This week – Rethink Robotics shuts down; a robot installs a drywall; new robotics challenge from DARPA; cyborgs fighting for their rights through art; DIY sixth sense; the dangers of DNA testing; and more news and articles on transhumanism, AI, robotics and biotech!
More Than A Human
Cyborgs are already around us but it looks like the world is not prepared for them yet. That’s why some well-known cyborgs like Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas founded Cyborg Foundation, a nonprofit organization, which wants to “help humans become cyborgs, defend the rights of cyborgs and promote cyborg art.”
If you want to know how did transhumanism come to where it is today, H+ Pedia has a nice timeline of transhumanism highlighting the key events of the movement.
If you want an extra sense and have a bit of DIY mentality, here’s a project for you. Ariadne Headband uses Arduino, your smartphone and vibration motors to create a haptic navigation system. It gives you a sense of direction. The headband pulls data from the app and tells you in which direction to go by vibrating the right motors on your head.
This video (around 17 minutes long) discusses the impact of the ongoing revolution in biotechnology thanks to cheap DNA sequencing and DNA writing being just around the corner. It also discusses the pros and cons of these technologies, like how the knowledge what will kill you will impact your life or the question of eugenics.
Here’s a story of people who can walk again thanks to the 16-electrode array that delivers electrical stimulation to their spinal cords. The article explains the technology behind the implants and shows how this little device (with a little luck and a lot of training) can give paralysed people some independence.
What kind of intelligence artificial intelligence is – convergent (the ability to answer questions correctly) or divergent (an ability to think “outside the box”)? With generative design, AI is showing hints of getting into the latter category. AIs can come up with creative solutions to problems but they get there by using an evolutionary approach by testing thousands of possible solutions. They are not “creative” like a human can be. As the head of Google’s X put it, they are “all-powerful, really painfully stupid genie”.
Rethink Robotics, the company behind the iconic collaborative robot Baxter, shuts down. The company found in a hard way that building the robots is not the hardest part. It is selling them.
The HRP-5P is a humanoid robot from Japan’s Advanced Industrial Science and Technology Institute that can install a drywall. A human will still do it faster but the robot is still impressive.
If I’d ask you to imagine a robotic hand, chances are you will see a hand similar to a human hand but made from metal or plastic. Those “hard” hands might look cool but “soft” hands might be better. A company called Soft Robotics has developed an inflatable, cephalopod-inspired gripper made of pliable polymer fingers. Pump in air and the gripper rapidly inflates, grasping its target. Pump the air back out and the fingers return to their original shape, dropping the object. These deformable fingers make the device adaptable to a wide range of shapes, from eggs to raw meat to pens. And to accomplish this hand feat, Soft Robotics takes a simple approach to robotic manipulation, letting the squishy material do the work as opposed to painstakingly teaching a traditional robotic hand how to grip each object it encounters.
DARPA announced another robotics challenge. It’s called Subterranean Challenge and its goal is to design robots to navigate a grueling subterranean course of tunnels and caves, some of the most unforgiving environments on Earth. The robots will need to find their way through an underground maze on their own, without any human help. The event will start next year with a grand final scheduled for 2021.
Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology gave the same DNA mixture to about 105 American crime laboratories and three Canadian labs and asked them to compare it with DNA from three suspects from a mock bank robbery. The first two suspects’ DNA was part of the mixture, and most labs correctly matched their DNA to the evidence. However, 74 labs wrongly said the sample included DNA evidence from the third suspect, an “innocent person” who should have been cleared of the hypothetical felony. The test results are troubling, especially since errors also occur in actual casework.
Material science has developed so rapidly in the last few years there wasn’t even time to create a buzzword. From airplane wings that change physical properties according to altitude, to wristbands telling you that you are too intoxicated to drive and plastic made from shrimps – material science is revolutionizing manufacturing. And much of it is due to innovative concepts in biomaterials.
By engineering cells with synthetic biology components, the researchers have experimentally demonstrated a proof-of-concept device enabling robust and reliable information exchanges between electrical and biological (molecular) domains. Building on their progress, the research team is now working to develop a novel biological memory device that can be written to and read from via either biological and/or electronic means. Such a device would function like a thumb drive or SD card, using molecular signals to store key information, and would require almost no energy. Inside the body, these devices would serve the same purpose – except, instead of merely storing data, they could be used to control biological behaviors.