300Mb of soul

CapricaSo I finally got around to watching Caprica, the spin-off pilot from the mostly-wonderful Battlestar Galactica. As a scientist, I’m usually pretty happy to just let the science-fiction bits of such programs wash over me: to just suspend disbelief and treat them as fantasy. With Battlestarthis was particularly easy to do, as so little of the science was really explained. But with Caprica, the way they said you could create a virtual human personality was so plausible, well-explained, and—in my view—so completely wrong, that I thought it worth putting something on the record. Read More …

Augmentation or alienation?

Photo from 'Playing God' by Paula Garfield and Rebecca Atkinson.I’ve been trying to think about how the cultures of those with and without augmented senses may diverge, and the difficulties this may cause. The problem is already being grappled with by deaf people deciding whether to give their children cochlear implants, and the chance of a more “normal” life, or whether to encourage them to embrace signing and the deaf community. So, when I heard last week about a play on this subject here in London, Playing God by Paula Garfield and Rebecca Atkinson, I immediately bought tickets. Though it’s a departure, I thought I’d review it and some of the issues it raises here. Also, the play’s on until August 4th, so I wanted to discuss it right away while there is still an opportunity for people to go and see it if it’s of interest. Read More …

Feeling robots’ pain

The packbot: one of iRobot's products for the military.A few weeks ago, the British press was abuzz with stories about robot rights. A collection of roboticists and philosophers got together to debate the issue at the Dana Center in London as a result of a quasi-governmental report published towards the end of last year. This sparked a discussion on the influential BBC radio program Today: a show that is thought to have the ears of the political class running the UK. Read More …

Driving by wire

Seattle_avis_assist_gps_navigation_motorI’m a pretty good navigator, but it’s still a pain (and sometimes dangerous) to drive around places you don’t know and read maps at the same time. So, when I was in going to the mid-West and California on business in September I decided to try satnav. Though this technology has been around for decades, it had never seemed to me worth paying for. For this trip, however, my schedule was so tight and my exhaustion level was clearly going to be so high that I thought it might be a one way of taking the pressure off. It really was. Read More …