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.
This information will be fundamental in helping weather and climate agencies make better forecasts.
The satellite left Earth at 0746 GMT atop a Delta-2 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The spacecraft, built by Thales Alenia Space, represents the joint efforts of the US and French space agencies (Nasa and CNES), and the US and European organisations dedicated to studying weather and climate from orbit (Noaa and Eumetsat).
Jason-2 will provide a topographic map of 95% of the Earth’s ice-free oceans every 10 days. Although we think of our seas as being flat, they are actually marked by “hills” and “valleys”, where the highs and lows may be as much as two metres apart.
Elevation is a key parameter for oceanographers. Just as surface air pressure reveals what the atmosphere is doing above, so ocean height will betray details about the behaviour of water down below.
The data gives clues to temperature and salinity. When combined with gravity information, it will also indicate current direction and speed.
The oceans store vast amounts of heat from the Sun; and how they move that energy around the globe and interact with the atmosphere are what drive our climate system.
“The ocean constitutes the long-term memory of the climate system; the time-scales over which the ocean is changing are the climatic timescales,” explained Mikael Rattenborg, the director of operations at Eumetsat.
“In order to understand climate, in order to be able to predict the evolution of the atmosphere over months, years, and decades even, you need to understand the ocean.”
Jason-2 is a continuation of a programme that started in 1992 with the Topex/Poseidon mission and is currently maintained by the Jason-1 satellite launched in 2001.
The project provides the global reference data for satellite-measured ocean height.
Although other spacecraft in service today can acquire similar data sets, none can match the precision achieved by Jason-1; and Jason-2, when in service, will be the benchmark against which all other spacecraft will be judged and calibrated.
At the heart of the latest mission is the Poseidon 3 solid-state altimeter. The instrument constantly bounces microwave pulses off the sea surface. By timing how long the signal takes to make the return trip, it can determine sea surface height.
Additionally, the signal can indicate the height of waves and wind speed.
“It is not a revolution between Jason-1 and Jason-2; it is an evolution, because the main objective is to ensure continuity,” explains Francois Parisot, the Jason-2 project chief at Eumetsat.
“Nevertheless, there are some improvements in the instruments. We hope to make better measurements closer to the coast [and over inland waters and rivers]; and also, we will deliver near-realtime products – products that will be available within three hours of the measurements.”
The latter will be particularly useful in storm prediction. Jason will see the surface waters rise as warm eddies fuel hurricanes. The data will tell meteorologists how a storm is likely to intensify and allow them to issue better, more timely warnings.
Jason-2 data will have many other uses that may not be immediately obvious. Industry will take the information to make decisions about when conditions are most suitable for undersea drilling or cable laying.
Jason can help identify where wreckage or pollution will drift; and the satellite will assist marine biologists as they track whales by pinpointing waters with the potential to be prime feeding and breeding grounds.
One very important use will be in maritime navigation.
“Now that the fuel price is going up, saving fuel for the companies that run ships has become very sensitive; and knowing the currents, you can select your route so that you go faster and save fuel,” said Philippe Escudier, a space oceanography at CLS (Collecte Localisation Satellites), Toulouse, France.
“You can save up to 5% on fuel consumption by making best use of the currents.”
Jason-2 will spend its first few months flying a “tandem mission” with Jason-1.
The two spacecraft will be positioned so that they sweep around the Earth, one following the other, with a separation of just 60 seconds.
This will enable, essentially, the two satellites to measure the same patch of ocean surface at very nearly the same time.
Scientists will use this opportunity to cross-calibrate the instruments so that when Jason-1 is retired (or fails), the future data collected by its successor will be directly comparable with past records.
This continuity of information will be critical in recognising long-term trends in ocean behaviour. It is the data which underpins the observation that global sea level is rising by about three millimetres per year.
Once the tandem phase is completed, Jason-1 will be moved to the side, doubling the return of data. The importance of the Jason programme means both spacecraft will almost certainly be run for as long as they are serviceable.
Discussions are already in progress on a Jason-3 satellite. Given Europe’s role in the project, there is a compelling case for the next mission to be included in the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) programme. This would attract significant EU money.
