2-million-fold Leaps – “So how on Earth did life go from bacteria to the blue whale?

‘It happened primarily in two great leaps, and each time, the maximum size of life jumped up by a factor of about a million,’ said Jonathan Payne, assistant professor of geological and environmental science at Stanford.”

Health Monitoring With Your Cell Phone – “In the lab of UCLA electrical engineering professor Aydogan Ozcan, a prototype cell phone has been constructed that is capable of monitoring the condition of HIV and malaria patients, as well as testing water quality in undeveloped areas or disaster sites. The innovative imaging technology was invented by Ozcan, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, and has been miniaturized by researchers in his lab to the point that it can fit in standard cell phones.”

Can Computers Think, Learn Like Humans? – “Tononi and scientists from Columbia University and IBM will work on the “software” for the thinking computer, while nanotechnology and supercomputing experts from Cornell, Stanford and the University of California-Merced will create the “hardware.” Dharmendra Modha of IBM is the principal investigator.”

Earth Not Center Of The Universe After All – “Earth’s location in the Universe is utterly unremarkable, despite recent theories that propose toppling a foundation of modern cosmology, according to a team of University of British Columbia researchers.”

Artificial Human Bone Marrow Created – “Artificial bone marrow that can continuously make red and white blood cells has been created in a University of Michigan lab.”

News From Around The Blogosphere 10.27.08

October 28, 2008

Attack of the cancer-killing tomatoes

“… food scientists are trying to modify crop plants to give us a bigger dose of helpful chemicals in those items that we do eat.”

Muppet heir Brian Henson creates a new digital-animation technology to get preschoolers to think like scientists.


Vote NO on California Proposition 8 –

Note: The following video has been “altered” to remove all reference to same-sex marriage and replace them with interracial marriage to expose the truth about California Proposition 8. To see the original, unaltered propaganda video, click here.

And of course vote YES on Michigan Proposition 2, that will allows embryonic stem cell research using embryos that would be discarded from fertility clinics. Here is the truth about embryonic stem cells:


Here’s another classic example of creationist quote-mining, where they distort a scientist’s quote by taking it out of context specifically to suggest that the scientist said the opposite of what the scientist really said.

How good are these Christian Samaritans? – This should come as a surprise but a new study suggests people who perform altruistic acts in the name of religion do so less out of empathy than a fear of reprisal from a higher power. We’ll put that in the Duh! category.

A.I. therapist for astronauts? – As part of the ongoing research project known as the Virtual Space Station, scientists are developing an artificial intelligence program to simulate a therapy session for psychologically strained astronauts. Astronauts tell the computer their problems, and the computer uses problem-solving treatment to discover the root of the astronaut’s problems. Then, the computer verbally (hopefully in a sexy voice) offers a series of exercises and plans to deal with these problems.

Acupuncture Used For Animal Ailments – “Needles are often equated with pain and discomfort; however, for a horse named Gypsy the tiny sharp objects brought about much needed relief as Dr. Mark Crisman, a professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, administered acupuncture therapy.” – I can’t believe this found its way into Science Daily. I can’t put this in the science news section until this is sorted out. Nowhere in the article does it indicate that acupuncture has been proven to not work, so I don’t trust a word of this until I hear more.

This day in history


Robotic Ants Building Homes On Mars? – You gotta love a headline like that! – “Recent discoveries of water and Earth-like soil on Mars have set imaginations running wild that human beings may one day colonise the Red Planet. However, the first inhabitants might not be human in form at all, but rather swarms of tiny robots.

“Small robots that are able to work together could explore the planet. We now know there is water and dust so all they would need is some sort of glue to start building structures, such as homes for human scientists,” says Marc Szymanski, a robotics researcher at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany.”

Origins Of 3-Billion-Year-Old Rock Solved – “A new technique using X-rays has enabled scientists to play ‘detective’ and solve the debate about the origins of a three billion year old rock fragment.”

