Rise of the robots

A Walrus article, Rise of the Robots, claims that “Automated trucks will transform an industry and put millions out of work.”

Hermann is just one of the thousands of truckers who can be found on BC’s roads at any given time. In Canada, more than 1 in every 100 workers is a truck driver, some 300,000 people—it’s the second most common occupation reported by men. In 2010, truck transportation contributed $17.1 billion to our country’s GDP. It’s a similar scene in the United States, where about 3.5 million people drive trucks for a living.

But the job isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the hours spent yakking on the CB radio, the straight runs across the country. And many drivers predict that the days of watching the miles slip by under glinting chrome grills will soon be over altogether. Today, investors in Silicon Valley are pouring millions of dollars into making the first autonomous trucks, which will be able to drive and manage themselves, making humans unnecessary. “If they can get a computer to do my job,” Hermann says, “they can get a computer to do any job.” [continue]

Do you know any people who drive trucks for a living? I do, and it is troubling to think about what will happen when their jobs disappear.

Secrets from smart devices find path to US legal system

From phys.org: Secrets from smart devices find path to US legal system.

An Ohio man claimed he was forced into a hasty window escape when his house caught fire last year. His pacemaker data obtained by police showed otherwise, and he was charged with arson and insurance fraud.

In Pennsylvania, authorities dismissed rape charges after data from a woman’s Fitbit contradicted her version of her whereabouts during the 2015 alleged assault.

Vast amounts of data collected from our connected devices—fitness bands, smart refrigerators, thermostats and automobiles, among others—are increasingly being used in US legal proceedings to prove or disprove claims by people involved.

In a recent case that made headlines, authorities in Arkansas sought, and eventually obtained, data from a murder suspect’s Amazon Echo speaker to obtain evidence.

The US Federal Trade Commission in February fined television maker Vizio for secretly gathering data on viewers collected from its smart TVs and selling the information to marketers.

The maker of the smartphone-connected sex toy We-Vibe meanwhile agreed in March to a court settlement of a class-action suit from buyers who claimed “highly intimate and sensitive data” was uploaded to the cloud without permission—and shown last year to be vulnerable to hackers. [continue]

How does this make you feel about the electronic devices in your life?

The surprising things algorithms can glean about you from photos

This is an article I’ll be sharing with all my friends, because it’s important for us to understand the consequences one single photo can have.

Even if you do not tag the people in an image, photo recognition systems can do so. Facebook’s DeepFace algorithm can match a face to one that has appeared in previously uploaded images, including photos taken in dramatically different lighting and from dramatically different points of view. Using identified profile photos and tagged photos and social-graph relationships, a very probable name can be attached to the face. (…)

A person pounding the pavement of a city street can be identified and tracked block-to-block by the unique characteristics of her gait. (…)

Taking a photo or video in public isn’t illegal, nor is taking one with a person’s permission. It’s also not illegal to upload the file or store it in the cloud. Applying optical character recognition, facial recognition, or a super-resolution algorithm isn’t illegal, either. There’s simply no place for us to hide anymore. [continue]

That’s from Andreas Weigend’s article, The Surprising Things Algorithms Can Glean About You From Photos, published on Slate. I think you’ll want to read the whole thing.

A note at the bottom of the Slate article says, in part, “Andreas Weigend is the author of Data for the People: How to Make Our Post-Privacy Economy Work for You.” I am grateful for this Slate article – it has super information and will be a handy thing for me to send to friends and post on a certain bulletin board. So I’ve just bought Andreas’ book, as a way to thank him.

Oh, and about laws regarding the taking of photos: we had a house guest from the Netherlands a while ago. He said it’s illegal in the Netherlands to take photos of people without their permission. Really? That’s a great idea. I wish we had a similar law here.

Are any of you saying no when others want to photograph you?

An exaltation of links!

I’ve come across dozens of interesting things to share with you lately, but I’ve also been quite short of time. So here are a whole bunch of things I think you’ll like, all at once, for your weekend reading pleasure.

