Tag: Japan (page 1 of 16)

Benjamin Fulford Rothschilds surrender US Corporation bankrupt USA Republic accepts shared human d

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Gluten-Free: “Fad” or Not? Studies Suggest Most Gluten Sensitivity Is Imagined

Makia Freeman, ContributorGluten-free food is now very common and available, whether you are in a restaurant, cafe or grocery store. Although there are definitely people who suffer from celiac disease and other diseases triggered by gluten, the entire gluten-free movement has left many health experts and nutritionalists scratching their heads in bewilderment. Since when did large chunks of populations used to eating bread, pasta and other wheat products suddenly suffer from [...]

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Cover Up – Mainstream Reporting on Fukushima a Joke

Terence Newton, Staff WriterIt has been over four years since the 9.0 magnitude Tōhoku earthquake and ensuing catastrophic tsunami leveled the Pacific coast of Japan, setting off a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daichi power plant. Radiation has been pouring into the ocean, into the earth below, and into the air for over 1500 days now and there is still zero sense of urgency on the part of the government and world leaders to seriously address this blooming catastrop [...]

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5 Cancer Myths Busted

Dr. E. Dahl, Prevent DiseaseCancer statistics are on the rise, and the growing numbers have moved the disease to a priority issue for the global community. AsThe Lancet reports, cancer deaths have increased 46% between 1990 and 2013. On Jan 1, 2016, new international development priorities called Sustainable Development Goals, will focus on decreasing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by 2025.PreventDisease recently reported 5 cancer facts the cancer industry [...]

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Abandoned Uranium Mines Plague Navajo Nation

Sonia Luokkala, Earth Island JournalWaking TimesThe mesas of Monument Valley rise deep red on the horizon. We are in Diné Bikéyah, land of the Navajo.“This is John Wayne country,” trained Navajo guide Gregory Holiday repeats his lines for an enchanted group of tourists. The view opens boundless to the sacred land of the Diné people, but for visitors it is presented as the iconic west of cowboys and Americana.The sun sets and the last traveler boards t [...]

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Rats try to rescue others in distress, suggesting they feel empathy


Rats were even more likely to choose helping over getting a treat

Excerpt from cbc.ca

Calling someone a rat isn't a compliment about their character – but a new study suggests that maybe it should be.

Rats that see another rat struggling in a pool of water will open a door to rescue it, even if they could open a different door to get a chocolate treat instead.

Rats that knew what it was like to be wet and struggling in the pool were even quicker to help.
"Our findings suggest that rats can behave prosocially and that helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings towards their distressed cage mate," Nobuya Sato, lead author of a study, said in a statement.

The study was published this week in the journal Animal Cognition.

Sato and his team at Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan designed experiments involving pairs of rat cage mates, either two males or two females.


'Helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings,' suggests Nobuya Sato, a Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan research and lead author of a study released this week. (Andre Penner/Associated Press)


The two were placed in separate compartments separated by a transparent wall and door – one compartment that was dry and empty, and one filled with a deep pool of water and sheer walls that made it impossible to climb out. The door could be opened by the rat on the dry side, allowing the other rat to climb out of the pool.

Motivated by helping

Rats on the dry side of the cage were quick to open the door if they saw their cage mates struggling in the water, but not if the pool was empty or contained a stuffed toy rat. If no water was in either compartment, they also didn't open the door. That suggested that they were motivated by helping and not just opening the door for fun.

The researchers reversed the roles and found that rats were quicker to learn to open the door and rescue their cage mate if they had previously experienced a similar struggle in the pool.
"This modulation of learning by prior experience suggests that the helping behaviour observed in the present study might be based on empathy," they wrote.

In another experiment, rats in the dry compartment could choose between two different doors.
  • One that allowed them to rescue their cage mate from the pool.
  • Another that provided access to a chocolate cereal treat. 
More than half the time, rats chose to rescue the other rat first – especially if they were trained to open the door in a similar rescue scenario rather than being trained to open the door in order to access a food treat.

"These results suggest that for all rats, helping a distressed cage mate has a higher value than obtaining a food reward," the researchers wrote.

The results are similar to those in a previous experiment by different researchers, in which rats rescued other rats trapped in an acrylic tube. Still, there has some debate about whether this type of helping behaviour exists among animals other than primates such as monkeys and humans.

