Archives for the month of: January, 2011

Across China, Japan and Thailand, robots are being used as waiters. The robot on the left is Yumbo – the latest model from Thailand. It can carry trays through a restaurant using infra-red cameras, avoid collisions using ultrasonics, meet and greet customers with one of its many expressions and take orders using voice recognition technology.

Yumbo is yet to be released, but is not expected to cost that much (the model that came before Yumbo cost $30,000). With a low price tag, and with the functionality promised in the promotional video below, it seems likely that automated waiters could catch on.

CT Asia Robotics, the company that has developed Yumbo, believes that there is an huge potential market for robot waiters, and they have already had a large order from a major Thai restaurant chain.

The company has ambitions to become a major player in the commercial robotics industry, and has already started work on robots designed to help the elderly and teach children.

But they are only one of many companies designing  robot waiters. One restaurant in China uses a fleet of seven robots to serve customers, and the owner has ambitions to increase the amount to 30 robot ‘employees’.

I don’t imagine robot waiters reaching our shores anytime soon. And when they do they will only be used as gimmicks in themed restaurants. But if a robot waiter becomes cheaper and easier to maintain than their human counterpart – then it would make business sense to turn them from a gimmick into a key part of corporate strategy.

QR (short for quick response) codes are 2D bar-codes that can be read by smart phones which then process information – either taking you to a website, making a phonecall, sending a v-card and more.

QR Note is a website that makes creating a QR code and website really easy. Visit the website, design your webpage and print a QR code.

QR codes are used in marketing to create an interactive and fun way to get people through doors. Scavenger hunts using QR codes have proven successful – companies can provide clues that lead to real locations where QR codes can give points or discounts.

Other uses for QR codes include business cards (one barcode instead of all your social network addresses), labels that provide further information (art galleries, wine lists etc) and discount promotions. They can even be personalised (like the BBC QR code above).

Outside of marketing they can be used for more subversive ends. For example:

  • QR codes can be stuck on adverts of unethical companies, redirecting people to a protest website.
  • QR Note enables you to password protect QR codes, meaning your message can be protected against unwanted attention.
  • Networking during protests can be improved via the business card usage outlined above.
  • Also, a QR code card can be handed out at events, directing attendees to the events website.
  • A QR code can link to a location on Google Maps.

Yahoo recently announced that they would be axing a whole bunch of their web services, which may include social bookmarking service Delicious.

Social bookmarking is a way to easily store, manage and search through all those links you find on the internet. Delicious is one of the best and most popular services that provides this service, and was the first to pioneer ‘tagging’ of bookmarks.

The ‘social’ side of Delicious is that people can see the links that you bookmark. I follow the Delicious account of quite a few different people who bookmark links that I find interesting.

But with Delicious under threat of extinction, a new player is needed to pick up the social bookmarking crown.

Trunk.ly is social bookmarking evolved. It allows you to search all of the links in your bookmark collection, heralding the age of the ‘personal search engine‘.

The key feature is the fact that you do not have to actually do anything to make a bookmark (unlike with Delicious). You simply connect via Twitter and Facebook, and then every link you ever tweet or put up on your wall is saved as a bookmark. This makes bookmarking an invisible process, something which could become a very important time-saving feature.

The next really cool feature is that it can ‘mine’ RSS feeds for links. For example, you can connect the RSS feed of any blog that you want to follow and Trunk.Ly will both add every new post on that site to your bookmarks AND every link that is mentioned within that post! You can also sync the site with Google Reader.

So, let’s say you read a post about a recipe that contained carrots, but you can’t remember where you read it. Now you can search your bookmarks and easily find it!

Socially, the site could be massive. On the website you can add other users that you are friends with on Twitter and follow their bookmark stream.

The Egyptian government has taken a ‘shotgun approach’ and severed almost all of the countries internet connections, following massive protests over the governments rule.

You are unable to access 22 out of the 25 top Egyptian websites,  meaning that every school, internet cafe and home is without web access.

This is the first time that a country has turned off the internet. That a country with a major internet economy could take this action was previously ‘unthinkable’, according to major technologists.

An internet ‘off-switch’ is unthinkable in this country, or the US. However, American law makers are apparently becoming seduced by the idea of being able to pull the plug on the web in times of national security.

The fear is, with further protests expected around the world, this will set a precedent amongst other countries that have centralised control over the internet.

QWiki is a new search engine with a major wow factor. Enter a search term and a computer generated female voice talks you through an interactive and media rich journey. When you hear the voice say something particularly interesting you can click on any part of the interactive guide to explore that further.

The entire process is done automatically – pulling bits of data from around the web and curating it into an interactive story.

The guys at Silicon Valley are saying that this is the next big thing in search – and it is easy to see why. The site could easily mark a new era of human-information relations.

At the moment the search terms are a little bit limited (by limited I mean pretty much everything on Wikipedia), but eventually every person will have their own Qwiki – even you (beats a business card).

At the moment the search terms are quite static and do not include the latest news on a topic. But this will undoubtedly be fixed shortly, meaning that QWiki enters the world of news curation, with the added bonus of an automated newsreader.