News From Around The Blogosphere 10.6.08

October 7, 2008
The Turk

The Turk

Defining A.I. – On October 12 the Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence will conduct a formal Turing test of six machines to determine if through the use of complex algorithms if the machines can simulate human conversation so well that testers will not be able to distinguish the machine from an actual human when engaging in a text conversation back and forth. There is a link to a site that displays 2 text conversations, 1 where the subject is talking to a human and the other where they’re talking to a machine. So far it’s very easy to tell which is which but in time that may be much harder, which raises the question of what would real artificial intelligence entail.


Insecure minds wired for pattern-finding – Another study shows causation between uncertainty or insecurity and seeing patterns that aren’t necessarily really there.

Saudi cleric thinks women showing two eyes is just too seductive, and has called for women to wear a full veil that reveals only one eye.

Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen recommends homosexual practices be discouraged “after the style of warnings on cigarette packets” – He also added:

“Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS.”

Oo, what if instead we tatooed numbers on their arms and threw them into concentration camps until such time as we can shove them into ovens and gas chambers? Don’t worry; it’s cool. Now he says many of his “dear friends” are gay and he was only joking. Yeah, I bet.


Hank Fox has quit his job at a newspaper because they ran an unnecessary quote, in spite of his protests that it was blatant bigotry against atheists:

The final anecdote of the article was about his plane getting shot down, and one quote the reporter used was him saying something like “My co-pilot was an atheist before, but he’s been a good Christian ever since.”

I flagged the quote with a note to my immediate editor: “Ahem. If this quote said ‘My co-pilot was a Jew before, but he’s been a good Christian ever since,’ would we even think about including it?”

In my head was a very clear understanding that the quote was a serious insult to a certain demographic. I happen to be one, in this case, but I would certainly have flagged the line if it was that equivalent quote about a Jew being converted by the experience into being a Christian, even though I’m not a Jew. If it said “My co-pilot was a black man before, but this scared him white,” I would’ve brought it up, even though I don’t happen to be black. If the story made a similar statement about a gay or lesbian, or a handicapped person, I would have flagged it. . . Hey, if it’s vital factual information, it goes into the newspaper no matter whose nose gets out of joint. But if it’s just casual insults or jokes that you know in advance will offend, you just don’t throw it in with the attitude of “what the hell, screw ‘em.”

Here’s another great excerpt from his blog:

Atheists today face discrimination so subtle, so pervasive, that it doesn’t even have a name.

It’s rare to hear stories like this in the modern age of someone taking a stand like that against injustice. If I had some sort of Golden Cajones Award or something, I’d give it to him.

In Defense of ‘Militant’ Atheism part 2


First, this would be a good time to remind people that October 14 is the day UFOs are supposed to reach Alabama, according to Australian actress, writer, and part-time “psychic channeler” Blossom Goodchild. I can’t wait to see the post-hoc rationalizations to explain away an epic fail.

Carl Sagan’s name reclaimed – Last month I blogged about The Carl Sagan Institute of UFOlogy, a bunch of Brazilian UFO nuts who claimed not only that Jesus is a flying saucer pilot but that Sagan was a secret believer in alien visitations. Well now they’ve removed Sagan’s name from their title and replaced it with Galileo for some reason.

Cryptoastronautics – The following video is commonly passed around by UFO believers as proof that aliens have visited our world. But there are far more plausible explanations for the video:


Astrology and Jell-O – Stuart Buck persists in claiming that scientists have a bias against the supernatural, and that we dismiss it out of hand. Here is just 1 example of why he’s wrong. This is actually the story of an old epic fail. It involves skeptic Robert Grumbine testing a specific claim made by astrologer, Thomas Seers involving Bill Cosby’s favorite brand of gelatin. And well, Grumbine falsified Seers’ stupid hypothesis. But maybe this instance just happened to occur while Mercury was in retrograde, so maybe that’s why the astrologer was made to look like an idiot.

Jenny McCarthy gets Rickroll’d – As previously reported, Jenny was going to be involved in a web chat after her latest Oprah appearance where she’d answer people’s questions. As predicted, no actual hardball questions got through but she did not escape being punked with a Rickroll. In case you don’t know, this is what Rickrolling is. LOL. This is freakin’ hilarious:

What do your elected officials think about science? – Find out what your duly elected United States politician thinks about science at the Scientist and Engineers for America website, where they have helpfully listed this info.

