JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 28 : January 01, 2001


This is the first issue of JimPinto.com eNews for
the New Year, Century, decade, millennium.
Clicked-out at 01:01 on 01-01-01.

Happy New Year!

Contents:
  • Intelligent Robots are coming
  • Sony Playstation 2
  • 10 Technology Trends - MIT Review
  • God, Wolfram & Everything Else
  • eFeedback - Extropy etc.

Intelligent Robots are coming...

In his book Kurzweil Book The Age of Spiritual Machines Ray Kurzweil predicts that machine-intelligence will exceed human capabilities within just a couple of decades - a significant new benchmark to cross in the new century. This will not come about suddenly; except it to emerge first through toys and computers that emulate human capabilities and adapt (learn) as they operate.

I got the Heathkit HERO robot about 20 years ago, for about $ 2,500 (for the kit, which I had to build). Hero guarded my office at home, patrolling back and forth at the door. When my kids approached the forbidden zone, it rasped: "You are not allowed to be here!" Of course, my 12-year-old son quickly demonstrated that he could creep slowly past the IR sensor and get behind the robot's field of vision to do as he wished. At random intervals, when I was out traveling, my alter-ego robot would announce to my wife : "Jimmy loves you!" - which of course scared her silly. She pulled the plug; but, being battery operated, it still went on - till she found the reset button..... With a tiny brain (8-bit computer, plus 8K of memory and audio-tape storage) it didn't do too much - so, when the novelty wore off I donated it to a local school.

Sony's AIBO robot-dog seems to be among the first of the new toys that exhibit learned "behavior", with impressive mechanics and electronics which give the impression of "life". Aibo responds to voice commands such as "sit", "lie down" and he can walk, sit up, bat a ball around and even right himself and get up if he falls over or is placed upside-down. Aibo wants to play and be petted ("feels" with sensors in various places) and when he is "happy" he makes soothing noises, and colored lights on his "face" flash pleasant, warm-colored patterns. If ignored, Aibo gets "angry" and tries to get attention. If ignored long enough, Aibo eventually goes off to play with his toys. A big step forward from my old Heathkit Hero.

Click Look at Sony's AIBO

Aibo is priced at $ 2,500, which means that only techhy types will get one. No, I don't have one yet, though I have played with it at various shows and was VERY tempted. If they had one for sale at the exhibit booth, I would have bought it. But, I had to place and order and wait weeks - which kinda put me off.

As the next step, Sony has already developed prototype human-like robot, initially code-named SDR-3X. The robot is about 20 inches (50 cm) tall and weighs about 11 pounds (5 kg). It has 24 joints that enable it to perform such basic movements as walking, changing direction, getting up, balancing on one leg, dancing, and kicking. Movement can be verbally controlled through two microphones in its ear and the robot can recognize about 20 prerecorded words. It can also distinguish colors via a camera mounted in its head. Responding to commands, it can pick out a specifically colored ball and kick it toward a goal net. Sony has not decided on the price of the human-like robot or when it will begin selling it.

Click See this TechWeb News story on Sony's new human-robot

As Moore's Law advances, and processing power increases exponentially, robot "toys" like these are the breeding ground for future-generation products that will bring us closer to the exciting, and perhaps alarming, possibility of synthetic life.

Let me know what you think of my latest article on this subject:

Evolution of the TechnoHuman Evolution of the TechnoHuman:

Look at my presentation at Dick Morley's Chaos Conference, May 98 - based on Kurzweil's book: "The Age of Spiritual Machines :

Click Synthetic Intelligence

Sony Playstation-2

Regarding Sony and toys, have you have probably heard about their new Playstation-2. It costs $299 - if you can get it; I know some people who bought it at twice the price, rather than wait. The PS-2 has a 128-bit processor with awesome graphics performance, 32 megabytes of memory, a USB port and a 400 megabits/second FireWire port, with expansion for a broadband network connection. You can connect a camcorder to allow a character to take on the actual appearance of the player. Beyond just games, the PS2 also plays both CDs and DVDs, and offers a fiber connection to state of the art audio systems for Dolby Digital sound. Pretty impressive for a "game" costing just a few hundred dollars.

Click Take a look at the Sony PS-2

Interesting thought: If "synthetic life" does indeed become part of the everyday human scenario in this new century, it seems reasonable to think that the best entry-point would be through toys and games.....

