Monday, November 29, 2010

Wendell Wallach blasts killer robots in the New York Times

Wendell Wallach, of Yale's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, is quoted in an article in yesterday's New York Times, expressing fear about the moral hazards posed by weaponized robots. Wendell joined us last April for a discussion of his book on the topic, Moral Machines.

I for one welcome our new gun-toting robotic overlords.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Speak geek: the world of made-up language

Caleb Cox, in an article in called "Speak geek: the world of made-up language," discusses invented languages and linguist Arika Okrent's recent book, The Land of Invented Languages. Mentioned in the article are languages such as Elvish, Klingon, John Wilkins' Analytical Language, James Cook Brown's Loglan, Esperanto, and Blissymbolics. GR, a friend of IS, says, "BTW, I have a soft spot for Wilkins; his is the only orthography based purely on semantics. Unfortunately the only fluent writer was Robert Hooke. News of his discovery of the universal joint was delayed for many years because he chose to write the original description in Wilkins' script!" Speaking of obscure languages, GR also suggests Complete Babylonian: A Teach Yourself Guide by Martin Worthington, saying "it is truly excellent and remarkably modern both in appearance and conception -- a must have for your bookshelf."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

LEDs that can be implanted under your skin

io9 reports on new ultra-flexible, waterproof LEDs that can be implanted under your skin. I await my glowworm future. ET phone home. I leave that rest for Simon to fill in.

Snake robot goes where humans can't

In keeping with this month's IS Group science fiction reading, The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald, which features a children's toy that is a nanobot that reassembles into various forms, including a bird, a rat, and a snake, IEEE Spectrum on-line has a report called, "Japanese Snake Robot Goes Where Humans Can't." "Japanese robotics company HiBot has unveiled a nimble snake bot capable of moving inside air ducts and other narrow places where people can't, or don't want to, go." Not quite the snake of The Dervish House, but a good start. The IEEE website has a number of videos of the ACM family of robots in action.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why the Singularity isn't going to happen

"I don't believe in the singularity for the same reason I don't believe in Heaven." Thus begins Annalee Newitz's column in io9, a blog that focuses on futurism, science fiction, and technology. The article, called "Why the Singularity isn't going to happen," discusses the unpredictability of technology and its effects on us. Cory Doctorow discusses her objections in Boing Boing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Set the Bullshit Filter When the Bullshit is Thick

David Dobbs, in his blog Neuron Culture in Wired, comments in a piece called "How to Set the Bullshit Filter When the Bullshit is Thick" on an Atlantic profile by David H. Freedman of Dr. John Ioannidis, best known for his 2005 paper in PLoS Medicine, "Why most published research findings are false." In an earlier Times piece, Dobbs said "Ioannidis, an epidemiologist, recently concluded that most articles published by biomedical journals are flat-out wrong. The sources of error, he found, are numerous: the small size of many studies, for instance, often leads to mistakes, as does the fact that emerging disciplines, which lately abound, may employ standards and methods that are still evolving. Finally, there is bias, which Ioannidis says he believes to be ubiquitous." Dobbs provides a good overview and analysis of Ioannidis's work, its implications, and related articles. Freedman's profile of Ioannidis is called, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Enfield on Language and Social Context

Nick Enfield, of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and Radboud University in Nijmegen, has a fascinating review of two recent books about language evolution in the 24 September 2010 issue of Science. The article, called "Without Social Context?", reviews The Evolution of Language by W. Tecumseh Fitch, and The Evolution of Human Language: Biolinguistic Perspectives, by Richard K. Larson, Viviane Déprez, and Hiroko Yamakido (eds.). In summary, Enfield says that "... an urgent prerequisite for this line of research ... is a comparative understanding of language in the dynamic context of social behavior."

IS Group meeting: Modern Warfare, Crime and Terrorism

The next IS Group meeting will take place on Saturday evening, 23 October 2010. The exact time and location will be posted a few days before the meeting. The theme is Modern Warfare, Crime, and Terrorism. The readings include John Robb, Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization; Ian McDonald, The Dervish House; and Misha Glenny, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld. Additional information can be found on the IS Group website.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


The plot thickens on the Stuxnet virus story, which parallels (though far less violently) an event that takes place in our current fiction reading. Finally, a reason to love Microsoft Windows.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

2010 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony

The 2010 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony & Lectures webcast is scheduled to take place on Thursday, September 30, at 7:30 pm. The live webcast will begin at 7:15 pm on YouTube. Thanks to Marc Abrahams for passing on this information. Be sure to check out his Improbable Research website ("Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK"), the magazine: Annals of Improbable Research, and the newsletter: mini-AIR.

Mapping Stereotypes

Check out Mapping Stereotypes, illustrations based on the geography of prejudice, on alphadesigner, the website of visual artist, graphic designer, and illustrator Yanko Tsvetkov. Thanks and a hit tip to Robert Remez.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Voice Recognition Elevator

Voice Recognition Elevator is a wonderful video on, the lifestyle blog. This clip is from Burnistoun, a comedy show from BBC Scotland, season 1, episode 1. Hysterical! Thanks and a hat tip to RER. (P.S. Load time for the website can be long, but it is worth the wait.) (Note: A faster loading version can be found on YouTube.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Science Blogging

Now that I have returned from my summer journey to Russia, and have also dealt with some urgent work-related matters, I have a little time for IS Group blogging. Instead of writing, I have been reading other science-related blogs. There are lots out there, and many are a lot of fun. There has been a lot of Hausermania and science v. religion discussion of late, but there are also other fascinating topics to read about.