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Spacecraft Falls From Orbit Over the Pacific, Russia Says






Excerpt from nytimes.com

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An unmanned Russian spaceship loitering in orbit after a failed cargo run to the International Space Station plunged into Earth's atmosphere late on Thursday, the Russian space agency reported.

The capsule, loaded with more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the station crew, fell from orbit at 10:04 p.m. Eastern time, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said in a statement.
At the time, the Progress-59 spacecraft was flying over the central Pacific Ocean, the statement said.

Most of the spacecraft was expected to burn up during its high-speed descent through the atmosphere, but small pieces of the structure could have survived and splashed down in the ocean.
“Only a few small pieces of structural elements could reach the planet's surface,” Roscosmos said in a statement earlier Thursday — similar to what happens at the end of routine Progress cargo missions.

The freighter was launched on April 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, but never made to the station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 250 miles above the earth.

Ground controllers lost contact with the Progress spaceship shortly after it separated from the upper stage of its Soyuz rocket about nine minutes after launch.

An investigation into the failed mission is underway, Roscosmos said. Russia has flown 62 Progress spacecraft to the station to deliver modules and cargo, two of which were not successful.
Various versions of the Progress freighters have been flying since 1978, supporting previous Soviet-era stations including Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir. The capsules are designed to burn up in the atmosphere after delivering their cargo.

The United States hired privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, and Orbital ATK to fly cargo to the station after the space shuttles were retired in 2011. SpaceX's missions have all been successful.

Orbital lost a cargo ship in October after a failed launch. Europe flew five ATV freighters to the station, all successfully, but has no plans to fly more. Japan is preparing for its fifth HTV cargo flight in August.

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The sun unleashes its biggest flare of the year




Excerpt from dailytimes.com.pk

The sun has unleashed its most powerful flare of the year causing radio blackouts throughout the Pacific region.

The enormous X-class solar flare peaked at 6:11pm ET yesterday from a sunspot called Active Region 2339 (AR2339).

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation that, when intense enough, can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel - and scientists say they could get more powerful in the future.

This latest flare is classified as an X2.7. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength.

Despite the recent radio blackouts, scientists say the flare is unlikely to cause any further major issues here on Earth.

‘Given the impulsive nature of this event, as well as the source location on the eastern limb of the sun, we are not expecting a radiation storm at Earth,’ scientists with the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado.

‘We will be on the lookout for new imagery from the Nasa Soho [Solar and Heliospheric Observatory] mission to determine if there was an associated coronal mass ejection (CME) with this event,’ they added.

‘Given the same logic above, however, we do not expect there to be one that would impact Earth.’

Yesterday Kazunari Shibata, an astrophysicist from Kyoto University in Japan, said the sun has the potential to unleash a flare of such a magnitude that it would be larger than anything humans have ever seen.

At the Space Weather Workshop in Colorado, Shibata said ‘superflares,’ that contain energy 1,000 times larger than what we have seen could be on their way.

He said there is evidence of this happening every 800 to 5,000 years on Earth,

Scientists say such a solar ‘super-storm’ would pose a ‘catastrophic’ and ‘long-lasting’ threat to life on Earth.

A superflare would induce huge surges of electrical currents in the ground and in overhead transmission lines, causing widespread power outages and severely damaging critical electrical components.

The largest ever solar super-storm on record occurred in 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event, named after the English astronomer Richard Carrington who spotted the preceding solar flare.

This massive CME released about 1022 kJ of energy - the equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima bombs exploding at the same time - and hurled around a trillion kilos of charged particles towards the Earth at speeds of up to 3000 km/s.

However, its impact on the human population was relatively benign as our electronic infrastructure at the time amounted to no more than about 124,000 miles (200,000 km) of telegraph lines.

Nasa has also released incredible footage showing the sun unleashing a huge lick of plasma that increased the star’s visible hemisphere by almost half.

The solar filament, which exploded on April 28 and 29, was suspended above the sun due to strong magnetic fields that pushed outwards.

Solar astronomers around the world had their eyes on this unusually large filament and kept track as it erupted.

Nasa’s animation involves images taken from the orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory using its Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph.

The diameter of the animation is about 30 million miles (45 million km) at the distance of the sun, or half of the diameter of the orbit of Mercury.

