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the state of robotics art - the auroran sunset

Ten-page review on the newish field of social robotics - waffle to content ratio is too high, but there are some bits to make it worth a scan:

“[...] what the M.I.T. robots may lack in looks or finesse, they make up for in originality: they are programmed to learn the way humans learn, through their bodies, their senses and the feedback generated by their own behavior.”

“ Sociable robots come equipped with the very abilities that humans have evolved to ease our interactions with one another: eye contact, gaze direction, turn-taking, shared attention. They are programmed to learn the way humans learn, by starting with a core of basic drives and abilities and adding to them as their physical and social experiences accrue. People respond to the robots' social cues almost without thinking, and as a result the robots give the impression of being somehow, improbably, alive.”

[4:06 minutes]

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First armed robots on patrol in Iraq:

“Now, the SWORDS [special weapons observation remote reconnaissance direct action system!] won't act on a command, unless it's received right away. A three-part arming process -- with both physical and electronic safeties -- is required before firing. Most importantly, the machines now come with kill switches, in case there's any odd behavior.”

[9:53 minutes]

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very big numbers for space anniversary - xavier

Voyager mission commemorative badge. Image credit: NASA/JPL. “The twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft continue exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. In the 30th year after their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the Sun than Pluto is and approaching the boundary region -- the heliopause -- where the Sun's dominance of the environment ends and interstellar space begins. Voyager 1, more than three as distant as Pluto, is farther from Earth than any other human-made object and speeding outward at more than 17 kilometers per second (38,000 miles per hour). Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network (DSN).”

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“[...] Voyager’s famous golden records, which include sounds and images of Earth. The selections portray people young and old, male and female -- not to mention examples of many other species -- and include information about every continent on the planet, as well as Voyager's two-sided message disk. Image credit: NASA/JPLEarth’s location in space. Earlier NASA missions included plaques with information about Earth, in case an intelligent alien race intercepted the probes. This spurred, John Casani, Voyager's first project manager, to appoint astronomer and author Carl Sagan to head a committee to come up with a message for Voyager. In his book "Murmurs of Earth," Sagan later described how the committee created the record and chose its contents. Physicist Frank Drake suggested the idea of a record that would have pictures on one side and sounds on the other side. The group had less than six weeks to come up with a record that would represent the entire population of Earth -- in addition to the planet itself -- if it were ever discovered by an intelligent alien race. A mission that was supposed to last just five years is celebrating its 30th anniversary this fall. Scientists continue to receive data from the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft as they approach interstellar space.”

Further details on the disk and its contents [2-page .pdf]
All the information a potential invader might need!

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Voyager spacecraft. redit: NASA/JPL.“Voyager 1 currently is the farthest human-made object at a distance from the sun of about 9.7 billion miles (15.6 billion kilometers). Voyager 2 is about 7.8 billion miles (12.6 billion kilometers).”

“In December 2004, Voyager 1 began crossing the solar system's final frontier. Called the heliosheath, this turbulent area, approximately 8.7 billion miles from the sun, is where the solar wind slows as it crashes into the thin gas that fills the space between stars. Voyager 2 could reach this boundary later this year, putting both Voyagers on their final leg toward interstellar space.”

“The Voyagers call home via NASA's Deep Space Network, a system of antennas around the world. The spacecraft are so distant that commands from Earth, traveling at light speed, take 14 hours one-way to reach Voyager 1 and 12 hours to reach Voyager 2. Each Voyager logs approximately 1 million miles per day.” [Quoted from]

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software for detecting image manipulation

With examples of application to al-Qaeda videos. The program creates pretty pictures that show the manipulated parts very clearly.

Each resave degrades the image. Added images also increase degradation (pixel error rate). Credit: Hacker Factor.
Each resave degrades the image.
Added images also increase degradation (pixel error rate).
Credit: Hacker Factor.

“Error level analysis involves re-saving an image at a known error rate (90%, for example), then subtracting the re-saved image from the original image to see every pixel that changed and the degree to which it changed. The modified versions will indicate a different error level than the original image.”

Source code, written in C

original presentation (35MB .pdf)

related material
on ‘improving’ photos - believing what you see

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on ‘improving’ photos - believing what you see [7-page .pdf] [second, 10-page .pdf]

Given an input image with a missing region, we use matching scenes from a large collection of photographs to complete the image. Image credit: Hays & Efros.
Original Image Input Scene matches Output
“Given an input image with a missing region, we use matching scenes from a large collection of photographs to complete the image.” [Image credit: Hays & Efros]
Alternative choices for completing a scene. Image credit: Hays & Efros.
Original Input Alternative scene completions


It is increasingly possible to fake photos, and not just by using the cloning tool in Paint Shop Pro or Photoship.

