The Light Side

Light Friday: AI Turns 50, Top 5 (+1) Coolest Cell Phones, Shapeshifting Aircraft 'Switchblade'...

Jul 21, 2006

...Genghis Khan: Renaissance Guy, Runaway Kangaroo in Ireland, Keith Richards Pardoned, and Light Friday Recommended Reading.

Happy Birthday, AI!

Foremost, we wish to…er, um…wish artificial intelligence (AI) a happy birthday. AI is 50 years old this summer, and while computers can beat the world's best chess players, we still can't get them to think like a four year old.

AI technology is used by banks to police transactions for fraud, by cell phone companies for voice recognition, and by search engines to scour the web and organize data. In medicine, it helps doctors diagnose and treat patients, Wired notes.

While most science fields today depend on some form of AI, today it still hasn't produced a robot with enough common sense to describe what's happening in a photograph, let alone hold a conversation. (In 1997, though, IBM supercomputer Deep Blue defeated the world's chess champion Garry Kasparov for the first time.)

This week in Boston, some of the field's leading practitioners gathered to examine this most ambitious of computer research fields, which at once "has managed to exceed, and fall short of, our grandest expectations."

It's GOOD to be Keith.

Also, congratulations are in order for Keith Richards, lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones. The man has been promised a pardon for a traffic offense — from 1975 — courtesy of a fan, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Keith Richards, lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, has been promised a pardon for a traffic offense from 1975, courtesy of Arkansas Gov Mike Huckabee.jpg

Richards was fined $162.20 for reckless driving more than three decades ago after being stopped in a tiny town 70 miles south of Little Rock, between shows in Memphis and Dallas, reports Reuters. Richards paid the fine by mail.

Huckabee said he talked to the possible future father of Capt. Jack Sparrow backstage at a Stones concert in March, and, after Richards joked about his past, the governor (and bass player in an amateur band) suggested the rocker apply for a pardon.

The governor even assisted with the necessary form.

'100% Water-Powered Car Runs 100 miles on 4 Ounces': Inventor

Denny Klein claims to have invented the world's first water-powered car. Technically, the car isn't fuelled by water but by the HHO gas produced from H2O — what Klein calls "Aquygen," which is actually H2O broken down and turned into HHO gas, something scientists once thought impossible.

He originally designed his water-burning engine for cutting metal, having developed Aguygen to create a safer, less-polluting blowtorch; he thought his invention could replace acetylene in welding factors. Klein realized Aquygen would clean up car emissions, as well, as the only thing that would exit the tailpipe was water.

Like most alternative fuel cars, the prototype is actually a hybrid. Retrofitting any piston engine, it seems to runs on a gas and Aquygen mixture. The process is pitched as providing the "atomic power of hydrogen" but while maintaining the "chemical stability of water."

According to some recent news reports, the result is "up to a 50 percent jump in gas mileage." Klein says you could drive 100 miles on 4 ounces of water.

There seemingly are two hurdles to a car that runs totally on Aquygen. One: long-term impact on the engine. Will the water speed up rust or corrosion over time? Two: figuring out a process to tank the gas for distribution.

We say there is third: Will chemistry and thermodynamics support "Aquygen" gas claims? While we've been waiting for water-powered cars for a very long time, we'll file this under "Too Good To Be True" for now.

U.S. Military's Shape-Shifting Supersonic Bomber in 2020

When completed (target date: 2020), an unmanned, shape-changing plane called Switchblade will cruise with its 200-foot-long wing perpendicular to its engines like a normal airplane. Then, just before the craft breaks the sound barrier, its single wing will swivel around 60 degrees (hence the name) so that one end points forward and the other back. This oblique configuration redistributes the shock waves that pile up in front of a plane at Mach speeds and cause drag.

As the plane approaches the sound barrier, its wing pivots into an oblique configuration to maximize aerodynamic efficiency at supersonic speeds, IMAGE VIA John MacNeill.jpgWhen the Switchblade returns to subsonic speeds, the wing will rotate back to perpendicular.

Switchblade, a concept currently under development by Northrop Grumman, is a good plan. Designing it is the hard part.

Darpa has dropped $10.3 million to Northrop Grumman to produce a detailed blueprint by November 2007. A flying test vehicle is due about four years later.

According to Popular Science (via LiveScience):

The initial concept calls for a single wing with engines situated in a pod underneath, along with munitions and surveillance equipment. This setup will enable the wing to pivot while the engines remain pointed in the direction the craft is traveling.

The Switchblade is a good candidate to be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), as the AI used to control UAVs can handle the tricky flight dynamics, and a computer pilot doesn't need to partake of the necessities the human pilots require during those 15-plus-hour missions, i.e., eating, sleeping, bathroom, et. al.

Meanwhile in Ireland…

A kangaroo broke loose before a circus show in Ireland and is roaming the country's green hills.

Since circus staff launched its fruitless four-hour search following two-year-old male Sydney's escape Sunday, there has been one unconfirmed sighting of the animal, renamed "Hoppy" by locals and described as 2 -to-3-feet tall and dark in color.

