Friday, December 18, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance in Monkeys, revisited

As a follow-up to this post on cognitive dissonance research, Louisa Egan has graciously provided a link to some new research that addresses some of the criticism.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Robots that Care

Apropos the theme of our next meeting, I was delighted to see this piece in the 02 November 2009 New Yorker featuring work by Maja Mataric (who spent some time in the Computer Science Department of our beloved Brandeis University). Maja and her students are building robots to help the elderly, work with autistic children, etc. I especially enjoyed the criticism of this work by Sherry Turkle: essentially, "people should be doing this, not robots". Having spent many hours volunteering in a nursing home as a youth, I can attest to the fact that what old people need is human, not robot, companionship.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Soupy Sales dead at 83

Soupy Sales, comedian and radio-TV personality best known for his childrens' TV show, Lunch with Soupy Sales (later known as The Soupy Sales Show), died on Oct. 22, 2009 at the age of 83. GAWKER has a short article on their site with a brief video. We will miss Soupy, White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie, and the rest. Thanks and a hat tip to Robert Remez.

Crumb has found god

Robert Crumb, famed illustrator and underground comix pioneer, has a new project: The Book of Genesis Illustrated, which covers the first 50 chapters of the bible. An article by David Colton in USA Today on Oct. 19, 2009, reviews the book and provides background information. In the article, Crumb reports that "It was hard to draw God."

"Should God just be a bright light? Should I use word balloons? Should God be a woman?" Crumb says the answer came to him in a dream.

"I ended up with the old stereotypical Charlton Heston kind of God, long beard, very masculine. I used a lot of white-out, a lot of corrections when I tried to draw God."

"I got totally sick of it by the end of it. I've come out exhausted," Crumb says.

"I may never draw again."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

IS Group meeting: Music and Mind

The next IS Group meeting with take place at 6pm, Saturday, 17 October 2009, at the home of Douglas Whalen in Guilford, Connecticut. The theme is Music and Mind. The Readings include Oliver Sacks. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition; and Daniel J. Levitin. This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. For additional information contact Philip Rubin or Doug Whalen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gaia vs. Medea

This article in the always enjoyable Chronicle of Higher Education Review touches on a theme from an I.S. meeting of many years ago: James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis. An interesting twist is the recent "Medea Hypothesis", which portrays life on Earth not as a self-sustaining force restoring the planet to equlibrium, but an ultimately self-destroying force that (echoing another IS theme) pushes it away from equlibrium.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Brain Control

An article by Erico Guizzo, called "Monkeys Control Computer With Thought" in the July 2009 IEEE Spectrum online, describes the work of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The work of Jose Carmena and his students, published in PLos Biology, shows how "a monkey’s brain is able to develop a motor memory for controlling a virtual device in a manner similar to the way it creates such a memory for the animal’s body." Lena Ting, a professor of biomedical engineering at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, says that the findings may "... change the whole way that people have thought about how to approach brain-machine interfaces." "Previous research," she explains, "tried to use the parts of the brain that operate real limbs to control an artificial one. The Berkeley study suggests that an artificial arm may not need to rely on brain signals related to the natural arm; the brain can assimilate the artificial device as if it were a new part of the body."

The Smart Grid

IEEE Spectrum has a special report called The Smart Grid. "Taking the latest in computing and communications technology to make the electrical system more interactive, efficient, and robust is not a new idea. What’s new is that suddenly more than 10 billion federal dollars are being poured into it. But all that money will be well spent only if regulators are as inventive and intelligent as transmission and distribution engineers have been."

