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.
An assessment of where the STFC’s yearly half-a-billion-pound budget should be focussed is currently under way and will be published next month.
Disciplines such as solar-terrestrial physics, which studies the connection between the Sun and Earth, fear they will be subjected to major cuts.
The announcement on Tuesday of the independent review was made as the government responded to MPs’ misgivings over the activities of the STFC.
In April, the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee had criticised the STFC for not consulting the scientific community adequately. It also said that some of the council’s decisions – particularly on the issue of membership of international science programmes – had left the UK looking like an “unreliable” and “incompetent” partner.
The government, in its formal response, acknowledged a number of the committee’s observations but robustly rejected others. It disagreed with the notion that ministers had been trying to “micromanage” some programmes and described the MPs’ criticism of the STFC’s peer review system as “unhelpful and damaging”.
“Government funding for science has more than doubled over the last decade, rising to more than £4bn by 2010/11,” a spokesman in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) said.
“While it is right that government sets the overarching strategy, the research community and scientists themselves set priorities and distribute funds through a process of peer review.”
One of the explanations the STFC has given for its current predicament is the move towards the funding of university research grants at their “full economic cost” (FEC).
This means that grants now take into account lab space, lighting, heating, technical support, etc. In the past, universities covered these costs, effectively subsidising research.
The MPs, in their report, said the government should have put extra money into the STFC settlement to cover FEC.
In its response, the government said: “[The committee] is entitled to argue that there should have been an even bigger increase but the government regard that an average increase of 2.7% per year in real terms [in the science budget] over the next three years is a strong settlement in a tight fiscal environment.”
Committee chairman Phil Willis commented that he would have liked to have seen a clear commitment to hold off any cuts until the Wakeham Review into physics funding reported its findings in the Autumn.
“I am somewhat disappointed that the government has shelved responsibility for the whole affair to the STFC,” he told BBC News. “But to balance that, I am pleased with the general tone of their response – that they accept that all is not well at the council, and that they have put the chief executive and the board on notice.”
The independent STFC review will also report in the autumn.