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AI Revolution: Robot Operation System

Sophia, the first humanoid robot to receive citizenship of a country.   She was featured on the cover of Ella Brazil magazine and has a...

lunedì 7 marzo 2011

Virtual-reality avatars to create 'out-of-body' experience

Nel film Avatar, gli esploratori del pianeta Pandora trasmettono le loro menti in corpi alternativi. Alcuni scienziati del Brain Mind Institute all’Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale di Losanna in Svizzera hanno proiettato dei volontari in avatar digitali in grado di muoversi in un ambiente virtuale. La ricerca mira a comprendere come il cervello integra le informazioni provenienti dai sensi in modo da determinare la posizione del corpo nello spazio ma i risultati potranno essere usati per i videogiochi di prossima generazione o per il teletrasporto digitale.

Olaf Blanke, un neurologo che ha condotto il lavoro, ha utilizzato un sistema di realtà virtuale con delle videocamere collegate ad un video display montato sulla testa dei partecipanti. In precedenza gli stessi ricercatori avevano già provato a ricreare una sorta di esperienza “out-of-body” che può accadere realmente quando il cervello subisce dei danni dovuti a incidenti, epilessia o abuso di droga. I casi più comuni accadono per via di eventi traumatici come incidenti d’auto o durante operazioni.

In those experiments, carried out by Blanke and colleagues in 2007, volunteers wore goggles containing a video screen for each eye fed fed by a pair of cameras behind the participant. Because the two images were combined by the brain into a single image, they saw a 3D image of their own back. Experimenters then moved a plastic rod towards a location just below the cameras, in their field of view, while the participant's real chest was simultaneously touched in the corresponding position. The participants reported feeling that they were located where the cameras had been placed, watching a body in front of them that belonged to someone else.

In his latest work, Blanke's volunteers used a similar VR set-up and then wandered through different digital 3D environments while researchers physically touched them either in sync or out of sync with the digital humans, to see where the volunteers thought their bodies were in the virtual space.
He also "projected" male volunteers into female avatars and placed volunteers directly into their avatars, so they were no longer watching from behind. Blanke reported that, even when moving in a virtual scene, volunteers felt as if whatever happened to the avatar happened to them.
"They start thinking that the avatar was their own body," said Blanke. "We created a partial out-of-body experience. We were able to disassociate touch and vision and make people think that their body was two metres in front of them."
The volunteers all wore skullcaps, which contained electrodes, to monitor the electrical activity in the brain. The data recorded by these showed a heightened response in the temporo-parietal and frontal regions of the volunteer's brains, compared to control conditions. These parts are responsible for integrating touch and vision into a coherent perception.
Blanke said the work on inducing these experiences artificially proved that they were nothing more than a brain malfunction. "Instead of it being a spiritual thing, it is the brain being confused," he said. "Why do we think that it is spiritual when we don't think a phantom limb when one is lost is an example of the paranormal?"

Robot Molecolare Programmabile

A team of physicists at the University of Oxford in the UK has designed a molecular robot that can be programmed to move in any direction along a branched track. Such control was not possible until now because previous devices were only able to move forwards in a straight line. The robot might find use in nanotechnology applications such as next-generation molecular machines and be used to move "cargo", like drugs.
Researchers recently succeeded in building a molecular motor that "walks" in a single direction instead of wandering about randomly. This feat was already a breakthrough because it was difficult to coordinate the movement of the motor's two "legs" so that they moved in a synchronized way without the legs coming off a predefined track.
Now, Andrew Turberfield's team at Oxford has gone a step further by designing a nanorobot, or nanobot, that can be made to move in any direction along the track, as well as backwards and forwards. In contrast to previous bipedal motors, the new device only has one leg (made of synthetic DNA) anchored to a nanoscale track made of a double-stranded DNA backbone. The robot walks by taking tiny steps that involve its leg tethering and untethering to the DNA backbone and the machine is powered by different "fuel" DNA strands that push it along.
The track and robot are designed to self-assemble, explains team member Richard Muscat, and sections of each DNA strand are designed to bind together, or "hybridize", to form a double helix so the components of the system stick together in the way designed.
The fuel strands are used to pick up the molecular robot from one location and then move it to another position on the track – in steps of six nanometres at a time. Each track location has a unique "address" and the fuel is able to select which address the robot is sent to.
"Using this system, it is possible to navigate track structures such as branched junctions where the robot has the option of two available routes and is directed down one of them," Muscat told "Previous research showed that it was possible to autonomously move a molecular machine along an unbranched track where the only option was to go forwards."