“We present a system for inserting new objects into existing photographs by querying a vast image-based object library, precomputed using a publicly available Internet object database.” [Quoted from]

The Computer Graphics department at Carnegie Mellon University has several people working on related projects, whether ‘photo clipart’ merging or ‘scene completion’.

Two of the developers, Hays and Efros, suggest using Flicr or Picasa as sources for the large numbers of images to use as a source database. They used LabelMe database and their own images, while thanking Flicr for the images downloaded from there.

“What can you do with a million images? In this paper we present a new image completion algorithm powered by a huge database of photographs gathered from the Web. The algorithm patches up holes in images by finding similar image regions in the database that are not only seamless but also semantically valid. Our chief insight is that while the space of images is effectively infinite, the space of semantically differentiable scenes is actually not that large. For many image completion tasks we are able to find similar scenes which contain image fragments that will convincingly complete the image [...] ” [Quoted from]

There are other, somewhat similar programs available. The creators, Hays and Efros, of this current graphic application say that there are situations where their software fails to match the patched-in images seamlessly, and other cases where other programs do find a better image match and so a better final result.

Hays and Efros reckon that the next best software after their new program, is written by Criminisi, Perez and Toyama, who also members of the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Graphics department.

related material
too dark in here and too bright out there, impossible to photo - not now: high dynamic range pics
update: test-drives photomatix

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and now computers creeping up on poker players

“No computer can calculate every single possible move in a chess game, but today's best chess programs can see an astounding 18 moves ahead.

“Yet poker involves not just myriad possibilities but uncertainty, both about what cards the opponent is holding and more importantly, how he is going to play them.”

“'You basically compute a formula that can at least break even in the long run, no matter what your opponent does,'' Billings said.

“That's about where the best poker programs are today. Though the best game theory-based programs can usually hold their own against world-class human poker players, they aren't good enough to win big consistently.

“Squeezing that extra bit of performance out of a computer requires combining the sheer mathematical power of game theory with the ability to observe an opponent's play and adapt to it. Many legendary poker players do that by being experts of human nature. They quickly learn the tics, gestures and other ''tells'' that reveal exactly what another player is up to.

“A computer can't detect those, but it can keep track of how an opponent plays the game. It can observe how often an opponent tries to bluff with a weak hand, and how often she folds. Then the computer can take that information and incorporate it into the calculations that guide its own game.”

related material
standard chess board draughts/checkers solved - chess next?

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standard chess board draughts/checkers solved - chess next?

“One of the most popular board games in history, checkers has been definitively proved to end in a draw when played perfectly by both sides, according to Jonathan Schaeffer, professor of computer science, [...]”

“As for the question of solving a game like chess, which people suspect will also result in a draw, the amount of data is even more monstrous. The number of positions in checkers is thought to be roughly the square root of the number of positions in chess. That’s somewhere in the order of 1040 to 1050 positions. Schaeffer says that even with the two-pronged technique he used in solving checkers, a breakthrough such as quantum computing would be needed to even attempt to solve chess. But he isn’t quick to rule out the possibility. “The one thing I’ve learned in all of this is to never underestimate the advances in technology,” he says. ”

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bletchley park opening computing museum

Bletchley Park was where, during World War Two, German code messages were decrypted. Here is where Alan Turing, with help of others such as Max Newman, Tommy Flowers and Alan Coombs, developed the digital calculating machine Colossus that was the forebear of today’s computers.

German enigma machine.       Bombe machine used in decrypting Enigma messages.
Left: German Enigma coding machine. Right: Bombe machine used to decrypt Enigma messages.

“Codes And Ciphers Heritage Trust (CCHT) is to establish the National Museum of Computing in Block H at Bletchley Park.

“Built in 1944, Block H was designed to house the world’s first digital computers, the Colossus machines.

Reconstructed Colossus digital calculating machine.
Reconstructed Colossus digital calculating machine.

“The museum will allow visitors to follow the development of computing from the ultra secret pioneering efforts of the Colossus, through the mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s, and the rise of personal computing in the 1980s. Using original systems restored to working order with the help of the BCS’s Computer Conservation Society, the museum will encourage visitors to operate and learn from our exhibits, and enjoy using machines they once used, programmed, or simply played with.”

related material

Alan Turing: the enigma of intelligence by Alan Hodges

Alan Turing: the enigma of intelligence by Alan Hodges

Counterpoint/Unwin Paperbacks, pbk, 1985, 0045100608 /

Hutchinson Publishing Group, hbk, 1983, 0091521300

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