Then, when the test subjects were shown a completely new set of images, such as the letters N-E-U-R-O-N, the system was able to reconstruct and display what the test subjects were viewing based solely on their brain activity.
"We want to be damn sure that by the time [robots] become as smart as we are, they have a conscience and compassion and that we are friends.," Hanson said. "There’s no guarantee. They could be psychotic."
Zeno is himself a visitor from the future — a robot who reached consciousness in 2029, but is found by government web crawlers. From there he’s put into a government academy for artificially intelligent robots, where those in charge may have nefarious motives.
"The world will need a superintelligent hero," Hanson said. "Superintelligent agents are also able to spawn technology that could destroy us all." This narrative, crafted by Hugo award winner Tony Daniel and University of Texas performance professor Thomas Riccio, is intended to make Zeno into a character that people identify with and want to to see develop — something with the depth of a movie character or a figure from a Homerian epic. That makes Zeno into as much of a sociological experiment as it is a technical marvel or fun toy.
"The idea is to create a cultural phenomenon and accelerate the use and humanization of the technology," Hanson said. "Robots have gotten steadily more capable but humans’ expectations that robots should have minds keeps biting robot developers." Which is to say that Hanson wants Zeno to change robots and humans. Zeno has charmed visitors at Wired’s NextFest tech celebration for the last two years, including an ongoing run in the 2008 pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium park (open through Oct. 12). Still, Zeno is clearly a work in progress, prone to hip problems, battery issues or overly long diatribes about the singularity, when a wink or smile would be more charming. Zeno already does "know" people, and in his mind, has a knowledge container that stores a photo of the person and details about that person. The next step is getting Zeno to start making theories about the world, discarding the dumb ones and amplifying the plausible ones. That, according to Hanson, is the essence of intelligence, and once a robot can combine that ability with the knowledge available on the internet, superintelligence won’t be far off.
Hanson Robotics hopes to begin selling a mass market version of Zeno for about $300 starting sometime in 2010.
which will attempt to uncover evidence of warming temperatures on fauna and flora.
Corries are large circular, hollow depressions on a mountainside.
Climate change models predict a decrease in the amount of snow on the mountains into the summer.
SNH said observations had shown these snow patches had been smaller and shorter lived in the past 10 years than in the preceding 25.
Survey sites will be established in the Cairngorms and on Aonach Mor, Ben Dearg, Ben Alder and Ben Wyvis.
Backed by the Scottish Government, the project will investigate the effects of less snow and warmer conditions on plants such as moss and liverwort, and impacts further up the food chain on birds such as snow bunting.
The University of Bergen in Norway and Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh are also involved.
SNH said the project would build on the work done by scientist and mountaineer Gordon Rothero.
He said climate change had already influenced plant growth since he began his studies almost 20 years ago.
Mr Rothero said: “Comparison of the photographs I took of various snowbed sites in 1989 with those taken during this project last summer show clear changes in the pattern of vegetation.
“Analysis of the 2007 data from the plant communities on the sites shows some changes in species composition, but these changes are not easy to interpret.”
SNH estimated Scotland had 2,470 acres of snowbed habitat.
This area supports rare species, many living on the most southern fringes of their range.
Dr David Genney, of SNH, said: “Indeed these areas of Scotland could be said to have more in common with the mountains of Scandinavia, the high arctic of Spitzbergen and parts of Greenland than they do with the Carse of Stirling for example.”
Larger flowering plants, able to grow at higher altitudes because of warmer conditions, have been found taking over sites of mosses and liverworts.
Dr Genney added: “Any loss of this habitat will pose a direct threat to birds such as ptarmigan, snow bunting and dotterel which feed on the insects that live in the moss and so the impact will spread through links in the food chain.”
Environment Minister Michael Russell said the initiative was a “milestone” in understanding the influences of changing climate on high places.
The image, which depicts an area of sky 120 degrees wide by two degrees tall, can be viewed at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/multimedia/20080603.html. It was unveiled today at the 212th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis, Mo.
