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Comments i have on news articles or stories I read.

 

Will we breed our way to higher average IQ?

My wife and I have talked a lot about this topic. Most of these conversations revolve around the genetic selection of sexes or physical traits, but I think many of the topics are just as applicable to genetic modification of embryos to enhance cognitive capabilities.   In almost every conversation we have on this topic the movie Gattaca is brought up because it creates a great starting point by walking viewers through one possible future if a society is allowed to control the genetics of their offspring. 

So let’s say that the researchers conducting the study to understand the genetics of high IQ find a set of genes that increases an individual’s natural abilities.  The next step would be to offer this knowledge to the market place.  That is where I start to get real curious, how would such genetic developments be commercialized?  Would fertilized eggs be scanned for preferred gene sequences and then implanted. Would impregnated eggs be tested in situ and aborted if a preferred sequence were not found.  Or would genetic therapies be introduced to alter the individuals DNA? 

That last option is probably the only one that could be done on a large scale.  Your DNA would be scanned, modified and a prescription drug that is dialed into your current DNA would be sent to you.  This therapy could be consumed or injected to bring about the desired changes.  This type of therapy is already available for several diseases and genetic disabilities and uses viruses to infect you with a new string of DNA.

Back to the topic of this post.  Let’s say they identify the what and the how….next we have to think about nature vs nurture.  Great we have made someone more likely to be smarter but if they are not given the opportunities to excel or learn has the therapy impacted them or society in any positive way?…..Hmmmmm scratching my head on that one.  To make that question even murkier your IQ can change over time depending on how much you use your noggin. So at what average age does an individual and or the society benefit the most from having a higher IQ?….My gut tells me society would see an impact in academic performance, work performance and GDP increases.  But this is if we genetically modify a significant portion of a single countries populous is while not modifying the rest of the globes population.  If we go other routes we could see increases in average IQ among the affluent or among everyone so no discernible gain is ever recognized. Gattaca speaks to the affluent getting the option over the majority and creates a class warfare that I believe and as the movie shows pulls the human race down.  Whereas the latter option would never be tolerated by the market forces and could only come about if the governments of the world stepped in and mandated equal access.

Back to the question. Will we breed our way to higher average IQ? The answer is yes.  But for who and how fast are more issues about the market and society than about the technology.   

Autonomous cars are Green and could be much much More

I have been reading about the progress of several manufacturers working on autonomous cars. BMW, Audi, General Motors, Volvo, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Toyota and Google are just a few of the companies looking to change the way we drive…..er move.  The claims for autonomous vehicles are simple; people behind vehicles acting in reaction to other people in vehicles can only achieve a certain amount of safety and efficiency.  Whereas vehicles acting together can increase both safety and efficiency while decreasing travel times. 

Many companies already have test vehicles roaming our streets laying the ground work for these vehicles to enter the market place in the coming decades. Although some authors and companies believe the first automated cars will be on the streets before 2020..  We shall see, in the mean time consumers are benefiting from all kinds of new automated safety and convenience features being added to vehicles every year; Anti-lock brakes, self parking cars, collision avoidance systems and smart cruise are just a few of the features that are paving the way for increased automation.  

Besides maturing the technology there are two big hurdles that hands free driving needs to overcome, first, the liability.  In the aviation industry, airplane manufacturers design to a government set of minimum standards in just about every regard.  The aircraft is then tested to show that what was designed and produced meets those minimums. The aircraft then enters service and only FAA certified professional can operate and service the aircraft.  Along the aircrafts life cycle inspections are performed to all features of the aircraft per a set of government and manufacturer guidelines.  If at any point an issue is identified the all of the aircraft can be grounded till a suitable understanding of the issue can be acquired and an approved solution found.  During the investigation of any issue liability for the repair can in most cases be easily directed back to the operator, the maintainer, the manufacturer or some combination of those parties. The recent 787 battery issue is a great example of how this system of checks and balances keeps aviation safe. In addition in the case of an issue investigators from the NTSB are able to go through maintenance log books, operator log books, aircraft black boxes and manufacturer records to identify the potential problems. They can also reconstruct an incident to determine if the source of the crash was a mechanical failure.  Lastly the NTSB tracks all reported incidents with a specific model of aircraft to identify trends. 

