News From Around The Blogosphere 5.4.11

May 4, 2011

1. Mark Geier is stripped of his medical license – For those who don’t know, Mark Geier and his son David have been “treating” autistic children with chemical castration for several years now. As far as I’m concerned, that puts them pretty much write behind Osama bin Laden on the list of worst human beings alive. Oh, that’s right. Osama’s dead. That might possibly bump father and son Geier up to worst people on Earth. So I’m delighted to hear that the Maryland medical board decided to strip Mark Geier of his medical license. You can see the official 48-page decision in .pdf format here. Also, Orac chimes in on the news here.

2. Robots learn to share -This article is deceptively more about the evolution of altruism than robots, but still pretty interesting and worth the read:

Using simple robots to simulate genetic evolution over hundreds of generations, Swiss scientists provide quantitative proof of kin selection and shed light on one of the most enduring puzzles in biology: Why do most social animals, including humans, go out of their way to help each other? In the online, open access journal PLoS Biology, EPFL robotics professor Dario Floreano teams up with University of Lausanne biologist Laurent Keller to weigh in on the oft-debated question of the evolution of altruism genes.

3. Acupuncture needle found in former South Korean president’s lung

Former South Korean president Roh Tae-woo was admitted to hospital with a bad cough and ended up on the operating table to remove an acupuncture needle from his right lung.

So let’s look at the cost/benefit ratio. Acupuncture has no benefit, and it can possibly kill you.

“I can’t figure out how the needle got into there,” Dr Sung Myung-whun was quoted as telling reporters at the hospital after the operation. “It is a mystery for me, too.”

Call me crazy, but I suspect the needle “got into there” while you were callously jabbing them into the man’s body. Just a thought. How appropriate that “woo” is in the ex-president’s name. I think comedian Dmitri Martin had the best response to acupuncture.

4. The illusion of being watched can make you a better person – We’re already well past the final nail in the coffin of the Christian view of morality, but here’s just another interesting incite into human behavior. Not only do we tend to act more morally when being watched, but we even do so when we see posters of staring eyes.

5. Facebook finally answers age-old question of who’d win in a fight: Jesus or Batman?

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Robot News 10.18.10

October 19, 2010

I found two interesting robot-related news stories.

1. First, Australian computer scientist Graham Mann is working on developing algorithms to simulate day-dreaming. Believing that an intelligent system requires built-in emotions to function, he set out to translate the “feel” of Aesop’s Fables for machines. In other words, his goal was to achieve more flexible processing of storylines, which were deemed “simple and short enough to represent as conceptual graph data structures”.

His algorithm was based on Plutchick’s Wheel of Emotions, which illustrated emotions as a colour wheel and disallowed mutually exclusive states – like joy and sadness – from being experienced simultaneously.

The machine freely associated three stories: The Thirsty Pigeon; The Cat and the Cock; and The Wolf and the Crane.

When queried on the association, the machine responded: “I felt sad for the bird.”

No, the machine’s not really feeling sad, but it seems to be able to recognize that that’s an appropriate human-like reaction to the story.  And that in itself might be a major accomplishment in the continued pursuit of AI.

2. The other story isn’t so much news as already available footage that was new to me of the rat-brain-controlled robot. If you hadn’t heard about this before, researchers had previously used the brain cells of rats, cultured them, and then in true Robocop fashion, used them as the guidance control circuit for simple wheeled robots. The cells are able to form new connections that turn the machine into a true learning robot. If this isn’t a huge step forward on the path to AI I don’t know what is.

Take a look at this robot that is literally being controlled by biological cells:

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Babies treat ‘social robots’ like sentient beings

October 17, 2010

Ever the lover of robot news and human psychology, I couldn’t resist commenting on this article on Science Daily about a study that fooled infants into thinking robots and other inanimate objects were “psychological agents.”

Research published in the October/November issue of Neural Networks provides a clue as to how babies decide whether a new object, such as a robot, is sentient or an inanimate object. Four times as many babies who watched a robot interact socially with people were willing to learn from the robot than babies who did not see the interactions.

“Babies learn best through social interactions, but what makes something ‘social’ for a baby?” said Andrew Meltzoff, lead author of the paper and co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. “It is not just what something looks like, but how it moves and interacts with others that gives it special meaning to the baby.”

Not only would babies follow adults in socializing with the robot but they’d even learn from it. Researchers would ask the robot questions in front of the baby and the robot, controlled by another researcher, would respond. For instance, a researcher would ask the robot where its tummy was and the robot would point to its torso. After completing a 90-second script, the researcher would leave the baby alone with the robot, which would continue to move its head slightly and beep. Most babies, after watching an adult socializing with the robot, would view it as a person, following its gaze, turning to see what it’s looking at.

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