Thursday, April 29, 2004

Poll:More Iraqis optimistic, dislike U.S.:: Quirky public opinion in Iraq. A few questions: If you are better off now after the war, why was the war not worth it? If you aren't basing your opinions on direct negative contact with soldiers, what are you basing them on? Al Jazeera? I wonder why they repeatedly show American’s attacking Iraqi insurgent targets, but not things like building hospitals, schools, giving many Iraqis jobs, and comment on the lack of mass murder.

And a question to faltering Americans: would it be better or worse to find that Saddam had succeeded in creating usable WMD in the programs which were shown to exist? And I'm not talking selfish politics here, where not finding WMD shows that Bush was wrong, and Bush is bad because he was wrong on the war. That is sort of putting the cart before the horse. If the threat was credible, as the CIA and other intelligence agencies claimed, isn't it only good in finding things weren't that bad after all?

Yes, we are now in Iraq. Yes, we are under attack daily. BUT, we are killing insurgents as fast as possible, while minimizing civilian casualties, having the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps begin to take care of the situation, and keeping the option open for talks.

But this is just a push in the right direction. America must use its power to help to most corrupt parts of the world. WMD was icing on the cake to go to war. Preventing more mass graves, a domino effect of spreading democracy, being on the offensive with the terrorists, directly stopping Saddam's support of groups like Hammas, etc. these were the flour, sugar, eggs, and semi-sweet chocolate for that same cake :)

Everyone needs to relax, take a step back, and think about the situation from 30K feet.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Yahoo! News - Highway Deaths Hit 13-Year High in 2003:: Robocars beckon. So do smaller, more efficient and covered motorcycles, but that is another story. Too bad design/production pipelines are around 5 years.
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USATODAY.com - Florida town to use blanket of surveillance cameras:: Privacy is an important concern, but people need to understand the power of computers. Specifically, data-mining bots are not the same as snot-nosed FBI interns. Having a judging human look at your private information, from an inevitably biased view, is unnerving to most -- understandably. Not wanting some program to scan your file for something abnormal or wrong, i.e. criminal, is good for society and not a threat. The article has a perfect paragraph:
"Courts have ruled that in a public area, you have no expectation of privacy," said Walker, one of 11 sworn officers who protects Manalapan's 321 residents. Still, Walker says Manalapan's data will be destroyed every three months.

As I've said before, let's have cameras everywhere in public, bots reading our emails and seeing our financial transactions, and a large number of humans to oversee any such operation.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

BBC NEWS | 'Laser vision' offers new insights:: I can't wait until photon based displays are more common. The idea is simple: rather than blasting electrons onto a florescent surface to produce different colored light, you blast photons directly onto the retina to layer over what you normally see.

I would love to have a heads-up-display in almost everything I do. There are a few obvious benefits:
o It is embedded the 3D real world, so 3D modes of interaction would boost productivity and functionality of software.

o It would involve detecting information from your environment, which will either be done by ubiquitous computing of passive computer vision, both of which I would love to see come to fruition.

o The ability to drown-out "ugly" artifacts in an environment, or enhance them, would lead to new levels of personal aesthetics. Unanimity of aesthetics without conformity to standard definitions.

BUT, this is way in the future, unfortunately. sigh...

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Kerry's incredible budget promises - The Washington Times: Editorials/OP-ED:: One dilemma I've been having with democracy lately is that people have the right to create an insolvent government. We can vote for lower taxes and higher benefits, and somewhere in between reality is lost in the confusion.

Kerry's promises always seemed a bit inappropriate to me. Firstly, I simply don't think the government should provide things that I can provide myself. Put it another way, I don't think the government should coerce me into giving it money to pay for things other people should be doing on their own. Secondly, such systems rarely pan out to positive programs, when any simple cost-benefit analysis is applied.

The article above is most welcome, because it breaks down some of the simpleton promises Kerry has made into their actual numbers. Simply put, there is no way it balances out, without major tax hikes. He is crafting class warfare with his talk of “middle-class” tax cuts and a tax increase for “the rich”. Too bad 95% of tax revenue comes from the top 50% of income brackets.