Getting back to the driverless car we have some issues with the liability model that cars currently operate under today.  In most cases today it is the drivers fault. The manufacturer and the mechanic are rarely targeted for issues unless clear evidence is obtainable.  But when we take the driver out of the equation whose fault does it become, the owner, the mechanic, the manufacturer?  None of these parties were at the accident so how will police assign blame, how will insurance companies assign liability?  There are no log books, there are no maintenance records, there are no certified professionals servicing your car and there is no accident investigation team out on the high way during rush hour recreating the accident. So how do we assign fault?  Without all of these checks in the system it will be hard to say whose fault it is that the car killed my family.  That first question will take a lot of thought and cherry pick the parts of aviation liability lifecycle that make sense for this more prevalent form of travel.

The second largest hurdle is transition.  If all cars are driven by people then the system operates at this level of efficiency.  If all cars are driven by machines then the system operates at an increased level of efficiency.  But what is a percentage of cars are operated by people and a percentage are operated by machines?  This is the second largest question and is what is driving a lot of my imagination.  A system made up entirely of driverless vehicles is much easier to set up and prove that it is an improvement to the current 100% people driven system.  The system that is a mix of the two takes a lot longer to set up, requires more regulation and may not have any significant impact on the efficiency of the system till a tipping point is reached.  Two states have started to look at how they would regulate such a system in hopes of luring companies and jobs to their state as this trend towards automation continues.  Nevada was the first state followed by California to get driverless car laws on the books.  Nevada, one could argue was at the heart of the driverless car revolution since it hosted the DARPA grand challenge that showed that autonomous cars could be built using today’s technology. However both states are leaping ahead in this research as automotive companies continue to set up shop in these two tech savvy states.

The laws that they have put on the books can be found here.

Nevada’s Law

California’s Law

 

So now the big question…. Which east coast state will be the first to put it’s toe into the driverless car revolution?

Quantum robotics sound so cool, but there not.

I read an article last week on quantum robots. The article was a bit confusing. So here is my own research on the topic. Hope it helps you  understand how he gets to his conclusion that quantum robots are faster, more accurate, and are able to multitask better than the standard robot.

Definition of a robot:

  1. A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically.
  2. (esp. in science fiction) A machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions.
  3. Images of robots

All robots use computers to consume information about their environment and act upon those inputs according to the code they are loaded with.

Definition of a computer:

  1. An electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.
  2. A person who makes calculations, esp. with a calculating machine

Definition of computer code:

  1. the symbolic arrangement of data or instructions in a computer program or the set of such instructions.

The robot’s code is usually written for the capabilities of the CPU (central processing unit), meaning that the code only asks the hardware for answers so many times per second.  The hardware speed plus the complexity of the math problems in the code determines the reaction speed of the robot and the number of things it can do at any one time.  That last sentence is a bit misleading it assumes that power is not a limitation, meaning that the robot has more than enough electricity to allow the CPU, the robot’s sensors and the robot’s mechanisms to operate simultaneously at max speed. 

As robots are created to do more things at a single time that are increasing in complexity the computer controlling the robot starts to become the limiting component.  So in response robticists are adding more computing capability to their robots.  That increasing capability requires more computer volume/weight, more structure to hold the computer and more power to maintain maximum computing capability.

With that understanding you can now ask the question; if robots could increase their computational capability without additional weight or power demands than could robots become more capable in the future? The answer is yes and that is where quantum computing comes in.

Definition of quantum computer:

  1. A computer that makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information.

 

Quantum computers are pretty cool. And Lockheed martin just announced that they have the first quantum computer ready for testing.  If they get this computer working they will change the world.  Quantum computing has the potential to render all of the world’s current cyber security useless.  This article does a great job of describing the movie Sneakers…..I mean the future if quantum computing is real.   

To go into what a quantum computer actually is just a waste of time when it comes to understanding what a quantum robot is in my opinion.  The end result is that quantum computers are just computers that can handle significantly more calculation for the same weight and power consumption as a comparably sized computer.  Meaning my robot can get a significant computer and code upgrade without any impact to the system or structures of the robot.  Not as cool as what I thought quantum robot were before I started reading the article but, still exciting none the less.  Let’s get the quantum computer working first and then worry about the quantum robotics later.

