Cool Stuff Friday: Octobot!

Harvard University Octobot.

Researchers at Harvard University have designed a soft 3D-printed robot that can move on its own, powered by a chemical reaction, instead of electricity or batteries.

Shaped like a cartoon octopus, the Octobot contains no electronics or other hard parts, relying instead on a silicone body that houses a fluid-filled circuit.

Previously, soft-bodied robots had needed to rely on rigid components for power. But the Octobot uses hydrogen peroxide as fuel.

The liquid flows around a network of pre-printed hollows in the robot’s body, and creates a reaction as it passes over platinum embedded inside. This produces gas that inflates and moves the arms, to propel the robot through water.

You can read and watch more here. Do I need to say I want one? I want one.

No-To-Scale Studio.

Malaysian design office No-To-Scale Studio has issued a satirical proposal to President Trump, suggesting a radical means of representing the US-Mexico border: a 1,954 mile-long dining table.

Citing “logistical, financial and nationality” limitations, the studio’s design claims to be cost-effective in taking a domestic item and scaling it to massive proportions.

While the proposed slab of “continuous polished marble” may prove costly, diners will bring their own chairs in order to participate.

You can see and read more here.

Neri Oxman, Lazarus Mask.

Neri Oxman and the MIT Mediated Matter group have unveiled their latest collection of 3D-printed death masks, designed to contain the wearer’s last breath.

The Lazarus masks, described by Oxman as “air urns”, are modelled on the facial features of the deceased individual.

Each 3D-printed structure encompasses colourful swirling patterns that have been informed by the physical flow of air emitted from their last breath.

“Traditionally made of a single material, such as wax or plaster, the death mask originated as a means of capturing a person’s visage, keeping the deceased alive through memory,” said the team.

You can read and see more here.

Oh Great, Another Slogan: Buy American, Hire American.

Noel McKay, left, a program manager and Karen Latina, right, a biotech consultant, hold up signs during a Tech Stands Up rally on Pi Day, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, outside City Hall in Palo Alto, Calif. Subcontracted tech service workers and direct tech employees rallied together to call on their companies and CEOs to stand with their workers against injustice and hate. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg.

As a conservative columnist recently pointed out, the Tiny Tyrant is acting the full lame duck by concentrating on Executive Orders very early on. This is usually not seen until much later, usually when congress is busy blocking a president. The Tiny Tyrant has also turned to “foreign policy” in attempt to overshadow investigations and come across as doing something. The latest EO was announced in Wisconsin, at the expense of the Paris Climate Accord meeting. Now we have “Buy American, Hire American”, which, as Jake Tapper pointed out, is the height of hypocrisy when it comes to Trump’s own business dealings, which depend greatly on immigrant workers and the H-1B visa program. Of course, I’m sure he’ll declare all his little cash cows to be exempt. Contrary to the Tiny Tyrant’s constant vow of jobs and greatness and all that other crap, every move he has made so far is damn near custom-tailored to crash the economy, and this move will accelerate that considerably, if congress can be swayed to enforce it. Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.

The “Buy American, Hire American” executive order emphasizes enforcement of “Buy American laws” that will encourage government agencies and Americans to buy and hire American. The main thrust of the order calls on cabinet secretaries to implement administrative changes and produce reports that identify potential abuses of the H-1B visa program, which awarded 85,000 work visas this year to foreign knowledge workers through a lottery system, and look for ways the government can only award contracts to American business owners.

Regarding immigration, the order doesn’t address the administration’s main criticisms of the H-1B program, such as exploitatively low pay and replacing the lottery system to guarantee recipients are the best candidates for the positions. It also carries little weight on its own.

“It doesn’t do anything,” said William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in Philadelphia. That’s because the changes Trump campaigned on need to be approved by Congress.

[…]

The policy proposal sent a chill through the tech industry, which heavily depends on H-1B workers to fill out full-time and contract positions. That tension intensified earlier this year, after Trump signed his first executive order restricting entry of immigrants from or traveling from several Muslim-majority countries and companies such as Google required resident employees abroad to immediately return to the U.S.

The White House’s tenuous relationship with Silicon Valley was strained further as Trump’s policies homed in on issues central to the tech industry’s ethos and economic health. And with cracking down on H-1B visas in his sights, there’s concern Trump could hurt the economy he’s trying to help.