God, Stephen Wolfram & everything else

Stephen Wolfram is Founder & CEO of Wolfram Research, a privately held company with 300 employees and $50 million in estimated annual revenues. The companies primary product is Mathematica, which has been used for everything from designing the flow rate of shampoo to calculating the Nielsen TV ratings to designing the cycling arena at the Atlanta Olympics. Mathematica (latest version is 4.1) has more than 2 million users in 90 countries.

Wolfram Research continues to thrive through the success of Mathematica. But this serves as a background for acknowledged genius Stephen Wolfram's personal primary quest - a new level of simplicity through the science of cellular automata: "cellular" because this deals with cells on a large grid, "automata" because they automatically follow simple rules.

Stephen Wolfram is investigating the potential role of cellular automata as a universal computer capable of producing patterns for everything from quasars to bumblebees, hurricanes, stock markets, and rose petals. His book A New Kind of Science is still in preparation and waiting to be published (four years overdue); it is already getting enough preorders (including mine) to make it a best-seller - a record for an unpublished book of arcane theory.

In his book Wolfram challenges the mathematical center of each of the major scientific disciplines in turn: biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, evolution, fluid dynamics, cosmology, human cognition, music theory, the material sciences - the list grows. There is practically no corner of the scientific world that can't be revolutionized by Wolfram's model.

This may be the catalyst that will finally bring the sciences of Chaos and Complexity to the forefront of the new century.

Click You've gotta read this Stephen Wolfram story at Forbes ASAP

Click Stephen Wolfram's website

Click What Mathematica does

10 Technology trends - MIT Review

One of the primary themes of this eNews is Technology Trends. And, one of the best sources for technology tracking is the MIT-Review.

The January/February 2001 issue of MIT Technology Review has their latest selection of 10 emerging areas of technology that will soon have a profound impact on the economy and on how we live and work. These advances span information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology, the arenas we often highlight. All of these areas merit special attention in the decade to come.

Here are the MIT-Review 10 :

  • Brain-Machine Interfaces
  • Flexible Transistors
  • Data Mining
  • Digital Rights Management
  • Biometrics
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Microphotonics
  • Untangling Code
  • Robot Design
  • Microfluidics

In future issues of eNews, JimPinto.com eNews will highlight specific trends that we think are the most important.

Click Jan/Feb 2001 MIT Review Technology Trends

eFeedback

The subject of Extropy, the opposite of Entropy (Harmony vs Disorder) excited a lot of people. Jeff Cawley [JCawley@nwasoft.com] e-wrote:

    "Actually, the maximization of harmony - the reduction of differences - is compatible with the concept of entropy increasing in the universe as time proceeds. Since life can be considered a locus of negative entropy in the biophysical arena, so strife could be a locus of negative entropy (or perhaps extropy) in the non-physical universe."

Hmmm... I'm glad people are thinking about this.

Click Visit the Extropy website for some interesting insights and perspectives

On other technology discussions, Ian Hughes [ian.hughes@softdel.com] e-wrote from England:

    "I'm fascinated by your comments on nanotechnology and MEMS. These are truly technology steps that will revolutionize the way we live in the same way as micro-electronics did.

    Having a vested interest in software, I wonder where its future lies. The devices you talk about are single function, "fixed build" devices. That's the equivalent of analog design technology. At this level there is no "programmability", although there is obviously a configuration requirement to build together these "nano-objects" into useful systems.

    From a programming perspective the next stage will be the interesting one, when the technology moves from single function, fixed build devices to variable-function, flexible devices. "Programming" will then presumably be "DNA programming" as the programmer changes the molecular structure to achieve his own purposes. This is both an exciting and frightening prospect. Imagine the consequences of millions of DNA-programmers across the globe no longer hacking software in VB, but all creating unique molecules (organisms?). The potential for havoc/disaster is gross, even without considering the potential for malevolent use."

This came from Gerry Coates [gerry@isp.co.nz] in New Zealand:

    "Just some positive feedback to say that your eZine is one of the few I continue to let into my mailbox because you always have one or two items that catch my eye.

    "I have a long term interest in the direction technology is heading, having founded a group called Engineers for Social Responsibility in New Zealand in 1983 (still going strong with our annual conference coming up next March) that also spawned American ESR (now moribund) and influenced Architects and Engineers for Social Responsibility in the UK (they chose our name and logo for an existing group Engineers for Nuclear Disarmament).

    One particular interest is nanotechnology (Drexler's "Engines of Creation") - any up to date news on that front?"

Thanks for the positive feedback, Gerry, and for the news of ESR!

Regarding Drexlers nanotechnology work, you might visit The Foresight Institute website, founded by Drexler, with a focus on nanotech and emerging technologies.

Click The Foresight Institute

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