DNA data storage: 100 million hours of HD video in every cup

I first read about using DNA as a storage device a few months back, DNA data storage: 100 million hours of HD video in every cup.  This article amazed that the technology was already available to do this.  A few months later I was reading about the Monsanto case in front of supreme court.  These two things were swimming around in my head when the new policy concerning 6 strikes for downloading copyright protected content started to makes waves in the news.  

I started wondering about a few of the legal ramifications of putting data on DNA.  According to the most recent Monsanto cases companies can patent DNA. They have defended this protection vigorously at the expense of many farmers’ livelihoods so as to dissuade other farmers from using their genetically modified seeds. Monsanto’s tactics have also turned farmer against farmer as Monsanto uses its customers to spy on neighboring farmers in their pursuit of intellectual property protections.

Big Media has taken a similar tact in their pursuit of individuals who they feel have violated their copy rights. In many instances they have taken regular people to court for exorbitant amounts of money. Recently via there 6 strike agreements with broad band providers they have enlisted other companies to be their spies in the war against piracy.

Those two things led me to do some thought experiments on how legal protections for DNA storage could play out.  Firstly if you take Monsanto as the example modified DNA is covered under patent protection.  Secondly if that data happens to be music or a movie it is also covered under copyright protection.  Could the combination of these two forms of protection give individuals more than enough legal support to cancel each other out? ie. What if mega uploads was using DNA based servers.  If they stored a movie on their DNA a media company could claim copyright infringement. But megauploads could also claim patent protection for the DNA it created….

I am sure there are some legal beagles out there who could add some support to such an argument.  But it will be interesting to see how big business reacts.  I think DNA patent protection may have just met the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

 

Cool Lego Machines

I am always amazed by the creativity of people.  Someone was able to make a lego machine that consumes paper, makes a paper airplane and then launches said airplane.

 

Some of my other favorites are the Lego CNC controlled lathe. 

I also love this one that recreates one of the original computers the Antikythera Mechanism.  

 

And of course you can't forget this Lego CNC pancake machine….YUM

What are your favorite lego machines?

Happy PI Day

This in my favorite day of the year. It is almost as good and Natural Log Day.

Also Happy Birthday Einstein!

Crowd Sourced Engineering part 2

I posted about crowd sourced engineering last week and have had another thought on that topic.  Last week’s post focused on projects where the team was made up of individuals from the crowd.  However there is a different kind of crowd sourced engineering model that has been around for a while, the competition, where the crowd is made up of teams. 

I think one of my favorite engineering competitions was the Netflix user recommendation system optimization competition.  It was supposed to leverage the ideas of thousands of scientists to increase the user experience of its customers.  It’s my favorite because it made a lot of sense to me at the time and should have been easy to implement.  Unfortunately, the Forbes article above talks about how incorrect that perception was in so much as NetFlix never implemented the winning solution.  I still have an optimistic expectation that NetFlix still earned enough value from the competition to make the expense of it worth it.

My next favorite competition  family are the X prizes; Ansari X Prize, Archon X Prize, Automotive X PrizeGoogle Lunar X Prize, Tricorder X PRIZE.  These prizes have definitely forced people to imagine new things and challenge the limit of current thinking.  However, if you look at just the Ansari X Prize you see that the first and last commercial human space flight took place in Sept 2004.  Outside of Dennis Tito via the Russians there have been zero commercial space flights in almost a decade. Based on this single experience you can easily argue that competitions can only serve to improve an industry and not one single team. Need to see if future X-Prize competitions bear more fruit. 

I have found many other examples of professional and government level competitions that follow the same lifecycle; team competes, team wins, winner tries to commercialize success and ……. crickets while the industry grows.  

One bright spot is the spinoff type businesses that leverage some of the advancements developed to achieve the full competitions goal.  High school and collegiate level competitions appear to do this quite a bit.  One good example is the number of businesses that have been created in and around the student robotics competition known as FIRST.  FIRST robotics teams across the country have created over 50 businesses ranging from machine shops to circuit board suppliers to prosthetic limb companies. One such business sprung from team 357 out of Upper Darby Pennsylvania who started fabrication business for specialty robotics parts.  

