Tag Archive: artificial intelligence

Pokémon GO: Death, Drugs and Accidents

Pokémon GO has hit the world by storm, but like any new technology it’s a little… disruptive. View full article »

You have no idea what Reality is

The Atlantic recently published an interview with Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science. In this interview, Hoffman reveals some fascinating ideas about how reality is perceived and how that far off that perception can actually be. Furthermore, it’s possible that living beings are supposed to be that way in order to survive! Read on for more! View full article »

Tech is the new sorcery

If you look back on centuries of myths and legends, you’ll see countless stories about homonculi (artificial humans), vampires, alchemical processes and other superstitions. Although the worlds of spirituality and science are often at odds, sometimes they seem closer than anyone realizes.

Years ago, in my regular scouring of the Internet, I saw a post about a man trying “computer magic” by making a ceremonial gown out of floppy disks. In another instance, there was a case study about a group of people that tried to create some kind of spell by sending emails to each other in a loop. I suspect they crashed their own servers or the email providers thought their computers were hacked, but either way the pagans believed that they had awoken spirits in the Internet which had lashed out at them. I suppose an angry IT admin could be considered a supernatural terror of sorts…

We live in such a time that I sometimes wonder if people realize how close we are to the legends and superstitions of old. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home to find his house occupied and his wife threatened. The goddess Athena comes to his aid and drives off the attackers with a war cry that curdles their blood. Today, we have actual sonic cannons that are used to disperse large and unruly crowds. Sure, the cannons are not in the shape of a beautiful goddess, but aside from that is there really a fundamental difference? Let’s take a look at the other ways tech and myth are converging.

Homonculi and Golems

A homonculus means “little man” and is one of the many interests of alchemy. Golems, for their part are from Jewish myth. The idea here that a magic word can animate an otherwise non-living entity. The idea of an artificial life form is no longer novel. We create them in computer simulations and clone animals using modern biotechnology. As for golems, consider we can make 3D print body parts on command. Currently this is just for replacing parts, but it’s a short step from there to a full body. In 2013, Oxford Performance Materials replaced the skull of a man who had lost 75% of his own. In 2011 and the company Xilloc used 3D printing to create a titanium jaw for a woman whose jaw had been eroded away by disease. We can clone living tissue and generate artificial body parts. Mary Shelley would be proud.

Vampires and Eternal Youth

Dracula may be the most famous of the vampires, but he was fiction. Elizabeth Bathory was uncomfortably real and killed dozens of women. She was convinced that regular infusions of their blood would keep her young forever. Turns out she wasn’t too far off. Scientists at Harvard are working to commercialize GDF11, a protein found in blood that allowed blood from a young mouse to jumpstart the biology of an older mouse. Assuming this stuff could be brought to market, maybe the Draculas and Bathorys of the world can knock off that whole murdering-people-for-their-blood thing.

Clairvoyance and Telepathy

Everyone has a story about that uncle or friend who just seemed to know when a particular person was about to call or walk through the door. Or perhaps they seemed to be capable of conversing with certain people without being in the same room with them. Perhaps they were clairvoyant or telepathic. Perhaps they just had a cell phone that vibrated. Human human tactile sensory system is nuanced enough that it can detect almost the full range of human emotions by touch alone. It can also be used to communicate something more complex. It’s called Haptic Technology and it’s being used to develop apps like Mumble, which vibrates a smartphone in a specific pattern. This in turn allows the person carrying the phone to know what the alert is for without even pulling the phone out of the pocket. It’s not limited to phones, either. There’s a wristband called BuzzWear that vibrates in 24 different patterns. So now in addition to mysteriously knowing that your cousin just arrived at the airport, you can mysteriously know he’s sending you cat pics again.


And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The systematic way Facebook and other social networks keep you on their site amounts to demonic possession while the chemicals that go into heat packs or glow sticks would amount to alchemy. Centuries ago, people would have written this off as demonology, paganism, or mad scientist-style alchemy. It turns out they were born a bit too early to see modern technology coming around the corner.

The Gabba Gallery is running the “Walk Your Robot” art exhibit until the end of the October 30th 2014. The exhibit features the work of Vance DeGeneres, a self-taught artist who was inspired by the works of humorist James Thurber. While DeGeneres’ work is a collection of fancy and whimsy, there is in fact a great deal of research being done with emotional AI (artificial intelligence). His work represents an unintentional intersection between fantasy art and hard science.

fat and metallic is no way to go through life-u12166-frVance DeGeneres and his robots

Vance DeGeneres developed his skills in the 70s and the style of that time shows through in his work. Bringing to mind Warhol’s Mona Lisa and Campbell’s Soup paintings, his work is devoid of background imagery with photos mixed with illustrations and stark color juxtaposition.

They always go for the bad boysAll of this is meant to highlight the foreground characters, mostly women and robots. It’s here that the ideas of DeGeneres’ work come through. Walk Your Robot hails back to the futuristic optimism of a past era where the future was safe and technology was humanity’s friend. He envisions a world where robots are so ubiquitous that they develop emotional AI and yearn for the same relationships with humans that humans have amongst themselves.

Modern Research in Emotional AI

The irony here is that Vance’s work is unwittingly predictive of an actual future. Vance DeGeneres’ art exhibit parallels such stories as found in the film Her and the manga Chobits. In these stories technology is developed to draw an emotional connection between the artificial intelligence and the user to improve humanity’s ability to interact and use technology.

A great deal of research is currently underway in emotional AI. Microsoft’s research department, for example, published a paper on this very topic describing how “emotion plays a crucial role in cognitive processes”. In 2015, a Japanese company, Softbank, plans to launch an emotionally responsive robot nanny. Primarily this is meant for children, but one can see applications for a variety of human situations.

Intersections of Vision and Reality

20141011_200111Vance DeGeneres’ work is an interesting intersection of time and culture. His style came into its own in the 70s, and his message calls for a return to the more optimistic visions of the future. At the same time he, perhaps unintentionally, predicts things to come by envisioning a world of robots who adopt human traits. Actual work in emotional AI means that while we might not see his art come to life in accurate detail, humanity may well arrive at a time when machines as well as people are just part of the family.

Artificial Intelligence and Evolution

artificial intelligence image

Author Giulio Prisco wrote a fascinating article on synthetic life as the next step of evolution. He credits Stephen Hawking as believing that if or when the human race moves to the stars, it will do so with intelligent machines and that said machines may in fact be the the precursor to a new state of evolution. That is to say, interplanetary or interstellar life might not be biological, but in fact post-biological, having transitioned into a synthetic existence in order to defeat the time scale that space travel requires.

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A general discussion on the ideas behind the film Transcendence

When I originally saw the trailer for Transcendence, my initial thought was that I was watching “The Lawnmower Man, Part Depp”. The Lawnmower Man is of course the cult film of the early 90s in which Jobe, a mentally deficient gardener is subject to an experiment involving psychotropic drugs and virtual reality. In the process he becomes intelligent to a superhuman degree and is eventually able to embed himself in the virtual world and from there take over the real world.

The upcoming film Transcendence jumps straight to the insertion into the virtual world. On further inspection, of course, the film is quite different from The Lawnmower Man in both premise and direction. It simply uses similar tropes. This led to some thoughts on the subject of artificial intelligence and transferring human consciousness to a computer. Read on for more.

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