I’ve thought of doing this for a while now: occasional posts full of linky goodness. But a pleasing name for such postings failed to suggest itself to me, and so I was thwarted. This morning, though, the name arrived in my brain. This is An Exaltation of Links. Because why should the larks have all the fun?

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Technology helps tourists to visualize ancient Rome

Touring ancient sites in Rome? Maybe a virtual reality headset will help you imagine things as they were thousands of years ago. From CBS News: Cutting-edge technology is helping bring ancient Rome back to life.

The cavernous space was once above ground, the grand home of Emperor Nero, and considered one of the most magnificent palaces ever built. Its name, “Domus Aurea,” means “golden house.” It’s hard to believe it was once colorful and flooded with light. But now, modern technology is letting tourists peek into the past.

Two thousand years ago, this labyrinth, now underneath the city of Rome, was the sprawling home of Emperor Nero, stretching the size of three football fields. Today, tourists can explore it, but the colors, light and opulence of this ancient Roman villa were unimaginable until this month, when visitors could start using virtual reality headsets.

“You always try to imagine in your mind what it must’ve been like, and this helps tremendously,” said Tom Papa, a tourist from New York.

Virtual reality brings to life this important piece of history. Alessandro D’Alessio, the chief archaeologist here, explained how this place was buried following Emperor Nero’s death. [continue]

What if Uber kills off public transport rather than cars?

From the Guardian: What if Uber kills off public transport rather than cars?

The perceived wisdom is that Uber has disrupted taxis and that private automobiles are next, but what if we’ve misread what is happening in our cities?

Traditional thinking would suggest that UberPool, which allows users to split the cost of trips with other Uber riders heading in the same direction, will always be inferior to public transport. Sitting in the backseat of a Prius may be more comfortable than standing on a crowded bus or train, continues this reasoning, but carpooling can’t substitute for mass transit at rush hours without massively increasing congestion.

This is wrong. In the last six months, Uber has begun offering shared rides for as little as $1 (81p), introduced optimised pickup points that algorithmically recreate bus stops, and started testing semi-autonomous vehicles it hopes will solve its increasingly contentious labour issues.

Never mind the black cabs; Uber is out to disrupt the bus. [continue]

When internet mapping went terribly wrong

From Fusion: How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell.

For the last decade, Taylor and her renters have been visited by all kinds of mysterious trouble. They’ve been accused of being identity thieves, spammers, scammers and fraudsters. They’ve gotten visited by FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors, ambulances searching for suicidal veterans, and police officers searching for runaway children. They’ve found people scrounging around in their barn. The renters have been doxxed, their names and addresses posted on the internet by vigilantes. Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.

All in all, the residents of the Taylor property have been treated like criminals for a decade. And until I called them this week, they had no idea why. [continue]

Helicopters learn tricks ‘watching’ other helicopters

From discovery.com: Helicopters Learn Tricks ‘Watching’ Other Helicopters.

Birds learn to fly by watching other birds. Now helicopters can watch each other to learn complex aerial tricks and maneuvers.

In 10 minutes, a computer algorithm developed by Stanford University scientists learned, and then flawlessly replicated, more than 20 years of radio-controlled helicopter expertise.

The team has already been approached by private companies who want to use the software, which isn’t specific to helicopters, to create helicopters that could monitor humanitarian disasters, track wildfires or locate land mines. [continue]

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Putting a ear to the past

From the Beeb: Putting a ear to the past.

When a Scottish academic discovered a piece of 17th Century harpsichord music in a little known archive, he was keen to hear it played on the instrument for which it was written.

But bringing the music back to life proved a hard task for Dr Kenny McAlpine, a lecturer in computer arts at the University of Abertay in Dundee.

Antique musical instruments are incredibly fragile – some do not hold their tuning for long enough to play a piece, others are too delicate to play at all.