“This is the highest-resolution, largest, most sensitive infrared picture ever taken of our Milky Way,” said Sean Carey of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Carey is lead investigator for one of two teams responsible for the new picture. “Where previous surveys saw a single source of light, we now see a cluster of stars. With this data, we can learn how massive stars form, map galactic spiral arms and make a better estimate of our galaxy’s star-formation rate,” Carey explained.
“I suspect that Spitzer’s view of the galaxy is the best that we’ll have for the foreseeable future. There is currently no mission planned that has both a wide field of view and the sensitivity needed to probe the Milky Way at these infrared wavelengths,” said Barbara Whitney of the Space Science Institute, Madison, Wis. Whitney is a member of the second astronomy team.
Because Earth sits inside our dusty, flat, disk-shaped Milky Way, we have an edge-on view of our galactic home. We see the Milky Way as a blurry, narrow band of light that stretches almost completely across the sky. With Spitzer’s dust-piercing infrared eyes, astronomers peered 60,000 light-years away into this fuzzy band, called the galactic plane, and saw all the way to the other side of the galaxy.
The result is a cosmic tapestry depicting an epic coming-of-age tale for stars. Areas hosting stellar embryos are identified by swaths of green, which are organic molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, illuminated by light from nearby newborn stars. On Earth, these molecules are found in automobile exhaust and charred barbeque grills, essentially anywhere carbon molecules are burned incompletely.
The regions where young stars reside are revealed as “bubbles,” or curved ridges in the green clouds. These bubbles are carved by the winds from young starlets blowing away their natal dust. The starlets appear as yellow and red dots, and the wisps of red that fill most bubbles are composed of graphite dust particles, similar to very small pieces of pencil lead.
Blue specks sprinkled throughout the photograph are individual older Milky Way stars. The bluish-white haze that hovers heavily in the middle two panels is starlight from the galaxy’s older stellar population. A deep, careful examination of the image also shows the dusty remnants of dying and dead stars as translucent orange spheres.
“With these Spitzer data, we’ve been able to catalogue more than 100 million stars,” said Edward Churchwell of the University of Wisconsin, at Madison. Churchwell is principal investigator of one of the teams.
“This picture shows us that our Milky Way galaxy is a crowded and dynamic place. We have a lot to learn. I’ve definitely found a lot of things in this map that I didn’t expect to see,” said Carey.
This infrared composite incorporates observations from two Spitzer instruments. Data from the infrared array camera were collected and processed by The Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire team, led by Churchwell. The Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer Galactic Plane Survey Legacy team, led by Carey, processed observations from Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer. Blue represents 3.6-micron light, green shows light of 8 microns and red is 24-micron light.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
For more information about Spitzer, visit http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .
The famous exclamation mark at the end of the Yahoo! logo has seemingly become more of a question mark in recent months.
It has been left wounded by Microsoft’s failed takeover approach, seemingly embarrassed as it trialled rival Google’s advertising technology on its own search and vulnerable after losing its spot as the most visited place on the internet among US users.
Yahoo itself says the company is looking to the future with an ambitious effort to “re-wire” the whole organisation into a giant social hub.
Brad Garlinghouse, Yahoo’s head of communities and communications, told BBC News: “Rumours of our demise are greatly exaggerated.
“We are in a very healthy position. We generate a billion and a half dollars in cash flow a year.”
Mr Garlinghouse was quick to point out that Yahoo Mail remained the world’s leading mail service, used by almost a third of the world’s internet users, and services like Yahoo messenger, homepage and news were market leaders in the US.
He said that Flickr, the firm’s popular photo sharing site, had seen registered users rise from 300,000 to 24 million in the last few years.
“The fact people are looking at it and say it is dying or doing poorly seems strange to me,” said JupiterResearch analyst Nate Elliott.
“It is a very strong player in almost everything it does. Our industry tends to be blind to anything outside of search.