All in all I think this form of crowd sourced engineering will be more productive at both completing the goal and creating business when compared to the ones I discussed last week.  I will be watching to see if my predictions are correct.

How long till Black Hole Weapons are real?

When I was reading this article on black hole research being done at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) all I could think of was how long they the weaponize this.  

 

If you think this is a preposterous idea just look at all of the video games and movies that have identified black hole generators as weapons like Quake, Master’s of Orion, Mega Man and latest Star Trek Movie just to name a few.  We have all seen many examples of where Sci-Fi ideas eventually become reality. So when I started doing a little digging I found that someone is working on creating micro black hole generators.

“Chinese scientists have stunned the world of boffinry by fashioning an artificial "black hole" generator out of copper-coated circuit boards.

Disappointingly this is not a black hole in the normal sense of a universe-wrackingly dense lump of hypercompressed matter, exerting a gravitational pull so fearsome that not even light itself can escape – hence the blackness – of the sort which, some say, might be created by means of certain exotic experiments and then gobble up the entire Earth (and/or Moon and Sun) in a terrifying yet unambiguously newsworthy apocalypse incident.” 

I also found somebody working on black hole powered propulsion systems.

It is cool to know that black holes can be used for good…But will they be used to kill first?

Also here is a video from the game quake that shows one way a hand held weapon might work. About 18 second in. http://www.twitch.tv/blackhawk88/b/278753713

 

 

Could This Robot Save Your Job? Probably Not.

I really like the Roomba.  It is the first real robot that started to be accepted as part of daily life.  The folks behind the Roomba are trying to make a similar stride forward in the workplace with their next creation, Baxter. Baxter is a semi fixed robot that can be easily compared to legacy production robots with one key difference.  In addition to being able to be programmed in a more traditional computer language it can also be programmed by recording actions.  This would be most comparable to the two ways you can create a macro in excel; you can write a macro or you can record your button clicks and have excel write the code for you. Baxter autorecorded programming is the feature that they are touting as the game changer. 

In some ways I can see how this will make the human to robot interface more open to people who are not coders or roboticists. The price point also makes this type of automation more accessible to a wider array companies.  But this is still a fixed robot that will be doing a single task somewhere in a company’s value stream.  I understand that it can be more easily repurposed than other more traditional assembly robots but, if a company was looking at an employee or a robot I am not sure that Baxter changes the current business case assumptions. 

In the end I think this is the next step forward for an industry that by its very nature is shifting jobs away from low skilled to high skilled and along the way reducing the total number of people needed to accomplish any given task.

Crowd Sourced Engineering

Over the past 4 or 5 years I have watched the growth of crowd sourced design.  I have seen protein folding projects claim success by harnessing the crowd.  I have also seen SETI grow their search for life from harnessing thousands of computers to now also harnessing their owners. I have not personally taken part in any projects, so I went looking on the web to see any engineering design projects had used crowd sourcing and how the community perceives their success. I was able to find articles on completed software and bio engineering projects but non on any completed design projects.  However I also found a lot of engineering crowd source projects still running; NASA crowd source project, DARPA crowd source project, Open Source Rocket and a few others.  All of these projects made me a little excited and a little scared.

As a designer in the aerospace industry I am all too aware of the amount of control, checks and rechecks that go into the design and fabrication of aerospace products. The design of simple angles may be controlled by over 20 spec documents and need to be reviewed by 15 subject matter experts before it can even go out for bid to a supplier.  Once the supplier fabricates the part easily over 30 sped documents were referenced and several levels of quality check will have been performed. Lastly, the parts are continually inspected as they are received and added to the assembly or product. And even with all of those reviews 25% of a program’s budget usually goes to rework.  So this experience begs me to ask a few questions:

  • How much accountability can be built into crowd sourced engineering? 
  • How much efficiency is lost in crowd sourcing your engineering?
  • What specs, processes and controls will need to be created to make these projects viable?
  • What data formats and change management systems are used to ensure that downstream stake holders of the engineering output can plan their tasks?
  • How is functional commonality achieved? ie. how do you know all of the parts are being stress analyzed the same way?

 

I see some solutions for these questions but it will take a leader and a hierarchy to implement on the project.  Is that a viable for crowd sourced projects?  Only the future will tell I guess.

I am going to try a few of these and let you know how they turn out.