So Dr McAlpine decided to go for a 21st century solution – and make a digital reconstruction of an antique harpsichord. [continue]

Hi-tech centre brings abbey alive

From the Beeb: Hi-tech centre brings abbey alive.

Holograms, a virtual reality tour and 3-D goggles are being used to bring a 14th Century abbey back to life.

They are part of a new “interpretation centre” designed to explain in an interactive way what life was like at Valle Crucis Abbey, near Llangollen.

Visitors can take a virtual reality tour of the abbey in its heyday, with an animated monk as a guide. [continue]

Now off to Youtube, where Pastscapian, has posted these videos:

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Ancient musical instruments play again through Astra project

From Bios Magazine: Ancient Musical Instruments Play Again Through Astra Project.

Ancient musical instruments can now be heard for the first time in hundreds of years, due to a new computer modelling project. ASTRA (Ancient instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application) has recreated the sounds of the harp-like Epigonion musical instrument from Ancient Greece and has performed one of the oldest known musical scores dating back to the Middle Ages. To achieve this it used the advanced GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT research networks to link high capacity computers together, sharing information to enable the computer-intensive modelling of musical sounds. [continue]

Putting a face to the past

From the BBC: Putting a face to the past.

What do Johann Sebastian Bach, Saint Nicholas, and the firstborn son of Pharaoh Rameses II all have in common?

The answer? All their faces have been reconstructed using cutting-edge computer technology.

Dr Caroline Wilkinson is a forensic anthropologist, recreating faces from human remains for archaeological and police investigations – bringing the past to life.

Her workshop at the University of Dundee is covered in model heads, created using traditional methods of layering clay on top of a plaster-cast skull. Sharing the space is a large computer system.

"Today we can use information from 3D surface scans or CT scans of the skull, import them, and use 3D modelling or ‘virtual sculpture’ to create the same muscles that we would create in real clay" said Dr Wilkinson. [continue]

Robo-skeleton lets paralysed walk

From the Beeb: Robo-skeleton lets paralysed walk.

A robotic suit is helping people paralysed from the waist down do what was previously considered impossible – stand, walk and climb stairs.

ReWalk users wear a backpack device and braces on their legs and select the activity they want from a remote control wrist band.

Leaning forwards activates body sensors setting the robotic legs in motion.

Users walk with crutches, controlling the suit through changes in centre of gravity and upper body movements.

The device effectively mimics the exoskeletion of a crab. [continue, see photos and video]

Sign language over cell phones

From the University of Washington: ‘Can you see me now?’ Sign language over cell phones comes to United States.

A group at the University of Washington has developed software that for the first time enables deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans to use sign language over a mobile phone. UW engineers got the phones working together this spring, and recently received a National Science Foundation grant for a 20-person field project that will begin next year in Seattle.

This is the first time two-way real-time video communication has been demonstrated over cell phones in the United States. Since posting a video of the working prototype on YouTube, deaf people around the country have been writing on a daily basis.

"A lot of people are excited about this," said principal investigator Eve Riskin, a UW professor of electrical engineering. (…)

For mobile communication, deaf people now communicate by cell phone using text messages. "But the point is you want to be able to communicate in your native language," Riskin said. "For deaf people that’s American Sign Language." [continue, see photo]

There’s more information here at Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends.

Laser technology helps visually impaired enjoy Thornton Abbey

From 24 Hour Museum: Laser technology helps visually impaired enjoy Thornton Abbey.

Thanks to the latest laser technology, visually impaired and partially sighted people are being given the chance to get to grips with history at Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire.

English Heritage has been working with Visually Impaired Media Access Consultants (Vimac) to create a range of Braille and tactile displays, including a replica of a medieval carved stone and a section of the magnificent 14th century gatehouse.

The latest laser scanning technology developed at Hull University, has been used to record for the blind and partially sighted part of the intricate façade of Thornton Abbey’s famous multi-storied gatehouse.