Brain hacking

WIRED, via /technology, reports on concerns raised by Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington in a July 1, 2009 article in Neurosurgical Focus, that developments in neural engineering could pose future security risks. The article, "Neurosecurity: security and privacy for neural devices" considers what would happen if hackers focused on exploiting weaknesses in neural devices, such as the deep-brain stimulators used to treat Parkinson's and depression, or electrode systems for controlling prosthetic limbs. "It's very hard to design complex systems that don't have bugs," Kohno said. "As these medical devices start to become more and more complicated, it gets easier and easier for people to overlook a bug that could become a very serious risk. It might border on science fiction today, but so did going to the moon 50 years ago."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where Art Meets Social Networking Sites

The New York Times published an article on July 2, 2009 called "Where Art Meets Social Networking Sites" about the current art show, "Status Update" at the Gallery@Haskins at Haskins Laboratories, curated by Debbie Hesse of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and Donna Ruff. The article included comments by Debbie and Philip Rubin, CEO of Haskins, and coverage of the work by many of the artists, including Cat Balco, Matt Held, Keith Johnson, Jeremiah Teipen, Lee Walton, Rachel Perry Welty, and An Xiao. The show, which focuses on the intersection of art and emerging technologies, runs through August 1, 2009.
(photo by Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times)

Robotic Rat

NewScientist Tech has an article and video about SCRATCHbot, a robot that uses its whiskers to sense the environment. The robot was developed by Tony Prescott from the University of Sheffield and Anthony Pipe from the University of Bristol. Thanks and hat tip to Richard Crane for sending us the video.

The Federation has a new name: FABBS

The Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences has changes its name to the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS). FABBS promotes human potential and well-being by advancing the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior. It is a coalition of scientific societies that communicates with policy makers and the public about the importance and contributions of basic and applied research in these sciences. I (Philip Rubin) am a member of the FABBS Executive Committee.

Temporal Powers of Ten

Mike Treder , in an online article on the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) website, speculates on what would happen if we try a mental exercise, similar to that created in the Charles and Ray Eames 1977 film, "Power of Ten," that focuses on time instead of space. Check it out.

Cineradiography of Singing Northern Cardinals

The Suthers Laboratory at Indiana University, which is devoted to the study of the neural and physiogical bases of acoustic behavior, has a wonderful QuickTime video that shows x-ray images of a northern cardinal singing, along with a 3d polygonal model of the oropharyngeal-esophogeal cavity. Thanks and a hat tip to Mark Tiede for sending us the url.

Vanishing New York: Music Row

We have received, though a circuitous route, some very sad news. Robert Remez alerted us to an entry in Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog
that relates that Lost City has reported that Manny's Music will be vanishing from 48th Street, where it has been since 1935. Music Row is on its way out as the Times Square area continues to transform. I used to shop for guitars at Manny's and Sam Ash in the 1960s ad 1970s and will miss this concentrated world of musical instruments. Thanks to Robert for letting us know about this.

Friday, May 22, 2009

CPBN Where We Live: Status Update

The Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network has a podcast of their "Where We Live" show from May 22, 2009, about the current Status Update art show at the Gallery@Haskins.
Status Update is a new exhibition presented by The Arts Council of Greater New Haven on view at Haskins Laboratories through August 1, 2009. The exhibit explores how artists are using social networking technologies like facebook and twitter to create and show new work. In the podcast, the show's curator Debbie Hesse and artist Sharon Butler talk about how social networking is changing the art world.

(painting by Matt Held)

Laser Probes for Brain Experiments

Prachi Patel, in a May 2009 article in ieee spectrum online describes how researchers at Case Western Reserve University are using light as "what could be a more benign, efficient, and effective way to study brain circuits." He reports:

"Ordinary electrodes can damage tissue, and they need wires to connect to power sources outside the brain. The light probes ... could be made with thin, flexible optical fibers, tiny polymer microcapsules, or nanoparticle-coated flexible patches. ... Once the probes are embedded in a certain part of the brain, you could wirelessly trigger neurons by scanning a laser beam on that area. (The near-infrared light used in the experiments is good at penetrating brain tissue.)"

(Image by Colin Anderson/Getty Images.)

Technology, Humanity and the Future

IEET Executive Director James Hughes has posted a video interview in which he answered some questions about technology and its impact on humanity at Convergence 08, November 15, 2008 in Mountain View, California. Thanks to J., friend of the IS Group.