The white circle in the centre of the round disk represents the size of the sun, which is being blocked by the telescope in order to see the fainter material around it.

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Nuclear Experimentation Year 70 – Playing With Madness

Ethan Indigo Smith, ContributorThe recent “news” on the nuclear situation in Iran brings to light the madhouse of cards on which the postmodern world is built. Or rather, it would bring the madness to light if the major media outlets of the world were not bought up and sold out to the military industrial complex, and therefore completely misinformed on the actions and dangers of the nuclear experimentation industry.The story is not just about [...]

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Japan comes closer to beaming solar power from SPACE: Mitsubishi makes breakthrough in sending energy wirelessly



Japanese scientists say they have successfully transmitted energy wirelessly in a breakthrough for future solar space power systems. While the distance was relatively small, the technology could someday pave the way for mankind to tap the vast amount of solar energy available in space and use it here on Earth
Japanese scientists say they have successfully transmitted energy wirelessly in a breakthrough for future solar space power systems. While the distance was relatively small, the technology could someday pave the way for mankind to tap the vast amount of solar energy available in space and use it here on Earth


  • Excerpt from dailymail.co.uk
  • By Ellie Zolfagharifard
  • Microwaves delivered 1.8 kw of power - enough to run an electric kettle
  • Power was sent through the air with to a receiver 170ft (55 metres) away
  • Technology may someday help tap vast solar energy available in space
  • Jaxa's plan is to eventually have sunlight-gathering panels and antennae set up about 22,300 miles (36,000km) from the Earth


Japanese scientists have successfully transmitted energy wirelessly in a breakthrough that could pave the way for space-based solar power systems.

Mitsubishi researchers used microwaves to deliver 1.8 kilowatts of power - enough to run an electric kettle - through the air with pinpoint accuracy to a receiver 170ft (55 metres) away.

While the distance was relatively small, the technology could someday pave the way for mankind to tap the vast amount of solar energy available in space and use it here on Earth.

'This was the first time anyone has managed to send a high output of nearly two kilowatts of electric power via microwaves to a small target, using a delicate directivity control device,' said a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said.

The test, which took place at Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagoya, Japan, will help Jaxa devise its long-awaited space solar power system.

Solar power generation in space has many advantages over its Earth-based cousin, notably the permanent availability of energy, regardless of weather or time of day.

While man-made satellites, such as the International Space Station, have long since been able to use the solar energy that washes over them from the sun, getting that power down to Earth where people can use it has been the thing of science fiction.

The test, which took place at Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagoya, Japan, will help Jaxa devise its long-awaited space solar power system. Mitsubishi used microwaves to deliver 1.8 kilowatts of power - enough to run an electric kettle - through the air with pinpoint accuracy to a receiver (right) 170ft (55 metres) away
The test, which took place at Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagoya, Japan, will help Jaxa devise its long-awaited space solar power system. Mitsubishi used microwaves to deliver 1.8 kilowatts of power - enough to run an electric kettle - through the air with pinpoint accuracy to a receiver (right) 170ft (55 metres) away
The test, which took place at Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagoya, Japan, will help Jaxa devise its long-awaited space solar power system. Mitsubishi used microwaves to deliver 1.8 kilowatts of power - enough to run an electric kettle - through the air with pinpoint accuracy to a receiver (right) 170ft (55 metres) away


In a separate project, a Japanese firm last year revealed plans to cover the moon in a huge swathe of solar panels and use them to power homes here on Earth
 In a separate project, a Japanese firm last year revealed plans to cover the moon in a huge swathe of solar panels and use them to power homes here on Earth


But the Japanese research offers the possibility that humans will one day be able to farm an inexhaustible source of energy in space.
The idea, said the Jaxa spokesman, would be for microwave-transmitting solar satellites - which would have sunlight-gathering panels and antennae - to be set up about 22,300 miles (36,000km) from the Earth.

'But it could take decades before we see practical application of the technology - maybe in the 2040s or later,' he said.

'There are a number of challenges to overcome, such as how to send huge structures into space, how to construct them and how to maintain them.'

The idea of space-based solar power generation emerged among US researchers in the 1960s and Japan's SSPS programme, chiefly financed by the industry ministry, started in 2009, he said.

COULD A SOLAR FARM IN SPACE POWER OUR FUTURE?