 […]

Besides a potential congressional hurdle, there could still be economic consequences to Trump’s desired changes, especially when it comes to funding existing programs and trade.

For example, further restricting H-1B visas could actually result in taking jobs away from American workers by encouraging companies to relocate, Stock said. That would create more jobs in places like Ireland, India (which is currently the biggest recipient of H-1B visas), China, and countries in South America, where there are growing IT workforces.

“If the workers can’t come here, then companies are going to have to go where the workforce is,” Stock said. “The unintended consequences are going to outweigh what he was trying to achieve.”

[…]

Restricting H-1B visas or prioritizing American businesses also doesn’t replace jobs lost due to the collapse of manufacturing or mining industries.

Dan Ikenson, the director for trade policy at the Cato Institute a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., said the order looks tough, especially when it comes to government contract spending. But he worried that Trump’s emphasis on only awarding government contracts to American companies could mean that taxpayers lose out. From a free market perspective, Ikenson said, there should be as many foreign companies as possible bidding for government contracts.

“You need the competition,” Ikenson said, arguing that only contracting with American businesses could result in overspending. “We shouldn’t just assume that it’s good for America if Americans transact with other Americans.”

That economic stance is why Trump’s immigration policies have garnered criticism from economists across the political spectrum.

“We need smart foreign workers to come here and share their ideas,” Ikenson said. “Immigrants are 50 percent more likely than Americans to start new businesses.”

Think Progress has the full story.

Autonomous Car Trap 001.

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The Creators Project has an absolutely fascinating interview with James Bridle, whose current project involves the magical science of fucking up autonomous cars. While this is a fun and intriguing project, Bridle brings up a very good point about just how easy it would be to interfere with those wondrous self-driving cars. Pictured above is a salt trap, blending the legendary magic of yore with modern road/driving signals.

Is it a silly prank, a Pagan ritual, or a genius discovery about the next era of mass transit? In a picture posted to Flickr by artist James Bridle—known for coining the term, “New Aesthetic”—a car is sitting in the middle of a parking lot has been surrounded by a magic salt circle. In the language of road markings, the dotted white lines on the outside say, “Come On In,” but the solid white line on the inside says, “Do Not Cross.” To the car’s built-in cameras, these are indomitable laws of magic: Petrificus Totalus for autonomous automobiles.

Captioned simply, “Autonomous Trap 001,” the scene evokes a world of narratives involving the much-hyped technology of self-driving cars. It could be mischievous hackers disrupting a friend’s self-driving ride home; the police seizing a dissident’s getaway vehicle; highway robbers trapping their prey; witches exorcizing a demon from their hatchback.

Self-driving cars aren’t there yet, but the artist-philosopher-programmer’s thought-provoking photo is a reminder that we’ll have to start thinking about these things soon. If a self-driving car is designed to read the road, what happens when the language of the road is abused by those with nefarious intent?

[…]

Now Bridle is trying to build his own self-driving car, and made the sardonic artwork Autonomous Trap 001 in the process. He’s released all the code developed in pursuit of the DIY self-driving car here. We spoke to Bridle to learn more about the circumstances behind this vague photo series and better understand his apprehension and curiosity about the robot chauffeurs of the future.

Creators: What are we looking at here? Can you give me a brief explanation of Autonomous Trap 001?

James Bridle: What you’re looking at is a salt circle, a traditional form of protection—from within or without—in magical practice. In this case it’s being used to arrest an autonomous vehicle—a self-driving car, which relies on machine vision and processing to guide it. By quickly deploying the expected form of road markings—in this case, a No Entry glyph—we can confuse the car’s vision system into believing it’s surrounded by no entry points, and entrap it.

Is this actually an autonomous car, or is it conceptual?

I don’t actually have a self-driving car, unfortunately—I don’t think any have made it to Greece yet, plus the cost issue—but I do have a pretty good understanding of how the things work, having been researching them for a while. And the one in the picture is a research vehicle for building my own. As usual, I’ve got totally carried away in the research, and ended up writing a bunch of my own software, rigging up cameras and building neural networks to reproduce some of the more interesting currents in the field. Like the trap, I wouldn’t entirely trust what I’ve built, but the principles are sound.

Where did you take these pictures?

