Issue #119

This week – DIY cyborgs; robot ‘conductor’; biocomputers and bioethics; Facebook’s AI learns how to react to human emotions; and more!

More Than A Human

The DIY Cyborgs Hacking Their Bodies For Fun

Photographer Hannes Wiedemann explores the wild world of DIY cyborgs in Grinders. The photos filling his book are not for the squeamish, as they present, in occasionally gruesome detail, the lengths these folks go to so they might live in the future.

There’s a $100 Million Plan to Make a Synthetic Spinal Cord to End Paralysis

Hugh Herr and his colleagues at MIT’s Center for Extreme Bionics want to change what it means to be disabled. As part of a $100 million, five-year project, the researchers are working on advanced prosthetics that work like real limbs, a synthetic nervous system, and more.

What would happen if we upload our brains to computers?

Meet the “ems” – machines that emulate human brains and can think, feel and work just like the brains they’re copied from. Economist and social scientist Robin Hanson describes a possible future when ems take over the global economy, running on superfast computers and copying themselves to multitask, leaving humans with only one choice: to retire, forever. Glimpse a strange future as Hanson describes what could happen if robots ruled the earth.

The Code of Ethics on Human Augmentation

Here’s a talk by Steve Mann on his experiments in augmented reality, wearable computers, merging machines and humans and augmenting our senses. He also touches on ethics of human augmentation. The actual talk starts at 2:20.

Artificial Intelligence

Facebook Has Developed AI That Can React Naturally to Human Expression

The Facebook AI lab has developed an animated bot that learned to respond naturally to human facial movements during conversation, so much so that volunteers rated its reactions as natural as a human’s.

IBM pitched its Watson supercomputer as a revolution in cancer care. It’s nowhere close

Recent investigation has found that the supercomputer isn’t living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it. It is still struggling with the basic step of learning about different forms of cancer. Only a few dozen hospitals have adopted the system, which is a long way from IBM’s goal of establishing dominance in a multibillion-dollar market.


Robot ‘conductor’ steals the show from Italy’s top tenor

Let’s add to the list of jobs taken by the robots another one – orchestral conductor. At International Festival of Robotics, ABB presented YuMi – robotic arm programmed to conduct an orchestra.

Mergeable nervous systems for robots

Researchers at the Université libre de Bruxelles have developed self- reconfiguring modular robots that can merge, split and even self-heal while retaining full sensorimotor control. The work envisions robots that can autonomously change their size, shape and function.

Studying the Jerboa to Advance Bipedal Robots

Researchers from the University of Michigan have studied the movement patterns of jerboa, a funny looking bipedal desert rodent, to create a model of its unpredictable movement. The researchers believe this new model for unpredictable movement can be applied to bipedal robots as a way to engineer unpredictability in their gait.

Agility Robotics Introduces Cassie, a Dynamic and Talented Robot Delivery Ostrich

Agility Robotics revealed their new robot. Cassie is a dynamic walker, meaning that it walks much more like humans do than most of the carefully plodding bipedal robots we’re used to seeing. The robot was built with search-and- rescue and disaster relief situations in mind, but Agility Robotics has one particular environment and situation where Cassie can shine. They want Cassie to be scampering up your steps to deliver packages to your front door.

Stretchy Artificial ‘Skin’ Could Give Robots a Sense of Touch

A new kind of rubber electronics and sensors, capable of stretching to up to 50 percent of their length, could work as an artificial skin on robots, giving them sense strain, pressure and temperature. It can also find a usage in robotic prosthetics.


Biocomputers Made From Cells Can Now Handle More Complex Logic

Biohackers at the Wyss Institute took E. Coli bacteria and turned it into a simple computer. But instead of 1s and 0s, when given a specific set of inputs, the bacteria spit out a protein that made them glow neon green under fluorescent light. By tinkering with a cell’s RNA repertoire, scientists may one day coax them to photosynthesize, produce expensive drugs on the fly, or diagnose and hunt down rogue tumor cells.

Do We Have the Right to Edit the Genes of an Entire Species?

It is a tricky question. Scientists can now more cheaply and efficiently edit animal and human DNA using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system. But should we edit species, and if so, to what extent? They are good arguments for doing it, but we need more research on the potential impact of such modified organisms on the environment.

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