This is a very frustrating downward spiral to socialism, where governments tax and regulate more, hurting the economy, to give money and services to individuals hurt by implicitly engineered failings in same economy. Sheesh!
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Friday, April 23, 2004

Military news about Iraq:: Excellent run down of the major myths about our current war.
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Unlocking the Secrets of Animal Locomotion - Robots::Robert Full's Berkeley site on how to build machines intelligently, putting much more thought into the mechanical engineering than the details control required for using dozens of motors. My research is related to perception for such a system, which is something you gave up when going down the path of "fast, cheap, and out of control". Indeed the robots featured in that movie are the basis for this technology.
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Thursday, April 22, 2004

I, Robot:: New longer preview for the upcoming movie. I still can't imagine how they will stay true to the book and not have the robots break any of the 3 laws. Special effects look good though...
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The New York Times > Op-Ed Columnist Thomas L. Friedman
: Losing Our Edge?
:: Again, Friedman is right. There is a major problem in America if we can't attract to best and brightest tech folks to work here, or if they aren't allowed to.

Free trade and open markets rely heavily on the ability to emigrate freely. People complain about the flood of immigrants that would result from opening our borders, and indeed they would need to be socialized to our beliefs in hard work and personal responsibility. But, that's not the problem.

There are two main problems with immigration. First, we have made it the government's job to take care of those who can't or won't take care of themselves. This is a huge problem, not only because it destroys the social fabric of personal responsibility and a drive towards self actualization, but also because it means that we logistically cannot support a flood of immigrants. Perhaps the best thing for this country would be to completely open our borders, while ensuring that people don't come here just to be supported by the government.

The second problem with immigration is terrorism. I have a friend who is Indian but lived a good deal of his life in Kuwait (this, apparently, is quite common). He started with the rest of us first year graduate students at the Robotics Institute, after spending 4 years in America on a visa at USC. After the first semester, he went back to India over the winter break. Though this next semester is almost over, he is STILL THERE. Apparently there was a problem in shifting the visa he had from USC to one from CMU, especially because robotics is on par with nuclear engineering as far as DHS is concerned. I'm all for government checks, but if they are going to take months (and maybe years), I really don't see the point.

Everyone knows that a bureaucracy is inefficient, but somehow we just aren't paying attention. How the hell does America hope to defend itself against an agile and flexible threat like Al Queda by using an even larger bureaucracy than the FBI and CIA combined? Let me repeat myself: the government is spending at least 5 months looking into the background of someone I am certain is 100% NOT a threat. Imagine the resources the takes, like something out of Brazil. This can't be a good thing.

I would feel less safe but better off in the long run if we just let everyone in and had more surveillance in America to stop attacks. I certainly have little faith in the government to stop a future attack, but the most effective means seem to have little to do with immigration: DOJ making arrests through intelligence gathering, CIA & special forces operations in terrorist breeding grounds, and stopping the private money and governmental support for these organizations.

Stopping Sanjeev Koppal from coming back to America from India is clearly not the solution. At least he won't be looking to be on the dole when he finally makes it back.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Wired News: Teaching Robots to Herd Cats
"To translate the human concept of teamwork into electronics, three teams of university researchers are working together to develop technology that would turn a pack of robots into a single machine. "

Stupid title, interesting article. Urban search and rescue is big at CMU. [I guess I say that about everything related to robotics, but there is a good reason]. This is one of those noble robotics problems, which won't replace human labor, will save lives, and puts a great PR face for robots.

Here is a link to similar projects at CMU.
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Robot Race Suffers Quick, Ignoble End:: I went to a talk yesterday by Chris Urmson, the technical lead at RI for the red team. He is an advanced PhD student, which gives you an idea of the make-up of the team, i.e. most people were students or volunteers. There was a lot of talk about how much money CMU had for this event, but looking at the details, there really wasn't that much cash around.

Articles like that one linked above are funny because they put all the robots in the same group. True, Sandstorm (CMU's entry) went 7.4 miles, while second place went 6.7 miles. That isn't that big of a difference. BUT, Sandstorm did it in around 40 minutes, and 2nd place well over 2 hours. That is a huge difference, which I rarely see mentioned in reports in the media.

If you haven't gotten the opportunity, I suggest you try to find a video from the helicopters tracking Sandstorm on the race day. I know I certainly wouldn't be that confortable going the speed it was going on those road conditions. It is one thing to say you've reached a max speed of 39mph. It is another matter all together to see that thing jet on a bad dirt road.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

BBC NEWS | Technology | Passwords revealed by sweet dealMore than 70% of people would reveal their computer password in exchange for a bar of chocolate, a survey has found. This article entirely avoids the key question: what KIND of cholocate are we talking about?
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Monday, April 19, 2004

MSNBC - Robot plane drops bomb in test:: This is very different than a predator, which is tele-operated. Autonomy is the true end in robotics, not just displacing the operator far from risk.

To operate 10X as many predators, you need 10X+ as many people. To operate an autonomous air force, you don't really need anyone, except those that maintain the machines. Even that can be automated.

