Signal to Noise Report
Elon Musk's brain chips in your skull, Lethal robot dogs on the prowl, AI mirrors distorting your face... More headlines from the bright, unnerving world of today.
The Signal to Noise Report collects headlines to illustrate humanity’s move into what is beginning to resemble a hybrid species: The Jetsons meets Blade Runner. The idea being that we have a proclivity to accept (with glee) whatever new techno gizmos are shoved at us, yet rarely question their purpose and/or their long-term effects on our health and sanity.
Elon Musk shows off updates to his brain chips and says he’s going to install one in himself when they are ready
Neuralink was founded in 2016 by Musk and a group of other scientists and engineers. It strives to develop brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, that connect the human brain to computers that can decipher neural signals.
Musk invested tens of millions of his personal wealth into the company and has said, without evidence, that Neuralink’s devices could enable “superhuman cognition,” enable paralyzed people to operate smartphones or robotic limbs with their minds someday, and “solve” autism and schizophrenia.
The company’s presentation Wednesday echoed these lofty ambitions, as Musk claimed that “as miraculous as it may sound, we’re confident that it is possible to restore full body functionality to someone who has a severed spinal cord.”
Amazon Wants Its Home Robot, Astro, to Anticipate Your Every Need
Despite Astro’s lukewarm reception, Amazon remains committed to the project. On a recent visit to Lab126, the Amazon division responsible for developing hardware devices, in Silicon Valley, Kiraly and others said that the company firmly believes domestic robots will one day become widespread. And they described how such devices offer a powerful way for Amazon to fulfill its main objective—anticipating customers’ every want and need. “Astro is our first robot, it’s not our last,” says Ken Washington, general manager of Amazon Consumer Robotics and head of the Astro project.
At Lab126, Amazon explained a new feature publicly announced at its virtual hardware showcase today that allows the robot to recognize when a door or window inside a home has been left open, and alert its owner. That upgrade doesn’t make Astro a must-have, but it is rooted in AI technology that could allow the robot to learn all sorts of useful things about a person’s home by looking around and receiving some instruction.
For Distracted Phone Users, Germany Puts Traffic Lights on the Ground
Stadtwerke Augsburg, a public-works/transportation provider that works for the Bavarian burg of Augsburg, has outfitted two rail stations with experimental traffic signals for oblivious phone users. They’re on the ground, obviously, and they blink green for “safe” and red for “about to be pancaked by a vehicle weighing in the neighborhood of 50 tons.”
As Stadtwerke Augsburg explains in a press release (via Google Translate), “The stubborn look at the smartphone can lead on the road to dangerous situations.” That includes having people who completely miss red lights because they’re looking down, so the agency added red LED lights along the curb at two stations, on a trial basis, “to enhance security for smartphone users” by flashing the lights when a tram approaches.
AI-powered makeup mirrors are driving consumers back to stores to avoid sense of 'fakeness,' new study finds
Users of the digital makeup mirror for the study criticized AR's lack of understanding or respect for human skin, ethnicity or feelings when applying color on skin, in particular with luxury makeup brands. They also claimed "shameful surprise" with how they looked when using AR makeup mirrors. For instance, although they looked surprised when seeing AR colors on their face, they quickly felt ashamed of their AR look and would barely share their AR photo "privately" with close family and friends, let alone share it publicly online.
One participant said, "... It's my face. I want it. I want to feel it. I want to try it [real makeup products] on. I want to see the consistency... with makeup it's not something that I can trust any kind of virtual augmented anything for a decision like what I'm putting on my face."
Source: Tech XPlore
Ghost Robotics now makes a lethal robot dog
But while some tasks seem like a good fit for a robot to reduce risk to humans, the signature innovation on display at the AUSA floor turned the robot into a threat. The Q-UGV is also listed as offering one other essential military function: “lethality.”
Starting in 2017, under Secretary of Defense James Mattis, “Lethality” became a focal point of military product marketing. Whereas in the past, military contractors would talk about how a weapon allows soldiers to meet mission objectives or protects the warfighter, “lethality” as a new buzzword meant everything had to be explained in terms of that ultimate military objective: killing people, in accordance with the laws of war and the task assigned.
Source: Popular Science
Now You Can Rent a Robot Worker—for Less Than Paying a Human
Jose Figueroa, who manages Polar’s production line, says the robot, which is leased from a company called Formic, costs the equivalent of $8 per hour, compared with a minimum wage of $15 per hour for a human employee. Deploying the robot allowed a human worker to do different work, increasing output, Figueroa says.
"Smaller companies sometimes suffer because they can't spend the capital to invest in new technology,” Figueroa says. “We're just struggling to get by with the minimum wage increase.”
The fact that Polar didn’t need to pay $100,000 upfront to buy the robot, and then spend more money to get it programmed, was crucial. Figueroa says that he’d like to see 25 robots on the line within five years. He doesn’t envisage replacing any of the company’s 70 employees, but says Polar may not need to hire new workers.
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Ned Mudd resides in Alabama where he engages in interspecies communication, rock collecting, and frequent cloud watching. He is the author of The Adventures of Dink and DVD (a space age comedy). Some of Ned’s best friends are raccoons.