New services promise online life after death

A story by Mallory Simon in /technology relates how new companies are appearing that " ... try and fill [the] void created in your digital life after death." Examples include Legacy Locker " ...a safe, secure repository for your digital property that lets you grant access to online assets for friends and loved ones in the event of death or disability ..." and EternalSpace that " ... provides everlasting online memorials to share and preserve the treasured memories, photographs, videos and thoughts of life's most cherished moments." Thanks to An Xiao for bringing this to our attention and for her wonderful blog, That Was Zen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Swine Flu as ambient music

Swine flu has been sequenced. Stephan Zielinski has written code to translate a key gene into a piece of ambient music. He describes this in: “Swine Flu Hemagglutinin”: amino acid sequence as ambient music. Click on the graphic above to see the actual amino acid sequence. There was also an article in about Zielinski's composition called Making music out of swine flu. Thanks and a hat tip to Alice Faber for letting us know about Zielinski's work.

Lost robot crosses city by asking directions

NewScientist Tech features an article by Colin Barras that describes a wheeled robot called ACE (Autonomous City Explorer) that finds its way around a city by asking people for directions. The robot was designed by Martin Buss and his team at the Technical University of Munich. Check out the video. Thanks and a hat tip to Christina Spiesel for letting us know about this robot.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Modern Humans Ate Neanderthals

Apropos one of our current readings, this article from the Guardian suggests that the disappearance of Neanderthals may be attributable to the eating habits of Homo sapiens: we ate them! Then again, if you feel as I do that archaeology is an entire discipline based on the predicate "is consistent with", you may doubt the importance of these discoveries.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brain Gain

Margaret Talbot wrote a long article called "Brain Gain" in the The New Yorker recently about the underground world of "neuroenhancing" drugs.

25 Microchips That Shook the World

IEEE Spectrum Online has a Special Report called 25 Microchips That Shook the World. An article of the same name by Brian R. Santo discusses some of the all time favorites in the silicon world. Additional suggestions are provided in the comments, by luminaries in the technology world, and in a talkback section.

AVIOS Student Speech Application Contest

On May 6, 2009 the Applied Voice Input/Output Society (AVIOS) announced their fourth annual student speech application contest sponsored by AT&T, Cepstral, I6Net, Loquendo, Microsoft, Opera, and Voxeo. Applications must involve speech input and/or output, but may be pure speech or multimodal. Cash and/or equipment prizes valued at over $1000 will be awarded to teams of student programmers who design and create applications judged to be robust, useful, creative, innovative, and user friendly.

The contest encourages students to develop applications using speech technologies such as automatic speech recognition and text to speech synthesis and to combine them with other modalities. This year, students may use any of a variety of platforms including AT&T Speech Mashups, Cepstral VoiceForge TTS service, CMU's RavenClaw/Olympus, Google Android, I6net VXI*, Loquendo VoxNauta Platform, LumenVox Speech Engine Standard License, Microsoft Windows and Tellme VoiceXML Platform Opera, Voxeo Prophecy, and Voxeo Tropo.

Students anywhere in the world can submit their creative and innovative applications to be judged by speech application experts. The contest also provides a forum for students to show what they can do with the power of speech applications For more information and the contest entry form, go to

Thanks to Patti Price for letting us know about this contest.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Synthetic Mickey Mouse

An acquaintance who works for Nuance Communications (owners of Dragon Naturally Speaking and the Omnipage OCR software) claims their software synthesizes all the original vocals for the House of Mouse show on the Disney Channel. He says they found working with actors to get the lines right is just too hard... compared to editing the emotion tags in the synthesizer input strings.

On the other hand, this piece includes a list of the cast.

Clic pic for flic. Show starts about 35 sec. in.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


IEEE Spectrum Online has a fascinating article called "Jacket Lets You Feel the Movies" by Willie Jones that reports on the work of Philips Research senior scientist Paul Lemmens. This research uses a motor-studded haptics jacket to study the effect of touch and vibration on movie viewers' emotional responses. This project will be featured at the 2009 World Haptics Conference in Salt Lake City.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cut Copy Paste

It's about time. iPhone 3.0 will be here some time this summer, along with "Cut Copy Paste" and a lot of other new OS features. Lots of coverage in the media. Here are some examples: LA Times Business, Blog; Engadget live from the preview event; highlights of OS 3.0 Preview; MacWorld Live Update; New York Times Bits Blog; Apple iPhone 3.0 Preview. Thanks to Mark for the image.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Big Picture: Robots

