If extraterrestrials invade, how much warning might there be?

Friday, 27 February, 2015

On the off chance you had been wondering about this very matter… a Slashdot discussion regarding the Earth’s distant early warning capabilities, as it were, if such a term is even applicable, and just how effective it might be:

My question is how good are we at the moment in detecting an alien ship/fleet that jumps into our solar system. Do we have radio dishes around the globe such that we can detect objects in space in all longitude and latitude degrees? I know we have dishes pointing to the skies but how far can they reach? Do we have blindspots perhaps on the poles? I also wonder if our current means, ie radio signals, are relatively easy to be compromised with our current stealth technology? To formulate it in more sci-fi terms, how large is our outer space detection grid, and what kind of time window can they give us?

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Once a computer passes the Turing test, is it time for a new test?

Wednesday, 25 February, 2015

The Turing Test, named for British computer scientist Alan Turing, in essence, tests a computer’s ability to pass itself off as a human. For instance, it could be that the… person you’ve been engaged in an email dialogue with for weeks – and who you’ve never met of course – in fact turns out to be a rather clever bot.

Fooling a human into thinking a computer may be human however, no longer appears to be sufficient test of a smart bot’s mettle it seems, as there are now calls to replace the test with something a little more challenging

A plan is afoot to replace the Turing test as a measure of a computer’s ability to think. The idea is for an annual or bi-annual Turing Championship consisting of three to five different challenging tasks. A recent workshop at the 2015 AAAI Conference of Artificial Intelligence was chaired by Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology at New York University. His opinion, and one that we share is that the Turing Test had reached its expiry date.

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Anyone care for some laboratory grade peanut butter?

Monday, 23 February, 2015

If you’re a scientist running tests and experiments on peanut butter – and after all the cake and watermelon, it is really just another chemical compound – you might find yourself paying top dollar to obtain the laboratory grade stuff… as in US $671, for a jar similar in size to what you see on supermarket shelves.

This peanut butter isn’t actually intended for your mouth (rude, I know), but to be fed into laboratory gadgets like gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers. Smart people then use it to establish an industry-wide standard to which similar food products can be compared. The high price has nothing to do with taste or quality, but simply reflects all the scientist-hours that went into its making.

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Programmer proverbs that all of us can live by

Thursday, 19 February, 2015

The first symptom of stagnation is preference, by Futurice

Not just for programmers, I don’t think, these programmer proverbs, from Finnish software development company Futurice.

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The secret life of machines, and other things, illustrated

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015

An illustrated guide to how things, many things, work, things such as fax machines, cars, electric lights, central heating systems, photocopiers, and my personal favourite place/object ever, offices, by Tim Hunkin.

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Mirrors, the next victims of digital technologies?

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015

Digital technologies are apparently threatening the livelihood of… mirrors. With people happy to use smartphones as vanity mirrors, and car mounted cameras offering drivers clearer views of the road around them than might rear view mirrors, it could be their time has come.

The end of the old school looking glass may not be all that lamentable though, a so-called digital mirror will allow us to see ourselves as everyone else does:

But I imagine that by the time your kids or grandkids install one of those “mirrors,” the idea won’t seem very futuristic anymore. Because one of the weirdest things that mirrors do – which we take for granted today – is show things the wrong way around. The face you see in the mirror isn’t the one you show other people. It’s backwards, as I’m sure you know. At some point in your life, you saw a picture of yourself and realized things were a little bit off. If I’m not completely crazy, future generations won’t tolerate that. They’ll have gotten quite used to the idea that a screen can show them their true face with the press of a button. Or always.

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Artificial Intelligence, nothing to worry about, just yet anyway…

Friday, 13 February, 2015

A bird? An avalanche?

Much is being said about artificial intelligence, or AI, and how AI powered entities stand ready to take over the world.

That may be a concern in the future, but right now, if INTERESTING.JPG, “a smart computer looking at popular human images”, and the commentary it offers of the photos it sees, is anything to go by, there’s not too much to worry about. For now, at least.

According to INTERESTING.JPG, the above photo is of “a number of birds flying through the sky in front of a cliff”. Mind you, INTERESTING.JPG can sometimes be on the mark, but not too often by the looks of it.

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Google pronounce, helping travellers say place names correctly

Friday, 13 February, 2015

Streatham is a suburb located in South London. Supermodel Naomi Campbell was born there. We used to go and see movies at the Odeon along the high street. Not with Campbell however. But if this is by chance the first time you’ve heard of Streatham, how would you pronounce its name? It’s not quite as straightforward as it looks.

What then of all the other places across the globe that stand to be misspoken? Enter then a Google initiative, that promises to make things a little easier for travellers, by offering them the opportunity to learn the correct pronunciation of a town, or place, name ahead of time:

The patent details how Google could determine the most common pronunciation of a place name from audio clips submitted by locals, then offer that pronunciation when someone searches for the place on Google Maps. This function could be handy, as Google says in the patent, “when traveling in a foreign country.”

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Replay the soundtrack of your life

Tuesday, 10 February, 2015

Enter your date of birth and Retrojam will compile a playable play list of popular music releases in the years you were born, started primary/elementary school, graduated high school, and then university or college.

I imagine this could be especially fun if you wanted to organise a milestone sort of birthday party for a friend or family member.

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Can your credit card transactions reveal your identity? Yes, they can

Monday, 9 February, 2015

You might just want start to paying for your goods and services with cash, after some Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that it was possible to identify a credit card holder based on just four transactions, even though details of names and addresses had been removed from the data they were analysing:

Although names, addresses and other information directly linked to card owners had been scrubbed from the data set, de Montjoye and his colleagues could pick out 90% of individuals if they knew the date and location of just four of their credit-card transactions.

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