Phil Plait’s new book “Death From The Skies!” drops in bookstores in 2 weeks!


‘Engine’ That Drives Cell Movement Discovered – “How a cell assembles its internal machinery required for cell movement has been revealed for the first time.”

Quarter Of World’s Mammals Risk Extinction – “The most comprehensive assessment of the world’s mammals has confirmed an extinction crisis, with almost one in four at risk of disappearing forever, according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, revealed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.”

Alaskan Glaciers Are Retreating, Thinning – “Most glaciers in every mountain range and island group in Alaska are experiencing significant retreat, thinning or stagnation, especially glaciers at lower elevations, according to a new book published by the U.S. Geological Survey. In places, these changes began as early as the middle of the 18th century.”

HPV And Cancer, HIV Discoveries Win Nobel Prize – The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2008 with one half to: Harald zur Hausen for his discovery of “human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer” and the other half jointly to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for their discovery of “human immunodeficiency virus.”

Earliest Footprints: Animals Walked Sooner – “The fossilized trail of an aquatic creature suggests that animals walked using legs at least 30 million years earlier than had been thought. The tracks — two parallel rows of small dots, each about 2 millimeters in diameter — date back some 570 million years, to the Ediacaran period.”

Birds Have ‘Thumbs,’ Alligator Gene Study Hints – “Bird wings only have three fingers, having evolved from remote ancestors that, like humans and most reptiles, had five fingers. Biologists have typically used embryology to identify the evolutionary origin (homology) of structures; the three fingers of the bird wing develop from cartilage condensations that are found in the same positions in the embryo as fingers two, three and four of humans (the index, middle and ring fingers). However, the morphology of the fingers of early birds such as Archaeopteryx corresponds to that of fingers one, two and three in other reptiles (thumb, index and middle finger). The fossil record clearly shows that fingers four and five (ring and pinky finger) were lost and reduced in the dinosaur ancestors of birds.”

Another bad day for Young Earth Creationists.

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.28.08

July 29, 2008

The One and Universal Smokers Church of God -Yes, that’s right. There’s now a church devoted to smoking, which cafe owners have embraced to get around Dutch smoking bans. Because of course there aren’t enough churches already.

15 Films that Offended Religious Groups. -And ironically none of them was Deliver Us From Evil, the documentary which focused on a Catholic priest who raped hundreds of children and which the church conspired to cover up and help escape justice. Why would that offend them?

Discovery Institute nailed by Hitchens -After Christopher Hitchens talked about blind cave organisms and how they argue against linear progression in evolution, The Discovery Institute fired back with this best explanation. And well, their best explanation was pretty awful. This round goes to Hitchens.

Virgin Mary in sari and Joseph in loincloth and turban -Did I miss that chapter of The Bible? Well, George Carlin was right. The businessman doesn’t hold a candle to the religious. These are the tactics of the people who know the word of god? Really? Suddenly god’s looking like a used car salesman.

The Leviticus Challenge -Pastor Daniel Harrell of Boston’s Park Street Church decided to specifically follow the book (since it’s so often ignored in church) and have others do it with him. But what about all the stuff Leviticus is known for that talk about gays, avoiding women who menstruate, and animal sacrifices? Oh, they’re ignoring that part. Afterall, nobody expects someone who says they’re going to follow the entire book of Leviticus to actually follow the entire book of Leviticus. Don’t be silly. Have you read that thing?

Some intelligent design, huh -God must be getting sloppy in his old age. Behold! The Pig Monkey! Kinda cute. The article doesn’t mention any name for it, so I’ll make a suggestion. How about Ken Ham?

And now a moment of science:

‘Feeling’ Robots Learn To Read Human Emotions -“European researchers are developing robots in tune with our emotions. Feelix Growing is developing software empowering robots that can learn when a person is sad, happy or angry.”