Friday, April 4, 2008


Inspired by the synergy of my own stuffed, crusty, raw red nose and the long-awaited return of Battlestar Galactica (and if you haven't seen the season premiere yet, what are you wasting time here for? Get onto BitTorrent and start downloading right fucking now, do you hear me?), I am reminded of this little tech item sent courtesy of Alistair Blachford from UBC: the importance of mucous for the optimal functioning of robot noses. It seems that snot is essential to trap and distribute airborne molecules so they can be properly parsed by olfactory sensors. And that in turn reminds me of this earlier article from Science, which reports that sweat might also be an integral part of robot makeup, since evaporative cooling can double the power output of robot servos. The same paper reviews current research in the development of artificial muscles. I wonder how many more wet and sticky and downright organismal traits are going to prove desirable and efficient for our robot overlords. Is it possible that fleshy terminators and death-fetish replicants and even hot Cylon chicks look and taste and feel like us not merely for infiltration purposes, but because form follows function? Do the best robots look like us? Are we the best robots?

Not in every way, I hope. The best robots gotta have better arch support. And it wouldn't kill them to put their visual cabling behind the photoreceptors for a change.

Oh, and those wisdom teeth have got to go.

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Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Interesting the way things are leaning... that something like AI might only be attainable through the use of evolutionary algorithmic design... setting up initial conditions and rules, and letting the process grind it's way to behavior indistinguishable from intelligence.

In robotics, too, close biological analogs are providing better solutions than sui generis design.

And there's an angle to this I haven't heard before - that our experience attempting to design machines that think/behave/are like us is starting to prove to us that such things actually can't BE designed...

Certainly this could be written off to our inadequate abilities as designers, but it looks like evolutionary processes are more likely to result in successful complex life than any deliberate design.

In fact, design succeeds best when it models itself on solutions already arrived at by evolution.

I'm not making the best go of this argument, but I wonder if anyone else has - that what we are learning by attempting to be intelligent designers is proving to us the futility and error in the basic concept of the intelligent design of things like us.

Who would have designed snot on purpose?

April 5, 2008 9:21 PM  
Blogger AR said...

On an unrelated note, if you want to support evironmentaly friendly snack manufactuers, buy SunChips, now made with actual sun.

At the same time, it seems like you're already going well out of your way to promote the development of strong AI.

April 6, 2008 2:26 AM  
Blogger Richard Mason said...

When my wisdom teeth came in, the dentist said that they shouldn't cause any problems. He explained that my jawbone was not representative of modern populations, but was of a type he more normally associated with the Upper Pleistocene.

So you see, it is not that we need fewer wisdom teeth. We just need a return to the quality jawbones of the past, instead of the cheap, undersized econo-jaws that have flooded the market.

Cracker of Antelope Bones

April 6, 2008 3:01 PM  
Blogger John Henning said...

And it wouldn't kill them to put their visual cabling behind the photoreceptors for a change.

Is this why we have the "blind spot" in our eyes? I've known about that most of my life but never really looked for an explanation.

As far as form and function, would emotions naturally be necessary for artificial intelligence? Like you point out your "robot slaves" idea, there would be no reason to give robots the ability to suffer doing the jobs we program them for, but could it be possible that "androids" or AI's wouldn't be able to function the way we'd expect unless they had the same emotional capacities we do?

In that sense, maybe our flaws (overly developed consciousness) would be replicated in "replicants."

April 7, 2008 12:13 PM  
Blogger TheBrummell said...

Is this why we have the "blind spot" in our eyes?


Also, I like Bill Cunningham's argument contra-design. An interesting angle, for sure.

April 7, 2008 3:49 PM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

Not to be a cynic here, but of course the robots will have to have sweat, tears and all sorts of mucosa ... how else will we have sex with them?

Considering the lively commerce connected to selling grown men life-sized rubber dolls with orafices, heating systems, and realistic hair, and marketing them as companions with loving arms, the big breakthrough in robotics will per force be Love Dolls with an AI.

Any new technology that can be hijacked for commerical use, will be, and this will be no exception.

I'm sure Johnson & Johnson and all the other makers of "personal lubricants" will howl, but as long as there is a demand, the market will supply it.

April 8, 2008 1:16 PM  

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