"Scanning technology has the potential not just to create tactile exhibits, but is also being investigated as a way of recording our historic fabric for conservation purposes," said Kevin Booth, Senior Curator with English Heritage. [continue]

CAPTCHAs work—for digitizing old, damaged texts, manuscripts

From Ars Technica: CAPTCHAs work—for digitizing old, damaged texts, manuscripts.

Over the course of history, humanity has suffered some horrifying damage to our collective cultural legacy in the form of books and other text lost to accident or neglect. The digitalization of text holds out the promise of permanently preserving the written word in an archive that can be distributed widely and kept safe from accidental damage. This presents archivists with a challenge: the works that are most in need of preservation are likely to already be damaged or distorted, making the use of automated scanning and text processing less likely to succeed. Researchers are now reporting on a successful way to identify the words that computers can’t handle: turn them into CAPTCHAs, and get people to do the work.

For those who haven’t heard the term, CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. In practical terms, a CAPTCHA takes the form of a string of characters subjected to distortions that make it difficult for computerized character recognition to identify them. Humans, who have a visual recognition capacity that vastly outperforms even the best computers, generally do pretty well in identifying these distorted characters. That has made the CAPTCHA a useful tool (although the bad guys are catching up) for keeping spam bots from harvesting e-mail addresses or posting spam-filled messages to public forums.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon noticed a while back that [continue]

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Home smart home

If you suffer from dementia and can no longer remember basic things, how will you manage to perform simple tasks? A University of Toronto professor is designing tools that can help. From the University of Toronto Magazine: Home Smart Home.

Mihailidis and his colleagues have built an artificial intelligence system that can recognize when patients need help and prompt them with instructions. Cameras in the ceiling track the user’s movements and behaviour; computer software interprets what the cameras see, detects what kind of help is needed and provides spoken instructions or even video tutorials to prompt the patient to the next action. The software adapts to its user, learning what level of prompting is required. "With one person it can provide a generalized cue, where it would say, ‘Dry your hands,’" says Mihailidis, "whereas another person might require a little more detail, so the prompt may be structured to address the person by name, and play a video that shows the person how to turn the water on or how to use the soap." [continue]

‘Mobile’ phone enjoys centenery

From the Telegraph: ‘Mobile’ phone enjoys centenery.

Photographs of the world’s first "wireless telephone" have revealed that it was not quite as mobile as its modern counterparts.

Invented by Nathan Stubblefield in 1908, the device came complete with an unwieldy metal transmitter.

A far cry from the tiny mobile phones in use today, the telephone was made up of a system of wire suspended between metal rods with the transmitter placed on a train carriage or boat.

When the vehicle neared, a signal was sent through the air to the telephone using magnetic fields. It could be heard near the other end of the wire through another phone. [continue, see photos]

Reassembling a puzzle with 600 million pieces

From TheStar.com: Reassembling a puzzle with 600 million pieces.

Nineteen years ago, as the Berlin Wall crumbled and democracy swept through communist East Germany, STASI agents – members of the secret police – worked feverishly to destroy millions of top-secret documents in an effort to keep them from Western eyes. (…)

Then, in May 2007, the German government revealed the world’s most sophisticated pattern-recognition machine, the $8.5 million dollar (U.S.) E-Puzzler, which can digitally put back together even the most finely shredded papers.

Developed in Berlin by the Fraunhofer Institute of Production Facilities and Construction Technology, the E-puzzler is a computerized conveyor belt that runs shards of shredded and torn paper through a digital scanner.

Scanning up to 10,000 shreds at once, the machine links them together by their colour, typeface, outline, shape and texture – not unlike how the average human might try to piece together a puzzle. The machine then displays a digital image of the original document on a computer screen. (…)

In addition to piecing together shreds of paper, the machine has been used by Chinese archaeologists to reconstruct smashed Terracotta warriors found in the tomb of Emperor Qin. And the equipment has deciphered barely-legible lists of Nazi concentration camp victims. [continue]

Escape old London’s most feared prison — guided by GPS

From Wired: Escape Old London’s Most Feared Prison — Guided by GPS.

