Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Robots with guns

Scientists are seriously discussing giving robots guns. They want to program robots to be soldiers in battlefields.

While I think it's good to have an ethical discussion about the possibility of making these choices, I think we're nowhere near having battlefield robots. It's not even on the horizon. Robots can only be programmed with simple, unambiguous tasks. Ethical rules won't work. How on earth do they expect to be able to program a computer to distinguish a civilian from a combatant if our soldiers have trouble figuring it out?

Fundamentally, even the best AI follows a simple set of rules. Any enemy would be able to eventually figure out the rules, and get the robots to not fire upon them. If the robots are programmed to not fire upon unarmed people, they would simply throw down their weapons when the robot approaches. And use cell phones to trigger detonators to destroy the robot, because you can't shoot people for carrying a cell phone. If you set aside mosques and schools as safe zones that it's unethical to shoot at, soldiers will take up positions in mosques and schools, and fire away at robots unable to shoot back.

War is hell. It's a morass of chaos and violence - the worst possible circumstance to try to use a robot. While the idea of a robotic mule to carry equipment, supplies and even wounded soldiers makes sense, giving robots autonomy and weapons is just dumb.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

McCain broke copyright

McCain's campaign is still making ridiculous claims in the face of having broken copyright law. The Ohio Republican Party, among others, used music without permission in pro-McCain commercials.

I guess breaking the law and stealing from artists is another way of being a "maverick".

Friday, November 21, 2008

The human mind

So last night the layoff at work finally hit me. I was already disappointed, and sad to see many of my friends go. But I didn't cry until the evening before my 3 day vacation. Not until I had time to. I was too busy to deal with, or even have, feelings about the catastrophe.

I'm still angry that half the floor educators were fired, after 6 months of attrition - not letting any educator who left be replaced. They fired 8 people this week on top of not replacing 5 others. You've got to fire a lot of people if you're going to decimate a museum to not go bankrupt. But this layoff was not done fairly. One team was cut in half, others were barely touched.

I have some survivor's guilt; my job is funded by grants, so it doesn't save any money to fire me. And I know these are tough times. But I am angry that the suffering isn't being shared equally. It's hard to get a job done without enough people to do it. But why should serving our customers be the only job that we stop doing? It seems like if our product gets really crappy, people might stop coming even more drastically than they are now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Video games give life skills

According to a japanese researcher, video games and facebook teach kids life skills. Like, how to use a computer. Skills that prepare you for the working world.

And not just how to check your facebook page while you're at work.

I guess Steven Johnson may have been right after all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I should put one of these up

XKCD has invented a brilliant variation on the Jewish tradition of the mezuzah.

I almost want to put one of these on the door to my home.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Toyota goes too far

Toyota has demanded the removal of photos from a site where people share desktop images. They want all pictures taken down that feature Toyota cars. Even if they don't hold the copyright to the image in question.

Stupid. Makes me want to take pictures of my parents' Toyotas and post them online just to spite them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sharks are like golf balls

Sharks manipulate their scales to create dimples. Dimples of speed. Killing speed.

Like when the hair on the back of your neck sticks up, only deadly. To others.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cop Rock

I just discovered a few clips of Cop Rock on YouTube.

I hope they were trying to be hilarious, because it's brilliantly committed musical comedy.

Still a horrible idea for a weekly TV show, but I think it would work pretty well as a single broadway show.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Still president Bush doing his best to secure his place as worst president ever

Yes, George W. Bush and Richard Cheney are passing lots of last minute rules and executive orders to make our lives as bad as possible. They're making lots of work for the Obama administration, who will be able to reverse all these rules, but be slowed down in doing so.

Rules like letting FBI agents lie about who they are when investigating people. Letting oil companies drill in places without any environmental safeguards. And giving huge tax breaks to giant banks that have lots of bad loans.

Bush often says history will be his judge. I hope they do a good job of condemning him.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prehistoric spiders

Apparently a new fossil has been found of the creature that ruled the world before dinosaurs.

It ruled the underwater world. It looks like a jellyfish. And apparently it was awesome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Which came first...

For years, I've often amused myself by wondering whether we'd have a black president before a woman president, or the other way 'round.

I shouldn't count my chickens before they're hatched, but it looks that that debate is over. And I happened to be right. But it seems to me like that's just random chance, and the particular candidates we had at this time. Maybe I'm reading the degree of sexism in our culture wrong, but I wonder if Sen. Clinton hadn't been weighed down by the baggage of her husband, what might have been. Not to mention the mismanagement of her campaign itself.

Anyway, now I find myself wondering: gay or athiest? Will we elect an openly gay president before or after an openly athiest? My bet: gay. I think that in another generation sexuality will be viewed the same way we view race now - something you're born with. So it won't matter if you're gay or straight, we'll all just be people. But not believing in God, that's something that connotes character. Or at least some people think so. And will think so in 100 years.
Of course, both of these things are attributes about internal states, which you can lie about to others. But that's what makes the question interesting to me. While we may have had a gay president already, and probably have had an athiest, when would the public choose one willingly?

Why do we vote on Tuesday?

Apparently, we wanted to be able to get into town from the farm on our horse, and that took 2 days. And Wednesday was market day, so Tuesday was election day.

November is after the harvest but before winter gets really bad.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting technology

Turns out that our current form of voting, while susceptible to fraud, is really quite civilized compared to how it used to work.

Fascinating etymology in that article. Ballots use to be balls. Peas, pebbles, etc. And the party ticket used to be an actual ticket. And we've only been voting by secret ballot for 100 years, after we imported the idea from Australia.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kazaa you, MTV!

Apparently, MTV thinks names of file-sharing programs are curse words, since they bleeped them in a video of Weird Al's. (The song, "Don't Download This Song", which when it first debuted could be downloaded off Weird Al's myspace page.)

I recognize that MTV and the RIAA are legally correct in demanding their copyright protections, but even the judge in their trial recently pointed out that they're being cruel in bankrupting teenagers and housewives. For starters, copyright shouldn't be 125 years long. It should be more like 25 years, and anything older should be public domain. (Especially out of print materials.)

But more importantly, the RIAA is like the oil companies denying global warming. Technology is changing. In 50 years, (hopefully sooner) we're not going to use petroleum for anything we use it for now, with the possible exception of airplanes. And record labels have to change with the times, too. They have to make it easy to get music legally, and lower their prices to reasonably reflect their lowered costs of production. Because if it's easier to get it illegally, it won't matter what's right or wrong. People are lazy. And giant corporations beating up on 10 year old children doesn't feel right, even if it's the law.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Poison in your food, water, toys, medicine...

It seems these days that our habit of moving manufacturing to China has bit us in the ass. That is, if you like your toys, drugs and chocolate to not have lead or melamine in them.

My relatives and friends have been talking a lot about this lately. I read about candy Costco sold in Canada that was tainted. And then this article really summed it up well.

Bush has cut back the FDA to a shadow of its former self. We need food and drug inspectors out there to catch crooked companies before children die, not after. And if companies are going to open factories in China, we need to have access to ensure that the products that come out are safe.

That's not socialism, it's just obvious. Food shouldn't be poisonous. Selling poisonous food is a crime. Let's hire some cops and start catching the criminals, dammit.