The high resolution RALCam3 camera, designed and built by UK scientists, will provide the first detailed view of the area’s rate of forest cover loss.
The project is part of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, a £108m joint-initiative by the UK and Norwegian governments.
The fund aims to curb climate change by preventing deforestation in the region.
Speaking at the launch of the scheme, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “We are pledging to work together to secure the future of one of the world’s last remaining ancient forests.
“Preserving our forests is vital if we are going to reduce global emissions and tackle climate change.”
The Congo rainforest is the second largest in the world, containing more than a quarter of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforest.
It is also home to more than 50m people, and supports an estimated 10,000 plant species, 1,000 types of birds and 400 different kinds of mammals.
A UN study warned that unless action was taken to tackle deforestation in the region, more than 66% of the rainforest would be lost by 2040.
The high definition camera will be made by a team at the UK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL).
“We’re delighted to be involved in this very important and timely project,” said Nick Waltham, head of RAL’s Imaging Systems Division.
“RALCam3 will provide 10-metre per pixel ground sampling from an orbit of 650 km (400 miles) altitude,” he told BBC News.
“The image [width] is 88km (55 miles) thereby enabling large areas of the terrain to be imaged in one satellite pass.”
Dr Waltham said the system would also have other applications, including surveillance of environmental change and offshore pollution.
The camera is one of the first projects to be supported by the fund, which is headed by former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.
“The Congo Basin Forest Fund is a joint response to a global problem whereby an innovative and consensual mechanism has been embraced,” Professor Maathai explained.
“It involves various partners committed to preserve and protect one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.”
The fund, which has received an initial £58m (73m euros) from the UK government and £50m (63m euros) from the Norweigan goverment, will support anti-logging projects in the region until 2012.
The attempt to set the download record was scheduled to begin at 1300 PST (2000 GMT) on 17 June.
However, the record attempt was almost wrecked from the start as the servers handling the downloads collapsed under the weight of visitors checking to see if new version was available.
Once the servers were up and functioning normally the record attempt began.
At their busiest the servers were handling more than 9,000 downloads per minute. Within five hours the number of downloads for Version 3.0 exceeded the 1.6 million set by Firefox 2.0 in October 2006.
In total Firefox 3.0 was downloaded 8.3 million times over the 24 hour record setting period. The figure beats the five million Mozilla predicted before the day.
Logs from the download servers have been handed to the Open Source Labs at Oregon State University for auditing. The scrutiny will ensure duplicate and unfinished downloads are not counted. The verification process could take a week to complete.
The surge of interest in Firefox 3.0 has continued and Mozilla has reported that the software has now been downloaded more than 10 million times.
However, some of the shine of the launch was removed by reports that a security firm had already found a flaw in the browser.
DV Labs/Tipping Point reported a flaw only five hours after Firefox 3.0 debuted. The flaw potentially lets an attacker take over a PC if a user clicks on a booby-trapped link.
Now, new images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope are shedding light on the true structure of the Milky Way, revealing that it has just two major arms of stars instead of the four it was previously thought to possess.
“Spitzer has provided us with a starting point for rethinking the structure of the Milky Way,” said Robert Benjamin of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, who presented the new results at a press conference today at the 212th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis, Mo. “We will keep revising our picture in the same way that early explorers sailing around the globe had to keep revising their maps.”
An artist’s concept of the structure of our two-armed Milky Way is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/multimedia/20080603a.html.
Since the 1950s, astronomers have produced maps of the Milky Way. The early models were based on radio observations of gas in the galaxy, and suggested a spiral structure with four major star-forming arms, called Norma, Scutum-Centaurus, Sagittarius and Perseus. In addition to arms, there are bands of gas and dust in the central part of the galaxy. Our sun lies near a small, partial arm called the Orion Arm, or Orion Spur, located between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms.
“For years, people created maps of the whole galaxy based on studying just one section of it, or using only one method,” said Benjamin. “Unfortunately, when the models from various groups were compared, they didn’t always agree. It’s a bit like studying an elephant blind-folded.”