Space-based solar power – once the stuff of science-fiction – could be available sooner than expected if Japan has its way
Space-based solar power – once the stuff of science-fiction – could be available sooner than expected if Japan has its way


Solar power has had a difficult start on Earth thanks to inefficient panels and high costs. But in space, scientists believe it could transform the way we generate energy.

Now, the space-based solar power – once the stuff of science-fiction – could be available sooner than expected if Japan has its way.

Within 25 years, the country plans to make space-based solar power a reality, according to a proposal from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa).

In a recent IEEE article by Susumu Sasaki, a professor emeritus at Jaxa, outlined the agency's plans create a 1.8 mile long (3 km) man-made island in the harbour of Tokyo Bay.

The island would be studded with 5 billion antennas working together to convert microwave energy into electricity.

The microwaves would be beamed down from a number of giant solar collectors in orbit 22,400 miles (36,000 km) above the Earth. 
Resource-poor Japan has to import huge amounts of fossil fuel.
It has become substantially more dependent on these imports as its nuclear power industry shut down in the aftermath of the disaster at Fukushima in 2011.

In a separate project, a Japanese firm last year revealed plans to cover the moon in a huge swathe of solar panels and use them to power homes here on Earth.

Shimizu Corporation's Luna Ring project would stretch almost 6,790 miles (11,000km) around the moon's equator and a field of solar panels would form a belt.

Energy captured by these panels would then be sent to Earth using microwaves and laser lights could be beamed directly to countries where it is needed.

According to the plans, the project would produce around 13,000 terrawatts of continuous solar energy. At present, the world's population consumes about 15 terawatts of power each year.

The company claims the plans would not only provide an 'almost inexhaustible' energy supply, it would stop the rise of global warming caused by carbon dioxide from current energy sources. 

Shimizu Corporation's Luna Ring project would stretch almost 6,790 miles (11,000km) around the moon's equator and a field of solar panels would form a belt
Shimizu Corporation's Luna Ring project would stretch almost 6,790 miles (11,000km) around the moon's equator and a field of solar panels would form a belt

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Great Fuel Economy For Less: 5 Affordable Used Cars That are Surprisingly Good on Gas

Excerpt from autotrader.com By Josh Sadlier   Seems like the only thing automakers want to talk about these days is how their cars suddenly get great fuel economy. Given this relentless chatter, it's tempting to conclude that mos...

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Mummified monk revealed inside Buddha statue


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Excerpt from usatoday.com

The mummified remains of a monk have been revealed inside a nearly 1,000-year old Chinese statue of a Buddha.

The mummy inside the gold-painted papier-mâché statue is believed to be that of Liuquan, a Buddhist master of the Chinese Meditation School who died around the year 1100, researchers said. It's the only Chinese Buddhist mummy to undergo scientific research in the West.

The statue was on display last year at the Drents Museum as part of an exhibit on mummies. It was an cited as an example of self-mummification, an excruciating, years-long process of meditation, starvation, dehydration and poisoning that some Buddhist monks undertook to achieve enlightenment and veneration.

When the exhibit ended in August, a CT scan at the Meander Medical Center in the Netherlands revealed the seated skeleton. Samples taken from organ cavities provided one big surprise: paper scraps printed with ancient Chinese characters indicating the high-status monk may have been worshiped as a Buddha.

A CT scan has revealed a mummified Chinese monk inside a Buddha statue. The remains date back about 1,000 years. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
The finding was first reported in December but did not get wide notice. Irish Archaeology carried a report over the weekend, which apparently started the news ball rolling.

But the revelation is not, as some reports claim, "a shocking discovery," The History Blog notes: "It was known to be inside the statue all along ... that's why it was sent to the Drents Museum in the first place as part of the Mummies exhibition."

The mummy's existence was discovered in 1996 when the statue was being restored in the Netherlands, Live Science writes, explaining what was found, how its age was determined and when the first detailed skeletal imaging was performed.




