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Ivan Kirigin's views on Robotics & Culture: future. perfect. progress.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Interview - CIO Magazine

Machine Dreams:: Ray Kurzweil spoke at RI25. Well, when I say "at", I mean that he was projected onto a transparent screen, in what was perhaps the highest quality tele-presence I've seen.

But still, he lacked situational awareness, and it was awkward at times. I wanted to ask questions, but there wasn't an option.

The interview linked above is a lot like his talk. He talked about the numerous exponential growths in recent technology, and not just Moore's Law.

He figures that he should try to be healthy until 2020, then a biomedical revolution will keep him healthy for another 20 years, and then a nano-technology revolution will kick in to keep him alive forever.

By "alive", he means that his intelligence propagates in the cold, soul-less heart of a machine. But considering that I agree with him that there is no ghost in the shell, this soulless form doesn't seem that bad. At least you're still sentient!

I agree with the principle, that there is nothing to stop this, that all technology is pushing us in this direction, and that it would prove to be a very positive experience. I do not necessarily agree about the time frame. I can't really trust the curves that he fits with so much confidence. Then again, I'm 32 years younger than him, so if he is off by 32 years, I guess I shouldn't complain :)

Last night at a party, drunk enough to make the discussion interesting, some folks objected to the extrapolation of the increasing rate of expansion of scientific knowledge. What guarantee is there, after all, to find all the secrets in that time? I would say first that the rate of growth in the number of researchers alone could do it. Also, increases in productivity, have always been accompanied with "this pace can't continue" claims, which have always been wrong.

Also brought up was the notion that life is defined by death. That is a very defeatist thought, which I will fight, err, to my grave. In addition, some thought they would get bored if they lived forever. I would say that I could never complain about there being "more books than i could ever read", which is a great thing. Also, I've always wanted to get really good at GO.

Finally, the notion of replication of machine intelligence was introduced. Someone claimed that I shouldn't discount the important sociological and physical implications of being born from a human whom. I agreed, only to realize that the first few moments of any existence will have a huge implication on the formation of the individual intelligence. So if I copy myself, I'll have to think of a few appropriate words to introduce the other me into this world. So far, all I can come up with is "hi".

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

RI25 pics

Robotics Institute 25th Anniversary - ImageEvent:: Seeing Rhex in motion is far better than pictures.

3D instruction

Professor Illah Nourbakhsh is an excellent lecturer here at RI. He also pioneers many projects in robotics education. Doing my Robotic Manipulation homework, I couldn't help but to wonder how 3D visualization would aid the instruction of kinematics & dynamics, and what he thinks about it.

I'm certain that this would affect thousands of would-be mechanical engineers, and not just roboticists. Maybe some sort of combination of CAD and PowerPoint. It would have to be easy enough to manipulate on the fly, and designed well enough so that intuitive motions, perhaps even a gestural interface, would produce the desired results.

Note that this needn't be true 3D, simply a way to manipulate a 2D image which makes the represented 3D structure apparent.

Monday, October 11, 2004


Robotics Institute - 25th Anniversary:: this site gives a schedule for this week's events. I very much look forward to the talks, and do check back here for some blogging of those I find interesting.

On a side note, the Field Robotics Center had its annual retreat today. We spent a good deal of time talking about the future. Here is a simple exercise: what 10 items will be essential to achieving what is likely to occur in 30-50 years?

Next question: What on that list are you going to work on this year? Navigation without GPS is a good goal. A high fidelity simulator with realistic dynamics would solve a number of problems. With something powerful enough to simulate, say, packed dirt, you could do everything from a speed-up prototyping & validation to self-supervised learning.

Also, SLAM-in-a-box is a very good idea. The fact that a robot has a great deal of trouble currently finding out where it is astounds me.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Best in years

Wired News: "An Anime for Deep Thinkers":: The sequel to "Ghost in the Shell" is probably the best anime I've ever seen.

"Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" continues the story of a future where the secrets in the human body are all revealed. There is no real difference between cyborg body parts and biological body parts, other than the probability that the cyborg parts are better. The entire story goes beyond the trivial storyline in most American movies about robots: they'll kill us, enslave us, or take our jobs. The future presented here is one which is far more likely than such dire predictions, at least for a distant future. In the short term, there might be commotion, but that is best left to another posting. The point is that a disturbance to our economy is not as interesting as a disturbance in our collective psyche, and I enjoy when the latter is explored.

The reasons I liked the story are many. First, the graphics are perhaps the best I've ever seen. A combination of ultra-crisp, hyper-real 3D animation, and highly stylized, traditional manga, these scenes would be photo-realistic, if only the result weren't so fantastical. In addition, the characters drawn in the traditional anime style avoid the major problems of 3D animated humans, such as a lack of expressiveness and personality (think "Final Fantasy").

The movie gives ample time to the rich 3D scenes in expository scenes of the environments and oddities of future. This is aided with glimpses of the lives of those involved in what is basically a mystery/thriller. With accelerated intelligence, even secret-government-organization cyborg commandos manage to quote everything from Milton to Sun Tzu, with surprisingly piquant results. In other films, their 'heady' attempts at dialogue land flat. Here it is remarkably believable.

What I really enjoyed is the prime concept of this future: humans are but machines, save for a 'ghost' in our brains, whether biological or mechanical. This is rather optimistic, that there is something special about a human brain that is non-replicable, but let's run with it. In this world, there is no difference between a 'virtual thought' and a 'real thought', as is evident in a nightmarishly recursive fantasy prank. In this world, a brain can be 'hacked', challenging free will. Dolls and Gods are pure, while a cyborg man with a ghost is hurt in knowing his limitations. It is a choice to continue living in the real world, or unleash your ghost on the net and find notions like happiness as 'quaint'. Accelerated intelligence indeed! From the wired review:
But the most powerful sequence shows Batou coming home to a basset hound who is overjoyed to see him. There's just a hint of connection there -- Batou, the cyborg who is all alone in the world, senses deep inside what it feels like to be human. He knows being affectionate has some value, but isn't quite sure how to feel it. It's almost unbearably sad.
The dog is remarkably cute.