Robot's Voice Helps It Find Its Way


Computical Physicing

Week 15

From The Economist, Dec 4th 2003
Computers that read your mind: Playing Pac-Man on thought-controlled computers

They stole my idea.

It is said that mycologists have the highest incidence of poisoning by mushroom. Their confidence leads to carelessness. That's been the explanation for my recent failed efforts - sometimes when I'm sure I can do something, I don't try. Other times, I don't know what I'm doing, but at least I know that I don't know, and then I try and succeed.

100 years ago the Wright brothers built and flew the first airplane. Last week I failed to make a little electric car. Talk about weight-to-power ratios, they had to have enough power to actually lift the whole thing off the ground.

Ross and Selena are in their new house in Atlanta.

A cool ITP project would be to take a See-n-Say and re-record those white plastc phonograph discs they use with custom sounds. Another fun project would be to make a custom music box. This guy has done so and has a write-up with tips at Mechanical Music Digest

This French site is devoted to the kind of toys that walk around and play music after being wound up.

Aeolian wind harps are cool too.

More cool toys from Wired, including a home DNA sequencing kit.

Something cool and scary: a powderless, silent coilgun pistol that uses magnets instead of gunpowder to propel an iron (or presumably nickel) bullet.

This week I saw two middle-aged guys get arrested on Bleecker St. for sharing a joint.

Ever since New York adopted its new cigarette tax, smuggling and related violence had increased: Cato institute, National Center for Policy Analysis. This suggests that the more the government legislates against a drug, the more people will resort to illegal means to distribute them. If marijuana were legal, would usage increase? Maybe a little, but violence related to distribution would surely decrease. Although, in fairness, the violence tends to be related more to drugs like cocaine than to marijuana.

Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, describing the U.S. in Iraq, said that one trait of American culture is that it wants to make its own mistakes, rather than learn from others.
I think that describes me pretty well, and I wonder whether that partly describes the difference between American, Asian, and European students at school.

Imagine the virtual Etch-a-Sketch Phaedra made for ICM.
Now imagine a few extra dials that allow you to rotate around y and z, meaning you could etch a 3d sketch.
That would be cool.

Went to the Winter Show. Brought along my neighbor who builds sets for the movies, and to whom I've been describing ITP over the past few months.

He was very underwhelmed, and I was also a little embarrassed to be showing him some of the exhibits, many of which were not so good.

I think I understand something now though: a lot of projects at ITP are about turning one kind of noise into another - generating video colors from crowd noises or vice versa.

Also, an inordinate number of projects were merely homework exercises that demonstrated the student's level of expertise - many of these were Jean-Marc's students who he allowed in since he was in charge of the show this year. Some people's work, for example, was not original or attractive, had no message or meaning, and did not push the boundaries of what could be done with the tools - it was simply as far as the students had gotten in terms of learning the software.

Rodney Brooks takes lesson from Rosie Jetson

"Haptics is the science of touch. The word comes from the Greek ‘haptikos’, meaning ‘being able to come into contact with’"

Etymology lesson:
A thermostat is cybernetic in nature: There is a mechanism in place which keeps the room from getting too hot or too cold; it regulates things to ensure everything is in balance, that if something gets too far one direction, the system kicks on to bring it back in line.
Today, cybernetics is the "theoretical study of control processes, in electrical, mechanical, or biological systems, especially the mathematical analysis of the flow of information of such systems." However, the original meaning of cybernetic referred to the person who steered or guided the ship through dangerous channels.

Cybernetic comes to us from the Greek word, kubernetes, meaing "pilot, governor," which came from Greek kuberman, meaning, "to steer, guide." Hence, if something is cybernetic in nature, it steers or guides something so that nothing gets too far out of line one way or the other.

Norbert Wiener initiated the modern use of the Greek term "cyber" (originally meaning to steer or govern) around 1948 to characterize what he called "cybernetics:" an interdisciplinary science that investigates automatic control processes in biological, technical and social systems.

'Cyborg' ('cybernetic organism') was coined around 1962 to describe a human being linked to mechanical devices that assist the human's vital life functions.

Instructoart - Informative yet Aesthetically Pleasing, by Master of the Obvious

Met with some people from Honeybee Robotics again - looks like I'll be doing their site after all (it's been more than a year since we first got in touch).

I watched a video to get me in the right frame of mind. It's called "W.I.S.O.R. the Robo-Welder" and is a documentary of how the Honeybee engineers designed and built a Welding and Inspections Steam Operations Robot.

Currently, the city relies on steam to heat many of the buildings in Manhattan, including the Empire State Building. Whenever a steam pipe bursts, the city pays around $35,000 to get some union guys to dig up the street, weld the crack and repave the street again.

The robotic solution goes into the pipe, powered via umbilicus and is fairly autonomous when it comes to fixing cracks.