DNA tests were conducted on bone samples, and the Dutch team plans to publish its finding in a forthcoming monograph.
Researchers still have not determined whether the monk mummified himself, a practice that was also widespread in Japan and that was outlawed in the 19th century. If he did, the process was gruesome, as Ancient Origins explains:
For the first 1,000 days, the monks ceased all food except nuts, seeds, fruits and berries and they engaged in extensive physical activity to strip themselves of all body fat. For the next one thousand days, their diet was restricted to just bark and roots. Near the end of this period, they would drink poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, which caused vomiting and a rapid loss of body fluids. It also acted as a preservative and killed off maggots and bacteria that would cause the body to decay after death.
In the final stage, after more than six years of torturous preparation, the monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would go into a state of meditation. He was seated in the lotus position, a position he would not move from until he died. A small air tube provided oxygen to the tomb. Each day, the monk rang a bell to let the outside world know he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed for the final thousand day period of the ritual.
At the end of this period, the tomb would be opened to see if the monk was successful in mummifying himself. If the body was found in a preserved state, the monk was raised to the status of Buddha, his body was removed from the tomb and he was placed in a temple where he was worshiped and revered. If the body had decomposed, the monk was resealed in his tomb and respected for his endurance, but not worshiped
If you find yourself in Budapest before May, the Buddha mummy statue is on display at the Hungarian Natural History Museum.

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The Future of Technology in 2015?




Excerpt from
cnet.com


The year gone by brought us more robots, worries about artificial intelligence, and difficult lessons on space travel. The big question: where's it all taking us?

Every year, we capture a little bit more of the future -- and yet the future insists on staying ever out of reach.
Consider space travel. Humans have been traveling beyond the atmosphere for more than 50 years now -- but aside from a few overnights on the moon four decades ago, we have yet to venture beyond low Earth orbit.
Or robots. They help build our cars and clean our kitchen floors, but no one would mistake a Kuka or a Roomba for the replicants in "Blade Runner." Siri, Cortana and Alexa, meanwhile, are bringing some personality to the gadgets in our pockets and our houses. Still, that's a long way from HAL or that lad David from the movie "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."
Self-driving cars? Still in low gear, and carrying some bureaucratic baggage that prevents them from ditching certain technology of yesteryear, like steering wheels.
And even when these sci-fi things arrive, will we embrace them? A Pew study earlier this year found that Americans are decidedly undecided. Among the poll respondents, 48 percent said they would like to take a ride in a driverless car, but 50 percent would not. And only 3 percent said they would like to own one.
"Despite their general optimism about the long-term impact of technological change," Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center wrote in the report, "Americans express significant reservations about some of these potentially short-term developments" such as US airspace being opened to personal drones, robot caregivers for the elderly or wearable or implantable computing devices that would feed them information.
Let's take a look at how much of the future we grasped in 2014 and what we could gain in 2015.

Space travel: 'Space flight is hard'

In 2014, earthlings scored an unprecedented achievement in space exploration when the European Space Agency landed a spacecraft on a speeding comet, with the potential to learn more about the origins of life. No, Bruce Willis wasn't aboard. Nobody was. But when the 220-pound Philae lander, carried to its destination by the Rosetta orbiter, touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, some 300 million miles from Earth, the celebration was well-earned.
A shadow quickly fell on the jubilation, however. Philae could not stick its first landing, bouncing into a darker corner of the comet where its solar panels would not receive enough sunlight to charge the lander's batteries. After two days and just a handful of initial readings sent home, it shut down. For good? Backers have allowed for a ray of hope as the comet passes closer to the sun in 2015. "I think within the team there is no doubt that [Philae] will wake up," lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring said in December. "And the question is OK, in what shape? My suspicion is we'll be in good shape."
The trip for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been much longer: 3 billion miles, all the way to Pluto and the edge of the solar system. Almost nine years after it left Earth, New Horizons in early December came out of hibernation to begin its mission: to explore "a new class of planets we've never seen, in a place we've never been before," said project scientist Hal Weaver. In January, it will begin taking photos and readings of Pluto, and by mid-July, when it swoops closest to Pluto, it will have sent back detailed information about the dwarf planet and its moon, en route to even deeper space.


