Rock, Paper, Cyborgs

This robot hand makes a mockery of its human opponent in a game of rock, paper, scissors with a 100% win rate – one more step towards the total obsolescence of the human mind:

Rather than operate within the parameters of its programming and AI, the robot uses available sensory info and its rapid processing power to effectively ‘cheat’, making AI redundant in this instance:

human-machine cooperation system

The effect (at human speed, anyway) is that it wins without a scrap of intelligence, so what does that say about us?!

Happy Birthday David

Meet David: the 8th generation android from Weyland Industries that pushes technological, intellectual, physical and emotional barriers in robotics:

We’re told one of these units is serving as the butler and maintenance man on Project Prometheus, so I’m sure they’ll be in safe hands…

The Second Uncanny Valley

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new Tintin movie in the context of the Uncanny Valley (read my article here).

While searching around for a clear diagram illustrating the principle, I stumbled upon an article called The Second Uncanny Valley on a site called Open the Future, which features a load of really interesting stuff by a guy called Jamais Cascio.

Cascio is a futurist who centres his thinking on the question: “what if human beings, and all of our technology, could actually manage to change things for the better?” He’s an optimist, and one who’s interested in ideas as far ranging as geoengineering, climate science, renewables, open source, emerging tech, social networks, ethics and transhumanism. He’s also spoken at TED. Interesting bloke, really.

Which is why when I saw the below, in the context of the above, I felt quite childish when my access point to considering his ‘Second Uncanny Valley’ as an academic framework are media such as Transmetropolitan, Neuromancer or even Lawnmower Man. Take a look:

Just for clarity, his principle thought is that in a posthuman world, Masahiro Mori‘s Uncanny Valley theory (green area) would need to be extended out into this new blue area:

Once a significant number of us are opting for cosmetic cyborgism, seeking out other human upgrades, or even just trying to fake it, we’ll probably feel quite weird about having transhumans (or homo superior as Magneto might say) walking among us. That’s the second uncanny valley, right there.

Guys like Kevin Warwick (pictured left) are probably the first wave of posthumanism yet to plunge into this new uncanny valley. All he has is a chip in his arm that opens doors on his university campus. He claims to be the “world’s first cyborg”, but as many of you will know, the upcoming singularity will see a lot more of us merging with the machine world.

The ultimate end, perhaps the ‘radical posthuman’ at the far right of Cascio’s model, might be an entirely discarnate consciousness: thought without body, or more likely a digital embodiment. And that’s as familiar, on this scale, as the industrial robots at the opposite end. But Cascio might say ‘not in a way that’s uncanny’. And he’d go on to say:

I wanted to be clear on a distinction between things made/evolved to be like humans, and things made/evolved from humans […] the H+ era is likely to see a diversity of morphologies, both physical and cognitive.

Not to put words in his mouth, but with all of the things we might evolve to become, physically, mentally, virtually or otherwise, I think the idea is that we make a sort of ‘leap across’ the second uncanny valley to a place where we’re comfortable with our future lives.

Basically, technology, don’t creep us out.

Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!