Large infrared sky surveys in the 1990s led to some major revisions of these models, including the discovery of a large bar of stars in the middle of the Milky Way. Infrared light can penetrate through dust, so telescopes designed to pick up infrared light get better views of our dusty and crowded galactic center. In 2005, Benjamin and his colleagues used Spitzer’s infrared detectors to obtain detailed information about our galaxy’s bar, and found that it extends farther out from the center of the galaxy than previously thought.
The team of scientists now has new infrared imagery from Spitzer of an expansive swath of the Milky Way, stretching 130 degrees across the sky and one degree above and below the galaxy’s mid-plane. This extensive mosaic combines 800,000 snapshots and includes over 110 million stars.
Benjamin developed software that counts the stars, measuring stellar densities. When he and his teammates counted stars in the direction of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm, they noticed an increase in their numbers, as would be expected for a spiral arm. But, when they looked in the direction where they expected to see the Sagittarius and Norma arms, there was no jump in the number of stars. The fourth arm, Perseus, wraps around the outer portion of our galaxy and cannot be seen in the new Spitzer images.
The findings make the case that the Milky Way has two major spiral arms, a common structure for galaxies with bars. These major arms, the Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus arms, have the greatest densities of both young, bright stars, and older, so-called red-giant stars. The two minor arms, Sagittarius and Norma, are filled with gas and pockets of young stars. Benjamin said the two major arms seem to connect up nicely with the near and far ends of the galaxy’s central bar.
“Now, we can fit the arms together with the bar, like pieces of a puzzle,” said Benjamin, “and, we can map the structure, position and width of these arms for the first time.” Previous infrared observations found hints of a two-armed Milky Way, but those results were unclear because the position and width of the arms were unknown.
Though galaxy arms appear to be intact features, stars are actually constantly moving in and out of them as they orbit the center of the Milky Way, like London commuters in a busy traffic circle. Our own sun might have once resided in a different arm. Since it was formed more than 4 billion years ago, it has traveled around the galaxy 16 times.
Co-investigators of this research include Ed Churchwell, Marilyn Meade and Brian Babler of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Barbara Whitney of the Space Science Institute, Madison, Wis.; Rémy Indebetouw of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville; and Christer Watson of Manchester College, Ind. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations occur at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. For more information about Spitzer, visit http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .
New features include tabbed browsing, the ability to search the net directly and an anti-fraud system to thwart phishing attacks.
The new program is available as a free download on 19 October, but many will get it as an automatic update to Windows XP in November.
The new version of the browser has gone through a long testing regime and five test or “beta” versions have been made available in the last 14 months.
Despite this IE 7 is still seen as an attempt by Microsoft to catch up with rival browsers as it includes features that have long been seen in competitors such as Firefox and Opera.
With the new version, it is possible to open up tabs rather than windows for new webpages and subscribe to RSS feeds via the browser.
One feature is the addition of a box that lets people search the net directly from the browser rather than through a dedicated webpage.
In early releases of IE 7 this defaulted to Microsoft’s own search engine, but the software company has let users choose which search site this feature should call upon.
Built in to the browser is an anti-fraud system that changes the colour of the address bar to red when a user visits a known phishing site. Other warnings will pop-up if an IE 7 user strays onto a site displaying suspicious activity.
The security features on IE 7 mean that many people will get the browser as part of the monthly updates Microsoft issues to address bugs in its software. Home users will get the option to install the browser, and businesses will be able to block its installation on their machines.
Version 6 of Microsoft’s browser has regularly been hit by a series of attacks by malicious hackers that attempt to exploit weaknesses in it to take over users’ PCs.
IE 7 will also be the default browser for the next version of Microsoft Windows, known as Vista, that is due to be launched in 2007.
The release comes at a time when the numbers of people using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are shrinking. In 2004, 93% of net users browsed the web via IE. Now that proportion has dropped to 86%. Much of that market share has been taken by the Firefox browser, which is used by 11% of net users.
On the day IE 7 was released, a trial version of Version 2.0 of Firefox was also put online for downloading. The finished version is due to be released in the next couple of weeks.