The video is from 2000, but seems older. It was directed by Michael Negroponte (relation to Dimitri?) and overall is quite badly done, but still interesting. It clearly shows the process of designing a sophisticated robot, including the planning-ahead part and the solving unforeseen problems part. It also includes lots of chatter by the engineers about philosophy.

I've seen some of the engineers actually at work, and they're pretty intense. I couldn't do their job.

I just want to build one robot that's smart enough to build all the others for me.

My favoritest HomestarRunner cartoon

Synthetic Creature Material Personality Nature of Birth Date
Talos Bronze Aggressive Fashioned by HephaestusLike, 5,000 BC
Galatea (Pygmalion) Stone Not much Aphrodite Intervention ""
Golem Clay Creepy, vengful Rabbis & God 1579-ish
Gingerbread Man Dough Rascally, with hubris ??? ???
Frankenstein's Monster Dead people Vengeful Science 1816
Tin Man, Scarecrow Straw, Tin Kind Witches 1900
Tik Tok Metal Stalwart Witches again? 1914
Pinocchio Wood Impish Fairy Intervention 1914
Marius, Sulla, Radius, Damon, et al. * Metal Hard-working Science 1921
The Robot from Fritz Lang's Metropolis Metal Not much Science 1927
Loads of B-Movie robots Metal Sometimes good, usually badScience 1950s - 1960s
$6-million Man Dead Steve Austin + 'Bionics' Good guy Science 1974
See-Threepio (C3PO) Metal Gay Science 1977
Terminator Metal Jerk Science 1984

From these data we can conclude that creating synthetic creatures from organic materials result in more interesting personalities than we would get from inorganic ones. Stone in particular yields sexy yet uninteresting girlfriends.

Synthetic creatures made from wood or plants tend to be spunky, while those made of rock or metal are true literalists, in that they adhere to Literalism.

Based on this theory, we can posit that an artificial man made of twine would be witty and urbane, at least in comparison to his metallic brethren.

We can also conclude that Science-generated creatures are in general scarier (or at least more powerful) than God-generated ones, especially when portrayed by Lee Majors.

Thirdly, female robots are boring.

It was really in the 20th century when the line between robotics and medicine began to blur, when it was possible to imagine a human being with mostly mechanical organs and limbs. But, if you include Voodoo dolls in this list,
well then...
I'm not sure, but it's related.

* The first use of the word 'robot' is from this play: R.U.R. (ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS)

Brief History of Artificial Intelligence

Carol Channing ('Hello Dolly') recently wrote her memoir, and mentioned her first love in the book, from when she was 15, a guy she hadn't seen in 70 years. He heard about the book, and his wife had died and her husband had died, and he knocked on her door and they got married. That's sweet - not in a 'Dude where's my car' kind of sweet, but an almost glurge-y way.

I don't get the Sci-Fi channel, so I won't be able to see the new Battlestar Galactica. (The word 'galaxy' and 'galactic' [and thus 'galactica'] come from the same root as 'lactose' and 'lactate', because the ancients called the visible part of our galaxy the 'milky way' - so, 'Milky Way Galaxy' is redundant, and the show I'm talking about translates to 'Milky Battlestar', whatever a battlestar is...)

And hey, do you remember Buck Rogers from around that time? Starring Gil Gerard, with Erin Gray as Wilma Deering, and Mel Blanc as the voice of Twiki, the wise-cracking robotic side-kick?

I loved the old Battlestar Galactica, from the 70s, when I was a kid, but I have no interest in stoking nostalgia. Still, I saw some promos for the new show, and the cylons now look like people, which surely saves lots of money on costumes.

BUT, in the promo, it seemed that there were two kinds of evil robots: Vampy Temptress and Warrior.

And when looking at the list above, it seems that the synthetic creatures fall into three categories: sex slave, war slave, or fluke. The Maker either wanted to screw the thing, have the thing fight on his behalf, or there was some comical error.
If you haven't guessed, most robot-makers are men, both in the fictions and in real life. There are women doing this stuff, but their work is entirely unrelated to everything covered on this Web page. For example, what the hell is Kismet? You can't screw it and it can't fight, but it wasn't a mistake either.
We may have to wait a few generations before the trend is evident.

The more I hear Howard Dean speak, the less I like his ideas, which is too bad. I agree with some of his 'planks', just not all. I'll still vote for him though.

After watching Beyond Human - Living Machines I have a prediction: Within 20 years we will see a robot olympics where countries such as the US, Japan, China, Japan, Germany, Japan, Italy, Japan, and India submit robotic teams to compete in traditional athletic events. We'll call it 'Robolympics', we'll get sponsors, sell TV broadcast rights, it'll be great.

Honda's Asimo is cool.

Matt Slaybaugh
ms171 at