Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Roachinator and Lycra-Clad Chickens

This is just fantastic. An article in the Australian reports into cutting edge scientific research in robotics (link via The Thin Line).

"The robot, InsBot, developed by researchers in France, Belgium and Switzerland, is capable of infiltrating a group of cockroaches, influencing them and altering their behaviour."

"The third stage, undertaken by the French Centre for Scientific Research in Brittany, was to isolate the molecules that give cockroaches their smell -- to create a cockroach perfume".
I think this is going to be big. I can just imagine it: Roach, by Calvin Klein
"InsBot, which is green, the size of a matchbox and equipped with lasers and a light sensor, was developed by Switzerland's Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne."
From the description it's obviously some sort of cyber commando roach with shoulder mounted laser deaaath raaaays.
"Other applications are also envisaged for the computer programs developed under the Leurre project. Guy Theraulaz, CRCA director of research, said it may be possible to build chicken-like robots that will be used to stimulate poultry."
That sounds a little raunchy. I don't know if I'd want to eat that at KFC. Wait a minute -- I see, my dirty mind was getting away from me a bit there -- it's some sort of robot that reads shakespeare to the chickens.
"A lot of chickens don't move at all and die as a result. They need to be encouraged to run around. Robots could do that," he said.
Oh, I see. It's good to see the poultry industry making efforts to increase efficiency by utilising modern technology with their robo-chicken exercise instructors. "C'mon girls, lets move those bodies, kick those legs! We want to be 97% fat free. Yeah. Now some star jumps!".

(While it might sound like I'm being sarcstic about this technology, I actually think it's very interesting and has a lot of promise. It's just, some of those lines in that article...).

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Why Computer Games Give us a Way of Looking at the Problem of Qualia

Qualia is the mystery of mysteries. If the world really is just processes involving aggretations of atoms, then what kind of thing is that sensation that is the taste of an orange, what kind of thing is the visual image we see when we look around?

There's lot of other things we don't understand, but with other problems we usually have some idea of what an answer might look like. But with qualia we literally have no idea.

It seems impossible that it could be the product, like everything else, of processes involving atoms. It must be some special sort of entity, we think. And there may be literally no way for us to understand it, or if there is, we may not be smart enough to gain that understanding.

For an abrupt change of context, there's a tribes person living in an untouched, remote area. They have never seen or heard of modern technology, and they are given a gameboy. They see the little person on the screen, they see them moving about an environment, and they see how they can control this person's actions. It must be some sort of magic.

They know of nothing that is even remotely like this gameboy, and they have absolutely no idea how any such thing is possible. They have no idea of how they could even begin to understand it. But we know it can be understood, we know there's no magic.

Could qualia be to us like the gameboy is to the tribesperson?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Thinking Outside of the Ought

Yeah, Paul Graham gets it. He doesn't restrict his thinking to the space of what things ought to be about -- he actually thinks about what's going on. Why does a particular candidate win an election? The political attitudes of the populus, the things that influence these attitudes, etc, of course. Well, at least that's what you'd expect it's about, that's what it ought to be about, but wrong tree argues Graham. The answer he suggests is very simple and easy to see if your view isn't blinkered.

Sure, people understand it's important (read the article to see what I'm referring to), but I think it's clear they don't appreciate just how important it is, how important it is relative to other issues -- after all look at some of the candidates the parties have chosen, as Graham points out, or the apparent lack of real effort to address charisma issues.

And let's put this into the right perspective: the US, the most powerful country in the world, lots at stake in presidential elections, huge resources put into the opposing sides. And: a simple notion that easy to see if you're view isn't blinkered, massively overlooked by all these people over many decades who've had huge stakes in these elections. Election results in the most powerful country in the world could've been different -- that's the size of those blinkers.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Dawkin's Review of Intellectual Impostures

Richard Dawkin's 1998 review of Sokal and Bricmont's Intellectual Impostures. Pretty good stuff - and interesting for his insights, not just what he says about the book. Right now I'm too lazy to try and describe what the book is about, but here's the first paragraph of the review:

Suppose you are an intellectual impostor with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life, collect a coterie of reverent disciples and have students around the world anoint your pages with respectful yellow highlighter. What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Goddamn it irks me when people try to be critical or insuling of something and dress it up in humour on the pretense that they "don't really mean it"; where they want to mean it but be able to claim that they don't mean it. Of course, you can say something and and only half-heartedly mean it, and you can say something purely for the joke -- I'm only talking about the situation where someone is doing it because they want it both ways. Good, now that I've got that off my chest, I return you to your normally scheduled programming... :-)