Category Archives: Uncategorized

Technology that Empowers

The Heinz Endowment summer internship program borrowed Speck air quality sensors from us to empower the students to explore the city of Pittsburgh, quantitatively understanding the fluctuations and variegations in air quality in our city. This is a wonderful example of how an educational programme can empower students with technology, furthering their sense of reach and civic enablement: What are we breathing? – great example of community empowerment via technology.

Visual “Optimization”

Here is a EurekAlert! press release well worth a close read, about Neon, a Carnegie Mellon spinout that is being honored by the World Economic Forum for being a company aware of challenges in the world and doing its part. But what does Neon do? It uses outstanding technologies rooted in machine learning, psychology and brain imaging to enable real-time selection of images on-line that significantly increase human engagement and human click-through’s! The article says:

Neon’s proprietary technology, developed in research labs at CMU and Brown University, uses cognitive science, neuroscience and machine learning tools to understand how humans see and react to images, and selects images that emotionally resonate with viewers. Neon’s products provide real-time optimization tools for images and video, proven to increase engagement through clicks by 16 to 34 percent.

So, not only can scientists merge together disciplines to significantly affect our personal behavior unawares; they can also attract massive venture funding and global lauding for the ability to improve profit for on-line visual content markets.  The computers will only become ever better at dishing us information that remote-controls our responses. This is a one-way street we are traveling, people.

Real-world Swarming

Swarm robotics has spent years- nay, decades- developing algorithms for simulated robots, robotic watercraft, and, yes, unmanned flying ‘bots to fly formation and coverage large areas. Until now, most swarm robotics experiments in the air have involved a small number of robots, countable on just one hand. NPR reported this morning on the research of Timothy Chung at the Naval Postgraduate School, where last week thirty drones were able to self-organize in the air. The NPR story is interesting because you can take a listen to what this will sound like, someday, in a community near you.  It’s also interesting because, in case of a problem, there is a pilot there ready to manually control a drone. So let’s think about that, just for a second. Thirty drones, one R/C plane pilot. What, precisely, will the pilot do when fifteen drones veer off course over a populated area?

Robot Smog comes to a wildfire near you

For the fourth time in a month, firefighters recently aborted air firefighting operations because a drone flew dangerously close to the flight path of the airplanes- as reported in the New York Times. The combination of impressive, massive fires and easy access to flying videocameras is apparently too much for many to resist, and this form of “robot smog” promises to be another new way in which individual robotic expression can have unintended consequences for society as a whole.