Also in December, NASA made a first test spaceflight of its Orion capsule on a quick morning jaunt out and back, to just over 3,600 miles above Earth (or approximately 15 times higher than the International Space Station). The distance was trivial compared to those those traveled by Rosetta and New Horizons, and crewed missions won't begin till 2021, but the ambitions are great -- in the 2030s, Orion is expected to carry humans to Mars.
In late March 2015, two humans will head to the ISS to take up residence for a full year, in what would be a record sleepover in orbit. "If a mission to Mars is going to take a three-year round trip," said NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who will be joined in the effort by Russia's Mikhail Kornienko, "we need to know better how our body and our physiology performs over durations longer than what we've previously on the space station investigated, which is six months."
There were more sobering moments, too, in 2014. In October, Virgin Galactic's sleek, experimental SpaceShipTwo, designed to carry deep-pocketed tourists into space, crashed in the Mojave Desert during a test flight, killing one test pilot and injuring the other. Virgin founder Richard Branson had hoped his vessel would make its first commercial flight by the end of this year or in early 2015, and what comes next remains to be seen. Branson, though, expressed optimism: "Space flight is hard -- but worth it," he said in a blog post shortly after the crash, and in a press conference, he vowed "We'll learn from this, and move forward together." Virgin Galactic could begin testing its next spaceship as soon as early 2015.
The crash of SpaceShipTwo came just a few days after the explosion of an Orbital Sciences rocket lofting an unmanned spacecraft with supplies bound for the International Space Station. And in July, Elon Musk's SpaceX had suffered the loss of one of its Falcon 9 rockets during a test flight. Musk intoned, via Twitter, that "rockets are tricky..."
Still, it was on the whole a good year for SpaceX. In May, it unveiled its first manned spacecraft, the Dragon V2, intended for trips to and from the space station, and in September, it won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to become one of the first private companies (the other being Boeing) to ferry astronauts to the ISS, beginning as early as 2017. Oh, and SpaceX also has plans to launch microsatellites to establish low-cost Internet service around the globe, saying in November to expect an announcement about that in two to three months -- that is, early in 2015.
One more thing to watch for next year: another launch of the super-secret X-37B space place to do whatever it does during its marathon trips into orbit. The third spaceflight of an X-37B -- a robotic vehicle that, at 29 feet in length, looks like a miniature space shuttle -- ended in October after an astonishing 22 months circling the Earth, conducting "on-orbit experiments."

Self-driving cars: Asleep at what wheel?

Spacecraft aren't the only vehicles capable of autonomous travel -- increasingly, cars are, too. Automakers are toiling toward self-driving cars, and Elon Musk -- whose name comes up again and again when we talk about the near horizon for sci-fi tech -- says we're less than a decade away from capturing that aspect of the future. In October, speaking in his guise as founder of Tesla Motors, Musk said: "Like maybe five or six years from now I think we'll be able to achieve true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination." (He also allowed that we should tack on a few years after that before government regulators give that technology their blessing.)
Prototype, unbound: Google's ride of the future, as it looks today Google
That comment came as Musk unveiled a new autopilot feature -- characterizing it as a sort of super cruise control, rather than actual autonomy -- for Tesla's existing line of electric cars. Every Model S manufactured since late September includes new sensor hardware to enable those autopilot capabilities (such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and automated parking), to be followed by an over-the-air software update to enable those features.
Google has long been working on its own robo-cars, and until this year, that meant taking existing models -- a Prius here, a Lexus there -- and buckling on extraneous gear. Then in May, the tech titan took the wraps off a completely new prototype that it had built from scratch. (In December, it showed off the first fully functional prototype.) It looked rather like a cartoon car, but the real news was that there was no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal -- no need for human controls when software and sensors are there to do the work.
Or not so fast. In August, California's Department of Motor Vehicles declared that Google's test vehicles will need those manual controls after all -- for safety's sake. The company agreed to comply with the state's rules, which went into effect in September, when it began testing the cars on private roads in October.
Regardless of who's making your future robo-car, the vehicle is going to have to be not just smart, but actually thoughtful. It's not enough for the car to know how far it is from nearby cars or what the road conditions are. The machine may well have to make no-win decisions, just as human drivers sometimes do in instantaneous, life-and-death emergencies. "The car is calculating a lot of consequences of its actions," Chris Gerdes, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said at the Web Summit conference in Dublin, Ireland, in November. "Should it hit the person without a helmet? The larger car or the smaller car?"

Robots: Legging it out

So when do the robots finally become our overlords? Probably not in 2015, but there's sure to be more hand-wringing about both the machines and the artificial intelligence that could -- someday -- make them a match for homo sapiens. At the moment, the threat seems more mundane: when do we lose our jobs to a robot?
The inquisitive folks at Pew took that very topic to nearly 1,900 experts, including Vint Cerf, vice president at Google; Web guru Tim Bray; Justin Reich of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society; and Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft. According to the resulting report, published in August, the group was almost evenly split -- 48 percent thought it likely that, by 2025, robots and digital agents will have displaced significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers, perhaps even to the point of breakdowns in the social order, while 52 percent "have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution."


