Friday, June 4, 2010

Machines Making Machines [Robot Apocalypse]

Recent technological breakthroughs are edging us closer and closer to the brink of the inevitable Robot Apocalypse.

The latest breakthrough may be the most chilling, as robots are getting dangerously close to being able to replicate themselves without human hands.

The pair have already demonstrated key parts of such a system, using around 100 plastic blocks. Although it cannot yet fabricate these blocks itself, the machine is able to move in 3D to pick up and bind them into larger structures. Moses is currently working on having it make a complete replica of its own structure using Lego-like bricks, though the machine still relies on conventional motors - which have to be installed by hand - to drive its activity.

Though this robot cannot build all of its own parts, some geniuses are working on robots that can build their own motors, using a technique called 3-D printing.

"We're at the transition from printing parts to printing systems," says Lipson, "and working hard on printing a complete robot." The team will know when that milestone has been reached, he says, on the day the thing they print walks, or more likely crawls, from the printer under its own power.

So far the team has managed to print out working versions of the major components of a robot: electronic muscle actuators, relays, transistors, batteries and circuitry. Electrodes and wiring, for example, can be made using silver particles mixed into silicone, while the bulk of a battery can be made using a paste of zinc particles and liquid electrolyte. A robotic arm stands by to swap syringe cartridges as required.

Whether they know it or not, these people are the enemies of humanity, and their work will be exploited by our future robot overlords to produce vast robot armies.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Regional Racism

Critics like to paint the South as a hotbed of ignorant racism, and film and TV does us no favors, creating racist charicatures that almost always hail from the South.

But I have suspected for some time now that the seat of American racism lies not in the South, where we have had to deal with the issue of race in our daily lives for hundreds of years, but rather that the most racist region lies to our North, specifically in the American Northeast.

My suspicions have been scientifically confirmed by some kindly Stanford economists, who's experimental paradigm consisted of an iPod for sale in a Craigslist ad.

Over the course of a year, they placed hundreds of ads in local online markets, randomly altering whether the hand holding an iPod for sale was black, white, or white with a big tattoo. Here is what they found:

Black sellers do worse than white sellers on a variety of market outcome measures: they receive 13% fewer responses and 17% fewer offers. These effects are strongest in the Northeast, and are similar in magnitude to those associated with the display of a wrist tattoo.

Interesting that the Northeast, the supposed bastion of liberal tolerance, is also where black people face the most racism.

The research delves deeper into the data, finding even more measures on which blacks are at a disadvantage, but I felt this particular geographic detail to be the most interesting.

[via those awesome guys at Freakonomics]