“For Yahoo, unfortunately, they are dominant in everything outside search.”
Mr Elliott added: “It’s worth looking at the numbers: It’s a massive company, with incredibly large revenues, that makes money and is still growing.”
According to the firm’s first quarter results, its revenues and gross profit are both up about 10% on the same time last year.
After a difficult few months Yahoo is beginning to focus more on returning to its roots.
Mr Garlinghouse is well-known for a leaked internal memo, in which he compared Yahoo’s complex and disjointed strategy on many different fronts to spreading peanut butter thinly across many places.
Two years on from that memo and much had changed, he said,
Yahoo was now focused on making the entire organisation more open for consumers, he added.
“We really shouldn’t be thinking abut communications as a group as separate from communities.
“We feel like we want all of Yahoo to be more social; how to bring people to the core of the experience.”
Yahoo is hoping to combine its success in bringing audiences to content, via the home page or the news page, as well as its mail service, with the social networking features that have become so important to MySpace and Facebook, and others.
As a first step the company will be letting users pull in information to their Yahoo Mail page from other services and content companies, as well as exporting their Yahoo information to other destinations.
Mr Garlinghouse said: “Social as a silo isn’t where we’ll be in a couple of years as an industry. Social makes things more relevant.
“I own my social connections – not Facebook, MySpace or Yahoo. Our philosophy inside Yahoo is that this is ultimately your data; we are going to let you take it with you, let you have access to it in a very open way.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the importance of e-mail to the company, Mr Garlinghouse said that Yahoo Mail could be a really big catalyst for making all of Yahoo more social.
A smart inbox that orders e-mails from your most relevant contacts, as well as “vitality updates” from friends, and alerts based on friends’ activities at other sites, will be combined inside Yahoo Mail.
Longer term, he said Yahoo was looking at making e-mail itself smarter, using a protocol called XMTP, which would allow e-mail to pull in users’ social connections into messages.
“There is an opportunity for e-mail to be a richer experience by being more social,” he said.
He added: “It’s not just social networking for the sake of social networking – it’s enabling connections to give richer experiences.”
Mr Garlinghouse said the company was committed to pulling down walls users are confronted with across Yahoo sites.
“There are today over two dozen different profiles you can have on Yahoo. Where we are going you will have one profile on Yahoo, one social graph on Yahoo.”
Mr Elliott lauded the ambition but said others had tried similar things and failed.
“It’s a great idea – but this is just the beginning. I don’t know if anyone has successfully proven that giving people their content and information to take with them is a great strategy for building revenues.
“It will be interesting to see how it works for Yahoo because it seems easier to me to build things on top of a social graph, than to build a social graph into established content and services.
“We’ve seen MySpace and Facebook start with a social graph and then building these content and services on top. I’ve not seen anyone reverse engineer the process.”
He added: “If they can make it work then they are in great shape.”
Mr Elliott said Yahoo’s biggest challenge remained competing with Google in search.
“Search share numbers are frightening. Google is so completely dominant in so many European markets”.
Yahoo has been criticised in some quarters for a limited trial of Google’s advertising technology on its own search pages.
Mr Garlinghouse said the trial was about transparency.
He said: “We learned a lot from that. It helps us make better decisions. To me it demonstrates an openness and willingness to ask hard questions.”
“The Universe looks remarkably different outside the narrow range of colors in the spectrum that we can see with our eyes,” said David Thompson, GLAST Deputy Project Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “GLAST will give us a spectacular high-energy ‘gamma-ray vision,'” said Thompson. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light in the electromagnetic spectrum and cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Thompson noted “If you’re in space with gamma-ray vision, there are gamma-rays coming from all directions. The Milky Way would be a brilliant swath of light, and you’d see a sky constantly changing with objects dimming and brightening on different time scales. If you see a blinding flash, that would be a gamma-ray burst!”