Here is a list of some of the various blogs that I usually check in on. Language Log, by Mark Liberman, Geoffrey Pullum and many others; Three-Toed Sloth, by Cosma Shalizi; Why Evolution Is True, by Jerry A. Coyne; Neuron Culture, by David Dobbs (now on Wired Science Blogs); IEEE Spectrum Tech Talk; Child's Play on Scientopia; Greg Laden's Blog; john hawks weblog (paleoanthropology, genetics, and evolution); Neuronskeptic; Open Parachute, by Ken Perrott; and The Bubble Chamber.

Some additional general sites include Big Think and ScienceBlogs. A related blog of interest is Schneier on Security, by Bruce Schneier. And, of course, I would be remiss if I did not end with some relentless self-promotion for the IS Group blog.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The End of Human Specialness

Jaron Lanier is one of those people who always make me ask "What exactly does this guy do for a living" while also making me think, "Man, this guy really knows what he's talking about!" So I was delighted to see his response at the top of the list in the "What's the Big Idea?" piece in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education Review. In a nutshell: Lanier sees through all the hype surrounding "transformative" technologies like Facebook and Twitter, and he shows the overall negative effect they have on the quality of our lives as human beings.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why We Need Vector Symbolic Architectures

A couple months ago I gave a talk at Haskins about Vector Symbolic Architectures, a new approach to knowledge representation and computing that is very robust to even large amounts of noise. This blog post describes how a classical (von Neumann) computing architecture can fail from the random flipping of even a single bit. Whatever organizing principles the mind/brain is using, they can't be anything like this!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Long Compound Noun Alert

When I was a grad student at Brandeis, I always enjoyed the sign that said Volen Center for Complex Systems Building -- a single noun consisting of six words. From today's Slashdot comes Chinese Internet Addiction Boot Camp Prison Break. Not only is this compound noun seven words long; it doesn't even use a preposition! The number of possible bracketings (word groupings) of such a string is 429, as determined by the Catalan number with n = 7; however, the bracketing that makes the most sense to me is

[[Chinese [[internet addiction] [boot camp]]] [prison break]]

Friday, June 4, 2010

Avatar: Best. Review. Ever.

Best smackdown review yet of a disappointing movie that I couldn't even make it through.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bukharian Jewish Music

A wrenching article in last week's New Yorker describes the trial and conviction of a young Bukharian Jewish woman doctor in Forest Hills, Queens (a few miles from where I was born), for arranging the murder of her dentist husband, in connection with a horrific custody battle in which the two were involved. Toward the end of the article, the author mentions listening to the music of Ezro Malakov, the victim's uncle, who is a famous cantor in the Bukharian Jewish community. Like the author, I searched a little and found this page of Ezro Malakov's music, and like her, I found it extraordinary.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Moral particularism vs. scientific morality

An blurb about Craig Ferguson, on the Late Late Show, interviewing Jonathan Dancy, prof of philosophy at UT-Austin, about moral particularism. In contrast to Sam Harris, at a TED conference, saying "Science can answer moral questions."

The Open Culture page heads a little tree of interesting pieces: the two videos, a written intro to moral particularism, and a rebuttal of Harris by Sean Carroll.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Boing Boing discovers Sinewave Speech

Meara O'Reilly is a sound designer, instrument builder, and singer who is guest blogging at Boing Boing. On March 16, 2010 she had a nice article called "Whistling Speech" that describes some of the work over the years at Haskins Laboratories and Columbia University by Philip Rubin, Robert Remez, Jennifer Pardo, and others, on sinewave speech.

IEEE Spectrum on Cyborg Life

An article by Antonio Espingardeiro, called "When Will We Become Cyborgs?", in IEEE Spectrum online ponders our cyborg future. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Autistici . Detached Metal Voice

Autistici, a UK-based composer and sound designer, is releasing a new commercial CD on March 22, 2010, called Detached Metal Voice - Early Works (Vol. I). Modisti, an interactive virtual environment for new music, describes it as "A collection of tracks exploring the raw extrusion of the human condition. Bringing together early works, Detached Metal Voice is characterized by abstract narrative exploring the anxiety of disconnected elements striving to find connection in a world digital communication. ... There is an homage to voice synthesis including excerpts taken from many of the early laboratory attempts to produce the human voice through the mode of synthesis, including work pioneered by Philip Rubin from the Haskins Laboratories, Tom Baer, and Paul Mermelstein. This synthesizer, know as ASY, was based on vocal tract models developed at Bell Laboratories in the 1960s and 1970s by Paul Mermelstein, Cecil Coker, and colleagues. In tracks such as “Babyman” Autistici illustrates a fascination in hearing machines talking about emotive subjects, emulating emotive tonal changes and yet having no real connection to the subjective emotional experience."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Limits of Bioethics

Sally Satel says that bioethicists should illuminate and not prescribe. Maybe biased, but this short article touches on where bioethics came from, places it's gone, and ways it's viewed from outside, inside and across one major internal fissure. Quick: who coined the term "bioethics?"

The Limits of Bioethics in Policy Review.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wall Art: The Photography of Philip Rubin

Wall Art: The Photography of Philip Rubin

Reception: January 21, 6:30-8:00 pm

The next art exhibit at Atticus Bookstore/Café, 1082 Chapel St., New Haven, CT, will be Wall Art, a collection of photographs created by local artist Philip Rubin. The exhibit will run from January 11 until February 21, 2010, and is viewable in the cafe during business hours.

Come join us for the reception on January 21 at 6:30pm: meet the artist, discuss the works, and enjoy wine and appetizers.

All profits from sale of photographs in this exhibit will be donated to IRIS: Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, in New Haven, Connecticut (