Through a thick drizzle I gaze at the ominous gray stone buildings of the Tower of London, England’s most notorious prison. I wander from one to the next, trying to imagine what it was like to be held captive here hundreds of years ago. That’s when I hear a ghost. “Psst, you there… I’m sentenced to die tomorrow morning. Please, I beg you, can you help me escape?” I stop walking and look down at the screen of my HP iPAQ. There’s a picture of a portly Brit in 18th-century garb. His name is Lord Nithsdale, and he was involved in a plot to overthrow King George I. In my earphones, the voice tells me I’ve entered the year 1716 and again asks if I want to play the Lord Nithsdale adventure. I wipe the raindrops off the clear plastic pouch holding the PDA, a GPS unit, and a radio transmitter and hit Yes.

The adventure is part of a prototype location-based game designed for visitors to the tower, where inmates like Guy Fawkes and two of Henry VIII’s wives were executed. The idea is that instead of reading plaques and staring solemnly at the Bloody Tower, tourists skulk around with PDAs, re-creating classic prison breaks. [continue]

Your plant just called to say ‘I’m thirsty!’

From zdnet.com: Your plant just called to say ‘I’m thirsty!’.

Imagine answering your cell phone to hear your Scotch Moss plant telling you in a fake Glaswegian accent that it needs a drink.

This scenario is not far from reality, as a group of postgraduate students at New York University is developing a way for over-watered or dry plants to phone for help.

The "Botanicalls" project uses moisture sensors placed in the soil that can send a signal over a wireless network to a gateway that places a call if the plant’s too dry or wet.

Recorded voices are assigned to each plant to match its biological characteristics and to help increase the charm of the phone message and give plants their own personality. [continue]

Computer program can learn baby talk

From Reuters: Computer program can learn baby talk.

A computer program that learns to decode sounds from different languages in the same way that a baby does helps to shed new light on how people learn to talk, researchers said on Tuesday.

They said the finding casts doubt on theories that babies are born knowing all the possible sounds in all of the world’s languages.

"The debate in language acquisition is around the question of how much specific information about language is hard-wired into the brain of the infant and how much of the knowledge that infants acquire about language is something that can be explained by relatively general purpose learning systems," said James McClelland, a psychology professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

McClelland says his computer program supports the theory that babies systematically sort through sounds until they understand the structure of a language. [continue]

New software lights up archaeology

From the BBC: New software lights up archaeology.

New software which works out much more realistically how ancient buildings would have looked in their glory by generating accurate plays of light sources has been developed by scientists in England.

The project, developed at Warwick University in the West Midlands, brings ancient architectural features to life through a revolutionary sophisticated modelling of light.

This allows archaeologists to study how buildings and artwork would have really looked at the time, right down to the differing lighting provided by the types of candles used.

"What you need to do to get an accurate image is model exactly the physics of the light – what colour the light source is, how it moves within the environment, and how it reflects and refracts off all the different surfaces," said Alan Chalmers, professor of visualisation at the Warwick digital laboratory.

"Once you’ve modelled the physics right, you’re modelling closer to what nature does — and you’re achieving a realistic, physically-based image, and you can use that as a tool to understand what the environment really was like." [continue]

Beating congestion with mobiles

From the Beeb: Beating congestion with mobiles.

If you do not like crowds, congestion, chaos — and few do — then you might want to avoid Rome’s rush-hour. But congestion in the city might be about to ease a little as researchers use Italy’s passion for mobiles to combat Rome’s daily war on wheels.

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are using data from mobile-phone networks to create real time maps of people moving around the city.

Networks keep track of subscribers to ensure signals stay strong, and because so many people have mobiles, this data can give an accurate picture of where people are in a city.

"This is really the first time that you can take an urban system, like a big city, and try to see in real time how it lives, how people move and what’s happening in the city," says Carlo Ratti from MIT. [continue]