Monthly Archives: November 2005

The Robot That Thinks Like You

The original article with the same name really demonstrates how AI-researchers have moved away from simple, rule-based expert-systems, which were considered to be artificial intelligence a long, long time ago.

That was in the so-called AI-winter, when AI had not lived up to the early promises of true intelligence, and science had given up on it.

Luckily, AI has gone through revival-period and is now far from dead:

Scientists built a robot that thinks like we do and set it loose to explore the world.

The infant crawls across a floor strewn with blocks, grabbing and tasting as it goes, its malleable mind impressionable and hungry to learn. Before my eyes it is already adapting, discovering that the striped blocks are yummy and the spotted ones taste bad.

Its exploration is driven by instincts: an interest in bright objects, a predilection for tasting things, and an innate notion of what tastes good. This, after all, is how babies explore the world and discover that pink, perky objects exist, and that they produce milk. Hands-on exploration moulds their billions of untrained brain cells into a fully functioning brain.

The infant I am watching wander around its rather spartan playpen in the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) in La Jolla, California, is a more limited creature. It is a trashcan-shaped robot called Darwin VII, and it has just 20,000 brain cells. Despite this, it has managed to master the …

I sure wish I could see a picture of this thing. I also wish I had access to the full article. Unfortunately, I’d have to pay 5 bucks for it and I don’t feel like going through the trouble of international payment, because I’m lazy.

Another recent breakthrough in AI was a few weeks back, when autonomous cars drove themselves 130 miles in 6.5 hours.

For details on the implications of AI, see the Singularity FAQ.

Nanotechnology Pushing The Boundaries

The US Department of State reports on how nanotechnology is about to push the boundaries of technology, like we’ve never seen before.

Nanotechnology has the capability to provide humanity with cheap, high-quality medical care and energy.

The lengthy article goes into:

  • The convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology, and the implications thereof
  • Mimicking nature’s own nanomachines (ie. plants, animals, etc.), and why it’s useful.
  • Molecular self-assembly.
  • Harnessing solar energy

and ends with a summary on what it is all likely to lead up to:

The continued development of nanobiotechnology materials and molecular machines will deepen our understanding of seemingly intractable phenomena. Nanoscale engineering through molecular design of self-assembling peptides is an enabling technology that will likely play an increasingly important role in the future of biotechnology and will change our lives in the coming decades. For example, aging and damaged tissues can be replaced with the scaffolds that stimulate cells to repair body parts or to rejuvenate the skin. We also might be able to swim and dive like dolphins or to climb mountains with a nanoscaffold lung device that can carry an extra supply of oxygen. It is not impossible to anticipate painting cars and houses with photosynthesis molecular machines that can harness the unlimited solar energy for all populations on every corner of the planet, not just for the wealthy few.

Just imagine that… living in a world where energy is collected constantly by our own, daily-used objects. Energy would be like oxygen: free, and always available.

Not to mention the possibility of replacing aging tissues…

I highly recommend reading this article if you want to get a good feel for some of the things nanotechnology can do, once it’s advanced enough.

The Near Future Of Medicine

The Newind Press reports on the current and near future state of medicine:

Not only in the medical industry but also in the world at large, two terms are already such buzzwords today that it is impossible to imagine that they will not play a massive, massive role in healthcare in the future. By 2010, both nanotechnology and stem cell research will have advanced to a point where they become integral, rather than radical, aspects of medicine and healing.

The vast potential of both is evident even today. Nanoparticles, being smaller even than human cells, can actually enter a human cell and make modifications – a prospect that is still remote today but that, once achieved, will revolutionise the way medical science and clinical research is performed. They can serve, for example, as little vehicles for customisable, targeted drug delivery, or as probes to understand cancer and carcinogenesis.

Many analysts also foresee a future of robotic surgery. Already one American clinic has performed the world’s first robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery, and in one famous case, a doctor controlled a robotic surgery unit right across the Atlantic Ocean. The human element is still critical, for only human beings can assess the progress of a surgery and make ad hoc improvisations. But the precision and stability of robotic units, especially for routine and delicate surgeries, will be a big part of a hospital’s array of services in the future.

Reason, of Longevity Meme sums it up neatly:

…hot new fields become just another tool in the toolkit, and what was once amazing and unheard of becomes commonplace and relied upon.