Check it out

I don’t know why (probably some kind of morbid curiosity) but I’ve got a bit of an interest in American killers.

I’m not the only one – following any murderous incident in America the press go wild, releasing a flurry of articles that add to the corpus of literature about the ‘American Killer’.

Jared Loughton’s attack on a US senator has had its fair share of analysis . So I thought I would post a digest of some of the best articles I have read that try to describe the modern American murderer.

The Statistics

America is a murderous nation, the homicide rate is four times higher than the UK. But it is not just the citizens that are murderous, the state is just as bloodthirsty. Whereas most western nations abolished the death penalty throughout the 20th century, America still kills its criminals. Over a thousand people have been executed in America since 1976, and a third of those in Texas.

Statistically, both the victims and killers are usually young men. Also, according to Gary LaFree ‘the crime rate correlates, inversely, with public faith in government and trust in elected officials. So, for instance, the Vietnam era, marked by declining confidence in elected officials, experienced a rising crime rate.’

Of course, some states suffer more crime than others. With this in mind, Richard Florida from The Atlantic has done some interesting data journalism that charts the statistical correlations between firearm deaths and a variety of psychological, economic, social, and political characteristics of states.

Killers are not the drug fuelled, unemployed victims of inequality as you might think. Nor are they disgruntled immigrants. Rather, according to this analysis, it is more political than that. States that voted for McCain are significantly more likely to experience gun crime than those that voted for Obama. Poverty, a working class economy and (unsurprisingly) a state where kids take guns to schools are also likely to have a high level of gun related deaths.

Mind of a Killer

According to research by the American Secret Service, the motives behind people that attempt to assassinate a public figure fall into several categories:

  • Hoping to achieve notoriety by killing a well-known person.
  • Wanting to end their pain by being killed by Secret Service.
  • Avenging a perceived, idiosyncratic grievance unrelated to mainstream politics.
  • Hoping, unrealistically, to save the country or call attention to a cause.
  • Hoping to achieve a special relationship with the person they were killing.

Going against the image of the menacing stalker, very few would-be assassins threatened their target before attempting to kill them.

But, was the Arizona murder a political assassination or a murderous rampage, or both? According to writer Jared Lee Loughner, this hybrid killing is the first of its kind – a planned killing followed by a murdous rampage.

The arrival of a new kind of killer marks a new era. The first instance of a killer that went postal and indiscriminately killed people was during the Nixon era of corporate bullying and management intimidation. Before that a period of regular assassination attempts was synonymous with a period of radical political upheaval (that Nixon snuffed out). Now we see the merging of the two, and the question is – will this catch on?

Weapon of Choice

The weapon of choice in the recent Arizona killings was a Glock, a gun that has swept America  - and, according to The Violence Policy Center, ‘Glocks and similar semi-automatic firearms figured in most major mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years’.

The reason for Glock’s popularity is the amount of ammunition it can hold. The gun used by Jared Loughner, the recent Arizona killer, could hold 33 rounds of ammunition. Popularity for Glock weapons grew after the Bush administration ended the block on guns that contained over 10 rounds of ammunition in 2004. If Loughner had been limited to ten rounds, he would have killed far less.

Has there been a backlash from the American people in response to this massacre? No. In fact the opposite. The Tucson gun show opened a week after the event and enjoyed booming business. One Glock salesman explained “”Business is dramatically up. I put it down to the media exposure, which has focused attention on the brand”

Transhumanism is a movement that encourages the use of technology to transcend the limitations of the flesh.

Followers believe that the fusion of man and machine will improve humanity, making us stronger, smarter and helping us live for longer.

Many people fear the movement. Historian Francis Fukuyama has called it the ‘worlds most dangerous idea‘.

Cyberpunk is a genre of literature that takes transhumanism as one of its themes. Reading it you can see a disdain for the flesh. In William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’, the body is viewed as ‘meat… a prison’.

Most transhumanist procedures are expensive and conducted in laboratories. But not all of them.

Meet Lepht Anonym. A body hacker in the literal sense, a bio-hacker. A scrapheap transhumanist.

In her kitchen she cuts away at the meat of her body, cutting holes to insert pieces of technology. Inside her body she has a chip which emits electronic signals, now she can have a door open or a computer switch on just for her. It is her home-brewed bio-identification.

But more than that she has given herself a new sixth sense.

With neodymium-60 nodule magnets at various places underneath her skin, she can feel electromagnetic fields. She describes:

‘There’s an entire world of electromagnetic radiation out there, invisible to most. Our cities are saturated with it. A radio, for instance, gives off a field that’s bigger than the device itself. So do power supplies and wires in the walls. The implants pick up on the fields, and because they’re magnets, they fizz with gentle electricity, telling you this hard drive is currently active, that one is turned off, there’s the main line in the wall. Holding a mobile phone, you can feel the signals it sends and receives. You know it’s ringing before it starts to play any sounds, and when you answer it, you stick the touchscreen stylus to the back of your hand to hold it, then to your finger to type.’

And at less than $50, this sense come cheap.

This is punk transhumanism. Her call is for others to begin experimenting in the same way.

Read more here

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