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Curating the Internet: Science and technology micro-summaries for October 18, 2019


7 months ago6 min read

8 weird NASA robots; Slow-speed vehicles might be the future of autonomous driving; Artificial intelligence helping in judging of international gymnastics competition; An argument against so-called strong artificial intelligence; and a Steem essay offering a defense of continuous learning

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  1. 8 weird robots NASA wants to send to space - This post contains a video that describes eight NASA robots. Robots include an inflatable humanoid for use inside the International Space Station (ISS), a planetary explorer, limbed robots for space vehicle repair and planetary exploration, the Mars Rover, the Astrobee robots that have been included in several of these #rsslog posts, a robot designed to produce Oxygen on Mars, and more. The post also contains a written transcript of the video.

  2. Autonomous shuttles in Northern Virginia suburb show why the future of robot cars might be slow - After a pedestrian was struck and killed by a self-driving vehicle in 2018, interest in slow speed autonomous vehicles has exploded. Researcher, Kelley Coyner, says that she is aware of at least 225 projects and proposals at the moment. Optimus Ride is currently using such vehicles to shuttle workers in Reston, VA's new Halley Rise development. Because their speed is limited to 25 mph (40 kph), these vehicles have lower requirements for expensive sensors, and a pedestrian is more likely to survive a collision with them. Even this technology still has open problems, though. For example, efficiency - two of six seats in the shuttle that's operated by Optimus Ride are occupied by a safety driver and an engineer. Also, the vehicles don't have sensors to detect some risks, like a car door being opened at just the moment when the vehicle passes. There is also a question about whether random strangers will feel safe riding together without any 3rd party representatives from the vehicle's owner. h/t Communications of the ACM

  3. Gymnastics’ Latest Twist? Robot Judges That See Everything - In Science and technology micro-summaries for July 15, 2019, we learned of a robotic umpire for baseball games in Pennsylvania. Now there's a robot judge for gymnastics, in Germany, too. The gymnastics world championship tournament, in Stuttgart, had 30 gray boxes arranged around the floor in the competition areas. These wifi-router sized boxes fed data to an AI engine which fed reports to judges with information such as speeds, angles, and skeletal positions. According to Morinari Watanabe, the president of the International Gymnastics Federation, this is a step towards "justice through technology". Performance data is not available for the devices, but sports director, Steve Butcher said that they did influence some decision changes. h/t Communications of the ACM

  4. Why a Computer Will Never Be Truly Conscious - In this essay, Subhash Kak continues the decades-long debate over the possibility of achieving "strong AI" - artificial intelligence that takes on the form of actual consciousness. Kak argues that, "consciousness is not computable", adding that brains synthesize components from multiple aspects of experience in a way that simply cannot be duplicated with our current technologies. In support of his argument, he points to the multi-billion dollar European attempt to simulate a human brain that began in 2013, but which he says has been widely acknowledged as a failure. Instead of building a brain, he says, the project has shifted to generating tools for understanding the biological brain. The essay goes on to argue that most mundane tasks are accomplished by engaging multiple areas of the biological brain in a way that can't be fully replicated in a computer with a fixed architecture. Finally, he makes some philosophical arguments grounded in the work of Alan Turing, Erwin Schrödinger, and Werner Heisenberg. In short, Turing said that there's no way to ever know if a given computer program will stop itself, Heisenberg showed that a physical event is distinctly different from a conscious observers knowledge of it, and Schrödinger interpreted this fact to mean that consciousness cannot arise from a physical process that reduces all operations to basic logic. According to Kak, these arguments demonstrate that man-made consciousness is not just impossible with existing technologies, but it's impossible in principle.

  5. STEEM Coding Diary: Learning New Stuff - In this coding diary, @zyzzyva writes about recent independent programming activities. This includes coursework in the Crystal programming language through the website,, and work towards nanodegrees from the Udacity school of AI. According to the post, Crystal is similar to the Ruby programming language, but comes with static typing, and compiles into native code. The web site costs $10 per month, and the course takes 2 months. The Udacity subscription is apparently more expensive. After these opening sections, the post moves into a defense of continuous learning, saying that in addition to pursuing this knowledge, @zyzzyva also constantly tries to learn by watching lectures and taking lessons in other subjects outside the area of programming. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been assigned to this post for @zyzzyva.)

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