Top 5 Coolest Cell Phones

…according to TechEBlog:

5) NEC N902iS

NEC N902iS, via TechEBlog.jpg

This camera phone has an integrated search engine feature, so users can take pictures and have them automatically uploaded to a Japanese search engine called "Evolution Robotics", for sharing or later retrieval. According to TechEBlog: This handset includes an external 4.0-megapixel camera, internal 0.3-megapixel camera, 2.5-inch QVGA+ display, and a miniSD card slot. It measures 104 x 51 x 23mm and weighs approx. 114g.

4) NEC N908

NEC N908, via TechEBlog.jpg

The NEC N908 packs a 1.3-megapixel camera, dual stereo speakers, microSD card slot, touch-screen display, Bluetooth and USB connectivity into an ultra-slim 12.8mm package.

3) Samsung P900

This handset has a rotating 2.2″ TFT-LCD display, T-DMB (Terrestrial Digital Media Broadcasting) support, video streaming/recording capabilities, dual speakers, 128MB memory, MP3 player, and Bluetooth. The P900 measures 94.5 x 47.5 x 26.6 mm and weighs 124g.

2) Vectrotel X8

Vectrotel X8, via TechEBlog.jpg

The Vectrotel X8 keeps your conversations secure by encrypting calls with a "1024-bit Diffie-Hellman shared secret exchange to generate a secret 128-bit key" (which, while we're not 100% sure we know what that means, sounds really snazzy). TechEBlog also notes the Vectrotel X8 also has a 240 x 320 QVGA display, 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

1) Music Porter X

Music Porter X, via TechEBlog.jpg

The Music Porter X utilizes Macromedia Flash for its military-style user interface (It comes in safari green.), complete with knobs, dials and even a mock-up reel-to-reel screen. Features include a super-bright 2.8-inch LCD screen, VGA camera, USB connectivity and an integrated music player.

IMT's Addition

awesome old-school  mobile phone, ArrayComm via AboutDotCom.jpg

We'd like to add to TechEBlog's list almost any Motorola "portable" phone made during the mid-to-late '80s — the ones that were a foot long, weighed about eight pounds and generally resembled a brick — and proved your cutting-edge coolness.

Men vs. Women, Pt. 3128

According to Gerhard Kloesch and colleagues from the University of Vienna, Austria, sharing your bed could actually make you temporarily stupid if you are a man.

Even without having sex, bed sharing disturbs sleep quality, they say. The team recruited eight unmarried, childless couples, and used questionnaires and a wrist activity monitor (an "actigraph) to assess sleep patterns after 10 nights together and 10 apart, reports the latest issue of New Scientist.

While men thought they slept better with a partner, and women believed they didn't, both sexes actually had more disturbed sleep, even when they did not have sex. Lack of sleep led to increased stress hormone levels in men, and reduced their ability to perform simple cognitive tests the next day.

Yet the women apparently slept more deeply when they did sleep. Their stress levels and mental scores did not suffer to the same extent.

Kloesch presented his work at a meeting of the Forum of European Neurosciences in Vienna last week.

Get Sh_t Done - A Slacker's Guide to World Domination

by Earl Fischl

$2.99 Download

The electronic edition of Get Sh_t Done - A Slacker's Guide to World Domination by Earl Fischl is now available for purchase. A "fast-paced, honest and most importantly, humorous guide to getting things done and achieving your goals," it is ideal reading for everyone from professional project managers to lazy teens with big dreams. "Short, sweet and to the point, 'Get Sh_t Done' is a no-nonsense, insight-laden manual for achievement."

According to one reviewer: It's the kind of book you can finish on the john without losing feeling in your legs, so you're ready to tackle the world when you get up. Every phrase (and every stick figure drawing) is packed with meaning, or humour [sic.], or both.

The electronic edition is available for download at $2.99. The complete hardcopy version is $8.72.

(via former IMT blogger Mark Devlin)

Genghis Khan, Renaissance Man

Earlier this week, we covered the proposal for the year 2020's "Renaissance Engineer." Now, according to China's Xinhua news agency, Genghis Khan too should be considered a sort of Renaissance man, as he "laid the foundations for the Renaissance."

Genghis Khan.gif"Genghis Khan introduced papermaking and printing technologies to Europe and pioneered cultural exchanges between Asia and Europe," the news agency quoted Zhu Yaoting, a specialist on Mongolian history at Beijing Union University, as having said.

Further, Genghis Khan's expeditions to Europe reopened the Silk Road and laid the path for Marco Polo's historic trip to China. "The expedition revived the ancient trade link and made economic and cultural exchanges possible again between the isolated civilizations," said Chen Yuning, a professor at Ningxia University.

Last month, state media said Genghis Khan also could be considered the founder of globalization for forming the largest contiguous land empire in history, reports Reuters.

The lesson here is this: We should all strive to emulate the notoriously ruthless, bloodthirsty creator of an empire that spanned Asia and Europe. (While his image in most of the world is that of a ruthless, bloodthirsty conqueror, Genghis Khan is celebrated as a hero in Mongolia, where he is seen as the father of the Mongol Nation.)

The 800th anniversary of his uniting Mongol tribes, the beginnings of his empire, is being commemorated this year.