GLAST’s “Gamma-ray vision” will help scientists answer a lot of questions like: How do black holes accelerate jets of material to nearly light speed? What is the mysterious dark matter? What mechanism produces the stupendously powerful explosions known as gamma-ray bursts? How do solar flares generate high-energy particles? How do pulsars work? What is the origin of cosmic rays? and What else out there is shining gamma rays?
“One thing that’s exciting is the cutting-edge instrumentation of the Large Area Space Telescope or LAT, said Peter Michelson, LAT Principal Investigator, Stanford University, Calif. “That’s where gamma-rays convert to matter and anti-matter within the telescope designed to detect them. By the direction of the particles, we can detect which direction the gamma-ray came from and find its origin in space. The LAT makes breakthrough improvements in all the key capabilities.
“Another exciting thing is that the GLAST LAT is the first imaging gamma-ray observatory to survey the entire sky every three hours over a huge energy range,” said Steve Ritz, GLAST Project Scientist at Goddard. This is important because the gamma-ray sky is constantly changing in stunning ways. The GLAST observatory, which also includes the GLAST Burst Monitor, spans a factor of 10 million in energy from the highest to the lowest energy gamma rays it will detect.
Anticipation and excitement are near peak for the GLAST launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station CCAFS, Fla. Liftoff is set for June 5 during a window that runs from 11:45 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. EDT.
The preparations leading up to the launch are almost complete. During the weekend of May 17, GLAST was rolled out to CCAFS’ Launch Pad 17-B and hoisted atop the Delta II rocket. After the spacecraft was placed in the Delta II rocket, technicians then successfully completed the state-of-health checks for the spacecraft.
The GLAST spacecraft is 9.2 feet high by 8.2 feet in diameter when stowed, where it is just under the 9-foot diameter allowed in the fairing. The fairing is basically just the outside shells of the rocket. Once GLAST is launched into space, it becomes a little bit taller and much wider when the Ku-band antenna deploys and the solar arrays are extended.
Five days later, on May 22, the Flight Program Verification was conducted. This is an electrical and mechanical test of the rocket and spacecraft working together as a single, integrated system during countdown and launch milestones. With this test completed, spacecraft closeouts began. On May 27, the Delta II Rocket fairings were closed around the GLAST satellite.
Because there were 18 institutions in six countries involved in the creation of GLAST, everyone is now eagerly awaiting the launch. NASA’s GLAST mission is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the U.S.
Everyone is excited about GLAST’s blast-off!
Gmail Labs has launched 13 settings for users to play around with and tell engineers directly what they think of them.
The new developments, which are only available in the UK and the US, show up as a red tab at the top of the page.
Gmail product manager Keith Coleman says: “This marks a big change in the way the company does product development.”
Generally speaking products are tested internally on Google staff for weeks if not months and then refined before being released to the public.
Never before has the firm opened up the testing process and brought in outsiders on such a large scale. Smaller scale usability tests have been done with invited visitors.
Mr Coleman says: “We want to take the next step and let Gmail users help us do that refinement.”
The new settings include things like Pictures in Chat, which puts portraits in chat sessions, and Superstars, which lets you put different icons on mail. Old Snakey lets you play the classic game in Gmail and E-mail Addict forces you to take a screen break by locking you out of the Gmail for 15 minutes.
Mr Coleman says the features are “really rough and have gone through no filtering in terms of product analysis or design analysis”.
“They have just gone through a general code review process to make sure they are safe to run.
“They have also gone through less testing than a typical feature would. But what this is is a way to take our ideas and get them out to the public.”
After testing, users will get the chance to tell the developers directly what they think of them. The most popular are likely to become a regular part of the Gmail product.
Time for ideas
The service was unveiled to a small group of journalists, including the BBC, who had been invited to Building 47 at the Googleplex for a rare view of the team at work.
Normally such spaces are off-limits to people outside the company.
As well as being shown the new service ahead of release, we were also walked through the offices where engineers take 20% of their time to come up with ideas and work on them. The 20% time is part of Google’s core ethos.
