Monday, August 29, 2005

[HCI] Wired: Nintendogs Teach Us New Tricks


As it turns out, we're suckers for babysitting. Sherry Turkle -- the digital-age pundit and author of Life on the Screen -- has been researching the relationship between robots and people. She's discovered that the most popular robots are, unexpectedly, the ones that demand we take care of them. They trigger our nurturing impulses, the same ones we deploy toward infants, the elderly or any other vulnerable creature.

The thing is, this precisely inverts the normal logic of artificial intelligence. Back in the '70s, everyone assumed we'd eventually have super-smart robots as servants -- guarding our homes, managing our schedules and bringing us a beer. That never happened. Nobody really wanted robots like that, because robots like that are kind of scary. Nobody wants a Terminator hanging around the kitchen.

In reality, when robots finally broke out into the mass market, it was the Furby and the Aibo. Not only did they serve zero useful purpose, they actually demanded we spend hours and hours nurturing them. If you didn't pay attention to your Aibo, it'd wilt. That, Turkle suggests, is precisely the reason these robots have such emotional purchase. Over in Japan, nursing homes are issuing Aibos to the abandoned elderly, because people love to feel needed -- and as it turns out, that's the one thing that Aibo is genuinely "useful" for: making you feel needed.

...

Maybe sci-fi doomsayers have got it all wrong. Artificial intelligence won't be dominating us with its superhuman cognition and bloodless logic. It'll be peeing itself and demanding to be taken for a walk.



Link

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

[Cool] Large Scale Model Crystals of the Galaxy

This is just ridiculously cool.

http://www.bathsheba.com/crystalsci/largescale/


[Cool] Harry Potter Currency Converter

http://cgi.money.cnn.com/apps/hpcurrconv


Would you like to know how much dragon liver would cost if you could buy it in your local supermarket? In the Harry Potter books, it says it costs 17 sickles an ounce. So, enter 17 into the sickles box and click "Calculate." There's your answer: $4.82.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

[Academic] CNN: Worst Pay for the Investment

As I keep telling prospective PhD students, don't do it for the money.


A career with one of the most disproportionate ratios of training to pay is that of academic research scientist.

A Ph.D. program and dissertation are requirements for the job, which can take between six and eight years to complete. (See correction.) Add to that several years in the postdoctoral phase of one's career to qualify for much coveted tenure-track positions.

During the postdoc phase, you are likely to teach, run a lab with experiments that require you to check in at all hours, publish research and write grants – for a salary that may not exceed $43,000.

The length of the postdoc career has doubled in the past 10 years, said Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. "It's taking longer and longer to get there. You can't start a family. It's really tough."

And it's made tougher still by the fact that in many disciplines, there aren't nearly as many tenure-track positions as there are candidates.


Link

Thursday, August 04, 2005

[Location] GeoMinder

http://ludimate.com/geominder/index.php


For Nokia phones...


Geominder allows you to create location-based reminders that stay attached to physical locations.


When arriving at a marked location, Geominder can play an alarm and display a stored text note or a voice note previously associated to the location.

Monday, August 01, 2005

[Tech] [Research] Fumbling Our Future

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0729/p01s01-woap.html


In the US, the debates we have about education deal with whether we should teach the Bible in public schools and downplaying evolution in favor of the pseudo-science intelligent design. Sprinkle this with the reduction in overall funding for basic research in all sciences, mix in the difficulty foreign students have in getting visas to study here, and stir in the general American disinterest in anything remotely intellectual, and you have a recipe for long-term disaster.

If America doesn't get its act together soon, I wouldn't be surprised if China or India takes the lead within a few decades. It reminds me of the Xerox PARC "Fumbling the Future" stories, except on a national level.


Several years ago, Chinese car manufacturer Geely grew concerned about a shortage of well-trained workers. Its solution: plunk down $800 million and start a private university.

...

Since 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then president of China, spoke on the 100th anniversary of top-ranked Peking University and issued his bracing call for change, overall college enrollment in China has roughly tripled. The country now outpaces leaders like the US, India, Russia, and Japan in numbers of students in colleges and universities.

...

China almost doubled the number of science and engineering PhDs between 1996 and 2001, to just over 8,000. Some observers say that within a decade, China is likely to boast some of the world's leading engineering schools.