Still, for all of the startling skills that robots have acquired so far, they're often not all there yet. Here's some of what we saw from the robot world in 2014:
Teamwork: Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne in May showed off their "Roombots," cog-like robotic balls that can join forces to, say, help a table move across a room or change its height.
A sense of balance: We don't know if Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas is ready to trim bonsai trees, but it has learned this much from "The Karate Kid" (the original from the 1980s) -- it can stand on cinder blocks and hold its balance in a crane stance while moving its arms up and down.
Catlike jumps: MIT's cheetah-bot gets higher marks for locomotion. Fed a new algorithm, it can run across a lawn and bound like a cat. And quietly, too. "Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals. The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground," MIT's Sangbae Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering, told MIT News. "This is kind of a new paradigm where we're controlling force in a highly dynamic situation. Any legged robot should be able to do this in the future."
Sign language: Toshiba's humanoid Aiko Chihira communicated in Japanese sign language at the CEATEC show in October. Her rudimentary skills, limited for the moment to simple messages such as signed greetings, are expected to blossom by 2020 into areas such as speech synthesis and speech recognition.
Dance skills: Robotic pole dancers? Tobit Software brought a pair, controllable by an Android smartphone, to the Cebit trade show in Germany in March. More lifelike was the animatronic sculpture at a gallery in New York that same month -- but what was up with that witch mask?
Emotional ambition: Eventually, we'll all have humanoid companions -- at least, that's always been one school of thought on our robotic future. One early candidate for that honor could be Pepper, from Softbank and Aldebaran Robotics, which say the 4-foot-tall Pepper is the first robot to read emotions. This emo-bot is expected to go on sale in Japan in February.

Ray guns: Ship shape

Damn the photon torpedoes, and full speed ahead. That could be the motto for the US Navy, which in 2014 deployed a prototype laser weapon -- just one -- aboard a vessel in the Persian Gulf. Through some three months of testing, the device "locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality," Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a statement. Those targets were rather modest -- small objects mounted aboard a speeding small boat, a diminutive Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle, and so on -- but the point was made: the laser weapon, operated by a controller like those used for video games, held up well, even in adverse conditions.

Artificial intelligence: Danger, Will Robinson?

What happens when robots and other smart machines can not only do, but also think? Will they appreciate us for all our quirky human high and low points, and learn to live with us? Or do they take a hard look at a species that's run its course and either turn us into natural resources, "Matrix"-style, or rain down destruction?
laser-weapon-system-on-uss-ponce.jpg
When the machines take over, will they be packing laser weapons like this one the US Navy just tried out? John F. Williams/US Navy
As we look ahead to the reboot of the "Terminator" film franchise in 2015, we can't help but recall some of the dire thoughts about artificial intelligence from two people high in the tech pantheon, the very busy Musk and the theoretically inclined Stephen Hawking.
Musk himself more than once in 2014 invoked the likes of the "Terminator" movies and the "scary outcomes" that make them such thrilling popcorn fare. Except that he sees a potentially scary reality evolving. In an interview with CNBC in June, he spoke of his investment in AI-minded companies like Vicarious and Deep Mind, saying: "I like to just keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome."
He has put his anxieties into some particularly colorful phrases. In August, for instance, Musk tweeted that AI is "potentially more dangerous than nukes." And in October, he said this at a symposium at MIT: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. ... You know all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he's like... yeah, he's sure he can control the demon, [but] it doesn't work out."
Musk has a kindred spirit in Stephen Hawking. The physicist allowed in May that AI could be the "biggest event in human history," and not necessarily in a good way. A month later, he was telling John Oliver, on HBO's "Last Week Tonight," that "artificial intelligence could be a real danger in the not too distant future." How so? "It could design improvements to itself and outsmart us all."
But Google's Eric Schmidt, is having none of that pessimism. At a summit on innovation in December, the executive chairman of the far-thinking tech titan -- which in October teamed up with Oxford University to speed up research on artificial intelligence -- said that while our worries may be natural, "they're also misguided."

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