Book launched

It’s been a busy few weeks. The book was launched last Monday at UCL: really appreciated all the enthusiasm of past and present students and colleagues. Also wrote a short piece about why the Theranos scandal could have been avoided if more people had asked the right questions, and a blog post for the Engineering Professors Council on how we can teach students how to do better research. Read More …

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 …

Developing systems, challenging assumptions

Mary Lou Jepsen with the  XOI was on the phone today with Mary Lou Jepsen, founding Chief Technology Officer of One Laptop Per Child and now founder of Pixel Qi, a commercial spin-off company of OLPC that will be putting their new ambient-light-viewable displays into cell phones and laptops. Mary Lou and I both started off in holography about twenty years ago, and have (miles permitting) been friends for most of that time. And she has never ceased to amaze me: both in her talent and in her fortitude. Read More …

The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, by Ray Kurzweil

The Singularity is Near by Ray KurzweilI should start by saying that I tried with this book. I really did. I tried 231/487 pages of text and 66/100 pages of notes worth. But I couldn’t finish it. Normally I would have written off a book that I disliked much earlier, but I persevered. I was actually pre-disposed to like it: not only had Kurzweil referenced one of my articles in an earlier book (which I actually never read, but was flattered by), but this tome came highly recommended by a friend of mine. Joe said he liked it because it allowed him to stretch his imagination. He found it fun to read the way he finds science fiction fun to read. I found the book unbearable for more-or-less the same reason. 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 …