Spurred on by these new results, the team would now like to move the motor over longer tracks. "Using concepts and mechanisms developed in this research, we would also like to coordinate assembly of a chemical product, where a nanorobot moves between locations and picks up ingredients in a reaction," added Muscat. "This would be a nanoscale production line."



There are many services popping up on the Internet allowing you to store data about yourself or the projects you are working on. One of the most popular among the development community isGitHub: a distributed version control system mainly for software development allowing you to share and collaborate with others online.
While GitHub can be paid for as a service for private projects, open source projects get hosted for free. So there is a general mix of both types of project and over 1.7 million repositories currently stored on the service.
Manu Sporny, founder and CEO of Digital Bazaar, has decided to use GitHub to store a project of a very different nature. Rather than a piece of software, he is listing his own genetic data as an open source project. He has released all his rights to the data and made around 1 million of his genetic markers public domain.
As to why he decided to do what many may feel is a risky sharing of data so personal and unique to himself, Manu explains:
I’ve thought long and hard about each of those questions and the many more that you ask yourself before publishing this sort of personal data. There are large privacy implications in doing this. However, speaking solely for myself, I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Manu hasn’t gone into great detail as to his thought processes yet, but promises to on his blog at a later date.
His genetic data was compiled by the company 23andme. For $199 and $5 per month thereafter, they will send you a kit in which to deposit a saliva sample. This is then posted back and the data compiled and analyzed. After that updates can be accessed on a monthly basis.
The body has around 10 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) – the genetic markers Manu shared – of which 23andme analyze 1 million by placing your saliva sample on a genotyping beadchip. Of those million, only 14,515 are known about in science, and only 160 are used by 23andme for analysis.
As Manu points out, the majority of those million SNPs he has is data that can’t be used at the moment, but will eventually be known about as science progresses and discovers what they are. So his open sourcing of this data offers anyone, including scientists working in this area, some raw data to work with.
Do you think Manu’s decision to share his genetic data is a good one and will help to advance the understanding of the human body? Or will it just become a privacy nightmare for him in the future?

Creato il primo nanoprocessore programmabile

Creato il primo nanoprocessore programmabile con transistor basati su nanofili. A guidare il progetto è stato il professore di chimica dell'Università di Harvard, Charles Lieber, insieme a Shamik Das, capo ingegnere della divisione nanosystem di MITRE Corporation. Secondo gli scienziati questo genere di chip potrebbe essere applicato in microscopi, biosensori impiantabili, sensori e nell'elettronica di consumo.
Per raggiungere questo traguardo i ricercatori hanno trovato un modo per realizzare nanofili identici in volumi, uno dei grandi problemi del passato, perché ogni struttura deve essere virtualmente identica per assicurare che il circuito operi come sperato. Tradizionalmente i chip sono realizzati seguendo un approccio chiamato top-down, nel quale un design è sostanzialmente esposto come una fotografia su un wafer di semiconduttori e il materiale in eccesso viene rimosso. Per la realizzazione dei circuiti a nanofili è stato usato un approccio "bottom-up", il che significa che i nanofili possono essere depositati su vari tipi di superfici e realizzati in modo molto più compatto.
Per realizzare il circuito, i ricercatori hanno depositato su un substrato linee di nanofili composte da un cuore di germanio e una copertura esterna in silicio, e le hanno incrociate con linee di elettrodi metallici per creare una griglia. I punti dove i nanofili e gli elettrodi s'intersecano agiscono come un transistor che può essere accesso o spento, in modo indipendente. I ricercatori hanno realizzato una singola unità, con un'area di 960 micron quadrati e 496 transistor. Questa è stata progettata per legarsi altre unità in modo che i transistor, aggregandosi, possano agire come gate logici complessi per operazioni di calcolo o memoria.
I transistor a nanofili mantengono il loro stato acceso/spento indipendentemente dal fatto che siano alimentati. Ciò consente un'attivazione istantanea, importante per i sensori a basso consumo che hanno la necessità di raccogliere dati solo sporadicamente.
Secondo l'ingegnere Shamik Das, questi circuiti potrebbero essere 10 volte più efficienti rispetto a quelli basati su materiali tradizionali. Tra le proprietà elettriche dei nanofili troviamo la capacità di non disperdere la corrente elettrica, cosa che invece accade ai transistor standard. Un'altra caratteristica che concorre all'efficienza riguarda l'uso di connessioni capacitive anziché resistive, che sono meno efficienti.
Secondo i ricercatori c'è ancora molta strada da fare e siamo lontani anni dalla produzione di questi circuiti. Parte del lavoro che i ricercatori dovranno fare per rendere i processori a nanofili usabili nei sistemi elettronici è quello di trovare il modo migliore per collegare tra loro sistemi di 16 unità.