I made this Trap while training the car on the roads around Mount Parnassus in Central Greece. Parnassus feels like an appropriate location because, as well as being quite spectacular scenery and wonderful to drive and hike around, it’s the home of the Muses in mythology, as well as the site of the Delphic Oracle. The ascent of Mount Parnassus is, in esoteric terms, the journey towards knowledge, and art.

There’s much more at The Creator’s Project!

Nimuno Loops!

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Lego fans can now build outwards from walls, chair legs, household objects or the backs of other toys using a new studded tape.

The Nimuno Loops tape is the creation of Cape Town-based designers Anine Kirsten and Max Basler. They launched the product on crowdfunding site Indiegogo three days ago, and have already amassed 12,107 per cent of their $8,000 (£6,470) target.

This looks like so much fun! You can see and read much more at Dezeen.

Not Quite A Babelfish…

A science-fiction staple has inched closer to reality with the reveal of a prototype in-ear wearable that translates languages almost instantly.

Acting in a similar manner to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s babelfish or Star Trek’s Universal Translator, startup company Waverly Labs‘ Pilot earpiece sits in the ear to translate spoken foreign languages to the wearer.

This is pretty exciting! You can read much more at Dezeen.

Conservation Lab: Glass Preservation.

Glass

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Pitcher from the Roman Empire, before and after restoration.

The small city of Corning, New York, population 11,068, counts more works of art than people. The world’s largest collection of glass art is harbored here, at the Corning Museum of Glass, which cares for over 50,000 objects spanning 3,500 years of history. Across the Chemung River, a short walk away, lie the headquarters of Corning Incorporated—the glass and ceramics manufacturing giant responsible for the creation of brands like CorningWare and Pyrex. The company founded the museum in 1951, as a “gift to the world” to mark its 100th anniversary. The museum’s facilities have grown tremendously since then: In addition to gallery spaces, they include a research library, glassmaking studios, and an amphitheater for live demonstrations.

Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Glass Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

There’s much more to read and see at The Creators Project. For more information about conservation at the Corning Museum of Glass, go here. Videos of the conservation team at work are available here.

This Is Our Land.

Water Protectors Leave Oceti Sakowin Reluctantly.

‘Absolutely False’: No Contact From Trump Administration, Archambault Says.

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NODAPL; The Last Stand © Marty Two Bulls.
 
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No DAPL; Beware the Early Thaw © Marty Two Bulls.

Oh. So. Cool.

I want one!

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Made for Ikea’s Space10, this is the Growroom, specifically made for cities, it can grow a communities worth of food and herbs. I’m not urban, but I still want one. The best news? Space10 and architects Sine Lindholm and Mads-Ulrik Husum have open sourced this, so anyone can make one.

You can see the specs at two places: one, two.

The Bias of Devices.

Getty Images.

Getty Images.

A lot of people are enamored with the idea of artificial intelligence, imbued with the rosy hues of optimism, eternal life, and other amazing feats. What you don’t hear about so much are all the little problems which creep in, like the very real biases and bigotry of humans infecting devices which are made to learn. The term artificial intelligence has always struck me as inherently biased, underlining the point that organic intelligence is always superior. Why not machine intelligence, or some other actually neutral term? Anyroad, we aren’t that far along that terminator fears need be realized, but Wired has a good article up about how good humans are at providing devices with the very worst of our intelligence.

Algorithmic bias—when seemingly innocuous programming takes on the prejudices either of its creators or the data it is fed—causes everything from warped Google searches to barring qualified women from medical school. It doesn’t take active prejudice to produce skewed results (more on that later) in web searches, data-driven home loan decisions, or photo-recognition software. It just takes distorted data that no one notices and corrects for.

It took one little Twitter bot to make the point to Microsoft last year. Tay was designed to engage with people ages 18 to 24, and it burst onto social media with an upbeat “hellllooooo world!!” (the “o” in “world” was a planet earth emoji). But within 12 hours, Tay morphed into a foul-mouthed racist Holocaust denier that said feminists “should all die and burn in hell.” Tay, which was quickly removed from Twitter, was programmed to learn from the behaviors of other Twitter users, and in that regard, the bot was a success. Tay’s embrace of humanity’s worst attributes is an example of algorithmic bias—when seemingly innocuous programming takes on the prejudices either of its creators or the data it is fed.

