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.
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.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) found that a quarter of last year’s catch was traded for profit through a private food company.
International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules allow hunting where there is a nutritional and cultural need.
The IWC annual meeting gets underway next week in Santiago, Chile.
WSPA campaigners are presenting their report this week to a preliminary meeting of the organisation’s committee on aboriginal (or subsistence) whaling.
“Greenland has been on the slippery slope towards commercial whaling for years, and now, demonstrably, they’ve crossed the line,” said WSPA’s marine mammals manager Claire Bass.
“The IWC has heard anecdotally about these processing operations, but this is the first time it’s been quantified, so we’re expecting it to be explosive,” she told BBC News
Quotas for the five communities claiming a need for subsistence hunting were renewed at last year’s IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.
At the time, some delegates queried Greenland’s plans to expand its hunt to include bowhead and humpback whales – two species it had not previously targeted – and noted allegations that whalemeat regularly changed hands for money.
IWC rules do not explicitly prohibit commercial trade, but they specify that permits are granted only “to satisfy aboriginal subsistence need”.
Delegates eventually voted to allow the bowhead quota, but rejected the request for humpbacks. Denmark, which speaks for Greenland in the IWC, is bidding for humpbacks again this year.
Over the last 12 months, WSPA visited markets and harbours around Greenland. Investigators posed as a documentary film crew reporting on local traditions and culture.
They concluded that at least a quarter of the whalemeat landed around the coasts was traded through a single company, Arctic Green Food, with supermarkets the principal destination.
The company advertises packets of whalemeat for sale within Greenland on its website. Products include steak, mince, salted blubber, and cuts from the fins and tails of minke whales, as well as unspecified meat from fin whales.
Tonnes Berthelsen, managing director of Arctic Green Food, told BBC News his company traded meat from about 40 whales each year.
“We’re selling it frozen; and if we didn’t sell it like that, if people weren’t able to buy it frozen, then the waste would be very high.”
But whereas the IWC says that “the meat and products are to be used exclusively for local consumption”, WSPA points out that because the meat is sold in supermarkets, anyone can buy and consume it, even foreign nationals, raising the question of whether there is a genuine nutritional and cultural need.
WSPA is one of the few groups to campaign against subsistence whaling.
The majority of conservation organisations support it as providing a sustainable resource to communities that need the meat.
There was a tacit agreement among anti-whaling NGOs not to oppose the renewal of subsistence quotas at last year’s IWC meeting, an agreement that WSPA did not support on animal welfare grounds.
“The record of these hunts is really bad,” said Ms Bass.
“Only one in five whales dies within a minute. These are the worst whale hunts in the world on welfare grounds.”
Records submitted to the IWC show that in 2006, fin whales took on average 35 minutes to die, with one taking nearly six hours. Norway’s overtly commercial hunters, by contrast, kill the majority of their prey within one minute.
The IWC’s various committees are coming to the end of their series of meetings in Santiago before the full organisation convenes on Monday.
Its week-long meeting is likely to be dominated by South American proposals for a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, and by discussions on whether pro- and anti-whaling blocs can find a path towards eventual compromise.
Mr Bush said existing restrictions on offshore drilling were “outdated and counter-productive”.
His move comes as US consumers are calling for action to tackle high oil prices that have pushed prices at the pump to more than $4 (£2) a gallon.
US energy needs are set to be a key issue in November’s presidential poll.
Republican John McCain favours offshore oil drilling, whereas his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, opposes it.
In a news conference at the White House, Mr Bush told Congress there was “no excuse for delay” in lifting the ban.
“Families across the country are looking to Washington for a response,” he said.
Environmentalists have reacted with alarm to Mr Bush’s call, arguing that off-shore drilling would take at least a decade to have any effect on oil supply and would exacerbate climate change.
Since 1981, a congressional moratorium has prohibited oil and gas drilling along the east and west coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, an area accounting for some 80% of the US’s Outer Continental Shelf.
Mr Bush’s father, George Bush, imposed a moratorium on coastal oil exploration in 1990.
Since then offshore drilling and exploration have only been allowed in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico regions plus parts of Alaska.
The federal bans were enacted in part to protect tourism and lessen the chance of oil spills washing on to beaches.
The Democrats, and some Republicans who represent coastal states, oppose ending the moratorium.
“We are in this situation because of our dependence on traditional petroleum-based oil,” said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
He advocated “new technologies and new fuel choices for consumers” instead.
Mr Bush, who has repeatedly pushed for an end to the ban, has accused Democrats of using their control of Congress to undermine attempts to boost domestic oil production.
The president also renewed his call on Wednesday for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to be opened up to drilling.
“It’s cynical to say that we can drill our way out of this mess,” Athan Manuel, director of lands protection for the Sierra Club, told Reuters news agency.
“The solution to $4 gas [petrol] is not off our coast.”
Kassie Siegel, climate programme director at the California-based Center for Biological Diversity, condemned the Bush offshore initiative.
“This is the culmination of the failed Bush-Cheney energy policy of the last eight years,” she told the BBC News website.
“It would do absolutely nothing for petrol prices because it would take at least a decade to produce any oil and even if the oil did flow, there would be the greenhouse gases from the additional fossil fuel development.”
She points out that the US government recently calculated there was a 33-51% chance of a major spill in the lifetime of an offshore oil and gas lease in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.
Such a spill, defined as a release of 1,000 barrels or more from a platform or pipeline, could affect bowhead whales, polar bears and other wildlife.
However, the government’s environmental impact statement concluded that “an area affected by such a spill relative to the size of the Chukchi Sea decreases the likelihood that the resources would be widely contacted by the spill”.
Senator McCain, the Republicans’ presumptive presidential candidate, is opposed to opening up Alaska and had previously backed the moratorium on drilling in coastal waters.
But speaking in Houston on Tuesday, Mr McCain called for the ban to be lifted to help counter US dependence on foreign oil.
“We must take control over our own energy future and become once again the master of our fate,” he said.
Mr McCain said the US had enormous energy reserves and was acquiring methods of using them in clean and responsible ways.
Senator Obama dismissed Mr McCain’s call as “political posturing”.
“His decision to completely change his position and tell a group of Houston oil executives exactly what they wanted to hear today was the same Washington politics that has prevented us from achieving energy independence for decades,” Mr Obama said.
He called for conservation and the search for alternative green energy supplies.
Analysts say drilling for offshore oil and developing alternatives will both prove slow to reduce US dependence on imported oil.
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.