World's First Programmable Nanoprocessor 10 February 2011

Staminali iPS per creare sperma

La commissione bioetica dell'Università di Keio ha dato il via libera ad un team universitario di ricerca per creare cellule umane riproduttive usando cellule staminali pluripotenti (iPS).
La ricerca per creare sperma e ovuli sarà la prima a partire dopo che lo scorso maggio, il ministero dell'Educazione, Cultura, Sport, Scienza e Tecnologia, ha approvato un piano in merito. La ricerca, guidata dal professor Hideyuki Okano della Scuola universitaria di medicina, partirà appena arriveranno le autorizzazioni. 
Staminali iPS per creare sperma 11/02/2011

2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal

The cover of every single edition of TIME magazine (US, Europe, Asia, South Pacific) this week has the same title: “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.” It is the most mainstream endorsement of the Singularity - the time when artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence - we’ve seen in popular media so far. The one other interesting salute was when the cover of GQ listed the Singularity in December 2009. Under a risqué picture of Rihanna was the title of a story on the Singularity saying, “It’s Almost Here – Now Things Get Really Freaky.” 
In just over a year, the Singularity has moved from something that seemed freakish to something that deserves a long explanation in a highly regarded journal. The hero of the story, as always, is Ray Kurzweil, an inventor-extraordinaire and someone Bill Gates once said was “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.” Kurzweil believes that one day we will merge with machines, and become immortal in the process. He is not alone in his thinking: hordes of well-respected scientists, intellectuals, investors, and businessmen are joining the ranks of Singularitarians.
The excellent documentary Transcendent Man, directed by Barry Ptolemy, takes us on a journey with Kurzweil as he evangelizes his theory all over the world, giving us a glimpse into both the man and his logic. It is hard to walk away from the film unconvinced of the power of exponential growth – computing performance per dollar is increasing exponentially which means that we get far smarter scalable machines than we had the previous year. Or as the article summarizes Kurzweil’s classic example: “Your average cell phone is about a millionth the size of, a millionth the price of and a thousand times more powerful than the computer we had at MIT 40 years ago.” As machines become smarter, they can help us understand our brains better and also simulate our brain activity, which means that we could potentially “download” our brain into a more efficient body (let’s face it, watching calories as one’s metabolism slows, panting at the gym, getting old and wrinkly, having to pop Viagra – all these are annoying results of having a body that breaks down over time). If we could transport our consciousness into a robot which never ages, and can be replaced with a better model every few years, then we would never have to die. As the author of the TIME article Lev Grossman writes rather eloquently: “Singularitarianism is grounded in the idea that change is real and that humanity is in charge of its own fate and that history might not be as simple as one damn thing after another.”  
In the film Transcendent Man, Kurzweil ponders on how we will become divine after we merge with machines: our consciousness will become super intelligent and will replicate itself into the universe becoming more and more all-encompassing and powerful. Reflecting on that state, he says unforgettably, “Does God exist? Well, I would say, 'Not yet.'”


2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal February 10, 2011


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