The March 4, 2009 edition of's The Big Picture features some wonderful robot photos. Check them out. Thanks and a hat tip to Alice Faber for sending the URL!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Steve Darwin

On the day after Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, announced at the 2009 AAAS meeting in Chicago that the 1000th Steve had been added to the list of scientists named Steve who endorse evolution. Project Steve started as a tongue-in-cheek response to Darwin-doubters -- now it is a movement. I may even change my name to Steve, and I am pretty sure that Simon's original name was Steve and that his middle initial ("R!") actually is an encrypted version of the name Steve. Shockingly, the 1000th Steve is Steven P. Darwin of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University. See the ScienceNews article "AAAS: Darwin is the 1000th Steve" for further details.

Embodied Cognition

I just returned from the AAAS 2009 Annual Meeting in Chicago, where I organized and chaired a symposium called "Embodied Cognition: Brains, Mouths, and Hands." There were three great presentations. David Poeppel, New York University, "A Brain's Eye View on Language: Neurobiological Foundations of Comprehension"; Louis Goldstein, University of Southern California and Haskins Laboratories, "An Embodied Theory of Syllabic Organization of Speech"; and Susan Goldin-Meadow, University of Chicago, "Using our Bodies to Change Our Minds". See the AAAS News report, "Early Gestures Can Build A Preschooler's Vocabulary" for more information on the work of Meredith Rowe and Susan Goldin-Meadow, which also appears in a report in the February 13 issue of Science.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wired for War

Nearly coinciding with the wonderful recorded rant (audio, NSFW) by Christian Bale on the set of the craptastic-looking Terminator IV comes this Wired interview with author Peter W. Singer (not to be confused with ethicist Peter Singer), on the robotics revolution in the military. It reminded me of the work of Ron Arkin, who not only builds robots but writes and consults on the ethics of their use in warfare. (And if you want evidence that we're moving gradually toward Skynet, check out this article on automating scientific discovery by Hod Lipson & co.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Robot Video Review: 2008

Singularity Hub, a blog about longevity, nanotech, robotics, genetics, AI, the brain ..., featured a review of robot videos for the past year. Thanks to mark for forwarding the url.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Voice Search 2009

Patti Price draws our attention to Voice Search 2009, which will be held March 2-4, 2009 in San Diego, California. She says "I think it's a nice conference that tends to bridge the gap between technology and applications. And it is a good place to network." This is the second year of the conference which is organized by the non-profit Applied Voice Input Output Society (AVIOS) and Bill Meisel (president, TMA Associates, editor, Speech Strategy News) to address the disruptive role of speech recognition, text-to-speech synthesis, and multimodal user interfaces in mobile, Web, and call center applications. "In the past, application effectiveness was often compromised in order to aid the speech technology; today, the technology has advanced to the point where user requirements can dominate a design. The paradigm shift is having dramatic competitive impacts in many product and service categories." The conference will highlight the wide range of applications that the maturing of speech recognition and text-to-speech technology make possible.


"An artist's daydream in a roomful of his kids' toys leads to a view of New York you've never seen." I LEGO N.Y. can be found in the Feb. 2, 2009 entry of Christoph Niemann's Abstract City blog in The New York Times. Thanks and a hat tip to Robert Remez for letting us know about this.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ought Implies Kant

Joel Marks, friend, emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Haven, Yale Bioethics Center member and Yale Technology & Ethics study group participant, has a new book "Ought Implies Kant: A Reply to the Consequentialist Critique," (Lexington Books). In the book Joel provides an original defense of the ethical theory of Immanuel Kant and develops an extension of that theory's account of moral duty to include direct duties to nonhuman animals. Check it out.

Talking Heads: embodied cognition and ethics

Philip Rubin, CEO of Haskins Laboratories, Professor Adjunct of Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, and IS Group co-founder, was the featured speaker at the December 3, 2008 meeting of the Yale Technology and Ethics Working Group. His presentation, "Talking Heads: embodied cognition and ethics" provided an historical overview of speaking machines and computational models of speech production. In addition, he discussed the importance of considering biological constraints on language and cognition and the ethical implications of research and technological developments related to embodied cognition.