Tay represents just one example of algorithmic bias tarnishing tech companies and some of their marquis products. In 2015, Google Photos tagged several African-American users as gorillas, and the images lit up social media. Yonatan Zunger, Google’s chief social architect and head of infrastructure for Google Assistant, quickly took to Twitter to announce that Google was scrambling a team to address the issue. And then there was the embarrassing revelation that Siri didn’t know how to respond to a host of health questions that affect women, including, “I was raped. What do I do?” Apple took action to handle that as well after a nationwide petition from the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of cringe-worthy media attention.

One of the trickiest parts about algorithmic bias is that engineers don’t have to be actively racist or sexist to create it. In an era when we increasingly trust technology to be more neutral than we are, this is a dangerous situation. As Laura Weidman Powers, founder of Code2040, which brings more African Americans and Latinos into tech, told me, “We are running the risk of seeding self-teaching AI with the discriminatory undertones of our society in ways that will be hard to rein in, because of the often self-reinforcing nature of machine learning.”

I don’t understand why anyone would assume tech to be more neutral than we are, after all, this is not a scenario where machines and devices are having a board meeting and figuring out how to maintain neutrality and purge biases. All the code, it comes from us naked apes, who truly suck at neutrality en masse. Even when we think we are neutral about this or that, implicit bias tests often show us deep biases we weren’t altogether aware of, and how they influence our thinking.

As the tech industry begins to create artificial intelligence, it risks inserting racism and other prejudices into code that will make decisions for years to come. And as deep learning means that code, not humans, will write code, there’s an even greater need to root out algorithmic bias. There are four things that tech companies can do to keep their developers from unintentionally writing biased code or using biased data.

I imagine the suggestions will give all the bros serious indigestion, but they are suggestions which need wide implementation, given the human penchant for racing ahead in technology while lagging woefully behind in social evolution. Wired has the full story.

Loot!

Loot

Oh, I has all the loot, with deepest thanks to my Marcus. Not long ago, my beloved little Samsung netbook suffered a dead screen. It’s old, so replacement isn’t an option, and the cost would likely be more than I paid in the first place, even if I could find a new screen. That little netbook was the one computer that actually managed to last around me, and I have missed it. Now I has another one! And external hard drives. And a DVD player. And more magical laundry liquid (which, if you start using, will soon find addictive). And incense with a sublime scent! Imma go play for a while now. *Happy*

Oh, that fucking wall.

An agent of the border patrol, observes near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, on January 25. CREDIT: AP Photo/Christian Torres.

An agent of the border patrol, observes near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, on January 25. CREDIT: AP Photo/Christian Torres.

The projected cost for President Donald Trump’s border wall continues to rise, and Trump has no good plan to contain it.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that the border wall will be much more expensive than the $10 billion figure Trump repeatedly cited during his campaign or the $12–$15 billion cited by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) last month.

“Trump’s ‘wall’ along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct,” Reuters reported, citing a U.S. Department of Homeland Security document the outlet obtained.

And it could end up costing even more than that.

“Bernstein Research, an investment research group that tracks material costs, has said that uncertainties around the project could drive its cost up to as much as $25 billion,” Reuters reports.

On Saturday morning, Trump responded to that news by assuring Americans that costs of constructing the wall will come “WAY DOWN” as soon as he gets involved in the negotiations.

<Tweets snipped.>

But Trump’s citation of the reduced cost of F-35s should give no one confidence he’ll be able to bring down the exorbitant cost of his border wall.

That’s because on January 30, Trump took credit for cost cuts to the fighter jets that were already put in place before he got involved. A Washington Post fact-check gave Trump’s claim that he was responsible for cutting $600 million from the F-35 program “Four Pinocchios.”

[…]

Trump has repeatedly taken credit for deals that were in the works long before he won the election or became president. For instance, he’s overstated his role in deals with Intel, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and Sprint to take credit for saving American jobs.

[…]

Last year, Reuters reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents don’t think the type of border wall Trump has long supported is necessary for national security. Instead, they seek better equipment and technology.

Not only is this wall idea the epitome of idiocy, people tend to forget a different cost of such idiocy – the high cost imposed on animals, the environment, and various ecologies. This sort of arrogant assholery is little more than a chest-pounding display of cruelty, a game for bully boys. Unfortunately, such people don’t much give a shit about the planet which gives them life, or the diversity of life on our earth, which has no use for the concrete idiocy of naked apes intent on warring with their neighbours. You can read a bit about this high cost here.

Full story at Think Progress.