“The idea behind Labs is that any engineer can go to lunch, come up with a cool idea, code it up, and ship it as a Labs feature to tens of millions of users,” explains Mr Coleman.
Staff write suggestions on a whiteboard to keep track of everything being played around with and who is working on what.
Another display shows how many bugs an upcoming application needs to get fixed and which engineer is working on it.
The whole workspace is divided into areas covering various aspects of Gmail from the calendar to documents and from the reader to spam.
The guys fighting to keep spam out of the Gmail inbox are tucked away in a dark corner of the office. Brad Taylor is known as the Spam Tsar, a title he quite enjoys.
He has been working on Gmail since its public launch in 2004 and says he has seen a real growth in the amount of unsolicited e-mail flooding into the system.
“Originally when we launched 25% of e-mail was spam. We caught a lot of that. Over time it’s grown and grown and currently around 75% of all e-mail is spam and so our job has got a lot harder.”
In the heart of this open space is the so-called “war room”.
Here half a dozen engineers are huddled into a cramped office to work on top secret projects. Everyone there was tight-lipped about what the next big thing coming out of the room would be but helpfully quipped that it was a new colour.
Todd Jackson, another Gmail product manager, was more serious when he said that the engineers didn’t leave until they had either solved a particular problem or fully developed a new feature.
Situated next to the office cafe is the Usability Lab, where Gmail invites small groups of six to eight people to test new applications to see how they will fare with the general public.
Nika Smith, who helps run the Lab, says instead of having a two-way mirror to watch participants and how they interact with a product, they are a little more high-tech.
“We have this little hidden camera next to some flowers and one in the corner of the room. We just want to know how they use Gmail and see from the users’ perspective what their experience is like.
“Then we just watch how they interact with the product and work out what improvements are needed.”
Perhaps one of the coolest areas in the Gmail Lab is the site reliability room, which is just past a sign that says “Hippies Use Backdoor”.
Decked out with a slew of monitors and computers, there is also a selection of drinks, a drum kit and a couple of guitars. On the wall hangs a whiteboard with a wish-list of things like “surround sound, a Wii Fit machine and a bigger TV”.
The overall Lab space is like any other nondescript office, albeit with a few fun quirks here and there such as naming every printer and copier after TV shows like The A-Team and All in the Family.
But sometimes things do get serious, and everyone is on a pager and gets an alert when something goes amiss with the site.
Mr Lynas was presented with the winner’s £10,000 cheque at a ceremony hosted by the UK academy of science.
The award is one of the major publishing events of the year in the UK. Previous winners have included Bill Bryson, Stephen J Gould, Roger Penrose, and Stephen Hawking.
Six Degrees uses published scientific data and interviews with leading researchers to illustrate the changes we could witness in a warmer world.
Professor Jonathan Ashmore, the chair of the judges, described the book as “compelling and gripping”.
“It presents a series of scientifically plausible, worst-case scenarios without tipping into hysteria,” he said.
“Six Degrees is not just a great read, written in an original way, but also provides a good overview of the latest science on this highly topical issue.
“This is a book that will stimulate debate and that will, Lynas hopes, move us to action in the hope that this is a disaster movie that never happens. Everyone should read this book.”
The bookies’ favourite had been A Life Decoded, the autobiography of genetics pioneer Craig Venter.
The six books shortlisted for the Royal Society’s General Prize were:
- A Life Decoded, by J Craig Venter (Penguin Allen Lane)
- Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise, by Steve Jones (Little, Brown)
- Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigerenzer (Penguin – Allen Lane)
- Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas (Fourth Estate)
- The Sun Kings, by Stuart Clark (Princeton University Press)
- Why Beauty is Truth, by Ian Stewart (Basic Books)
The Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do, written by Rebecca Gilpin and Leonie Pratt and designed and illustrated by Josephine Thompson, won in the junior science books category.