The World This Week, March 22, 2009

[videos forthcoming]

US NEWS

People thieving the electrons.

Obama: Economy hurts.  Duh.

Obama Budget Strategy raises questions.

New home construction gets a lift (month-to-month).

Small business help on the way.

Fed prints money like mad.

A couple economists agree that printing money is a good idea…today.

China wants a new global currency standard.

Palin to preach to choir.

McCain Twitterview a joke, a stilted lagging joke.

Feel the outrage….

….oh wait, we did that?

Probe into AIG bonuses launched.

Gassley suggest suicide for AIG execs, then back off to resignation and public flogging.

Laid off worked parades in front of AIG mansion.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Pakistan moves closer to rule of law.

Iraqi government wants heads to roll.

Dead Sea Scrolls authors existence questioned.

Georgia v. stem cells.

Pope v. witchcraft and tribalism.

Everyone of the Book (Christian, Muslim, Jew) vs teh Gays.

Stop-Loss phasing out.

Obama talks to Iran.

Iran wants more than talk.

SCIENCE/TECH

The Frogopalypse.

Veggie garden makes a return to White House lawn.

Obama gets schooled on Special Olympics and bowling.  NOTE: Bowling not a particularly intellectual pursuit.

The Great Unkowns and the Unknowables.

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Robots Taking Over the Runways and Dreamscapes

First up, from the far, far east….

(TSUKUBA, Japan) A new walking, talking robot from Japan has a female face that can smile and has trimmed down to 43 kilograms (95 pounds) to make a debut at a fashion show. But it still hasn’t cleared safety standards required to share the catwalk with human models.

Developers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, a government-backed organization, said their “cybernetic human,” shown Monday, wasn’t ready to help with daily chores or work side by side with people — as many hope robots will be able to do in the future.

“Technologically, it hasn’t reached that level,” said Hirohisa Hirukawa, one of the robot’s developers. “Even as a fashion model, people in the industry told us she was short and had a rather ordinary figure.”

[full story]

Interesting stuff for the second and third generation human-like robots.  Give us another generation of robotics engineers, looking at art like this, and we’ll be there for sure.

That artist, BTW, is Choe U-Ram, and you can see one of his nightmares in motion here.

I have another video that’s yet to be online about this stuff.  Quite frankly, I think it would be very bad for humanity if we were to create an AI.  I know that’s the dream of a lot of computer scientists and robotics experts, but there is the potential, nay the certainty, of calamity along that path.   Any sufficiently advanced AI (i.e. one that qualified is all respects as a “mind”) is going to have the capacity, as we do, to ignore any and all constraints placed upon it by the outside world.   Such is the nature of consciousness.

In that line of thinking, providing an intelligence with the vast power that could come from a body of steel and and effectively infinite life, and one is well on down the road to madness.   And, unfortunately, for a real AI, madness *must* be an option.   So as much as I love the robots, and the cool stuff we can make nowadays, there needs to be a rather firm limit on what kind of power we are going to give them, as they will certainly want to take more…if we make them anything like us.

The Story of the Evolution of Hot Peppers (they’re for the birds)

Watt’s up with that tackles hot peppers.

Some plants do not want to get eaten. They may grow in places difficult to approach, they may look unappetizing, or they may evolve vile smells. Some have a fuzzy, hairy or sticky surface, others evolve thorns. Animals need to eat those plants to survive and plants need not be eaten by animals to survive, so a co-evolutionary arms-race leads to ever more bizzare adaptations by plants to deter the animals and ever more ingenious adaptations by animals to get around the deterrents.One of the most efficient ways for a plant to deter a herbivore is to divert one of its existing biochemical pathways to synthetise a novel chemical – something that will give the plant bad taste, induce vomiting or even pain or may be toxic enough to kill the animal.

But there are other kinds of co-evolution between plants and herbivores. Some plants need to have a part eaten – usually the seed – so they can propagate themselves. So, they evolved fruits. The seeds are enveloped in meaty, juicy, tasty packages of pure energy. Those fruits often evolve a sweet smell that can be detected from a distance. And the fruits are often advertised with bright colors – red, orange, yellow, green or purple: “Here I am! Here I am! Please eat me!”

So, the hot peppers are a real evolutionary conundrum.

Read on to see how nature solved *that* little dilemma.