The problem is today’s war is that you need to send in a first wave of high altitude or stealth planes to take out the anti-aircraft capabilities. This slows the progress in a war. If you could just send in a smart swarm, with refueling overhead, you could have dominance of a region almost instantly.

This, along with projects to revolutionize information technology at all levels in the military, will put our army leaps and bounds above the rest. This game of momentum is amazing. We spend more on military enhancement than the next 15 countries in the world COMBINED. It is understandable. I can imagine any large budget proposal is met with a "why bother?" from those with more domestic concerns. I’ve also read in places that it is hard for us to work with other armies, because their infrastructure and organization just doesn’t compare. So much for “internationalization” of future wars of liberation…

You might not like the idea of the USA being the world's policeman, but little evidence shows it will or even could change. Maybe when there aren't any more dictators, we'll cut military spending. That will hopefully be soon.

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Friday, April 16, 2004

kickAAS:: Kick All Agriculture Subsidies. The state of the particular brand of corporate welfare is amazing. This article says it all:
It is difficult to find anything in the European Union more perverse than its continuing subsidy of sugar. It fails every test miserably. It is economic madness since the EU is shelling out hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money - that could be used to reduce its growing budget deficit - to grow crops at a loss that could be better grown elsewhere. It is immoral because subsidies prevent poor countries from growing sugar that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. It is also unhealthy because it is encouraging the subsidised output of a product that the World Health Organisation, courageously - in view of the vested interests attacking it - says we should be cutting back on.
If the figures - published in a new Oxfam report, Dumping on the World, this week - were applied to any other industry, they would be laughed out of court. Oxfam claims the EU is spending €3.30 to export sugar worth €1, an almost unbelievable support of more than 300% - and that is only part of the elaborate welfare package bestowed on the industry. These hugely subsidised exports are dumped on developing countries, snuffing out potential economic growth that could enable them to work their way out of poverty. All they want is a level playing field. Is that too much to ask for? Oxfam - quoting World Bank figures - also claims that sugar costs 25 cents per pound weight to produce in the EU compared with 8 cents in India, 5.5 cents in Malawi and 4 cents in Brazil. The world price for raw sugar is 6 cents a pound. It is bizarre that European governments reconciled, albeit reluctantly, to call centres being subcontracted elsewhere will not let go of sugar output which, left to market forces, would long ago have migrated to the third world. Sugar producers, with twisted logic, use Brazil's low cost of output as a reason for retaining subsidies on the grounds that it will not be really poor countries benefiting, only the medium poor.

The simplest solution would be to abolish all agriculture subsidies, even though it would, in the short term, hurt a minority of poor countries that might lose out to the likes of Brazil. Once exceptions are granted, then everything is up for grabs, and trade and talks would be dragged down by interminable bargaining. If complete abolition is deemed impracticable in the short term, then at the very least Europe should commit itself at once to the complete abolition of all export subsidies, direct and indirect. Apart from the huge relief it would bring to poor countries, it would also restore Europe's long-lost moral leadership.

I suppose those farmers think that if socialism was good for them, it would clearly be good for the world's poor. These subsidies are the perfect tool to crush competition and encourage a beggar mindset.
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while_true:: I've doubledmy average readership in the past two weeks. This is nice :).

I think It's because I've been linking from my website, other blogs, and email.

If you ever have any comments/suggestions, please email me at ikirigin 'at' andrew.cmu.edu.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Yahoo! News - Calif. Man Accused of 9/11 Fraud:: Mental note, don't lie about the capabilities of my vision software to my advisor OR the FBI.
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Monday, April 12, 2004

There are two things you need to see related to robots:

The first is a video of a 1ft. tall humanoid which is extremely flexible. I think the movement is scripted (as opposed to reacting intelligently to your environment) so that is too bad.

The second is a cheesy video of what a robot policeman might look like. I think that it misses the point, in that robots are scalable more than humans, so showing 100s rather than a single robot makes more sense. Also, it talks about "developing" nations. If you had a robot which could act much like a cop, you could also have robotic construction, which would make the time for development much smaller, e.g. building infrastructure in farming, roads, buildings, sewers, electrical grids, etc. would be easy and cheap.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Samizdata.net:: I'm having a discussion about creating a new government more in line with libertarian ideals. Look at the comments for my thoughts. I mentioned that I think the government should fund education in the form of vouchers.

I got this implicit reply:

With all this talk of statism, the suppression of rights by the state, and the need to get rid of it, several mentions of public education as a legitimate role of government have me puzzled.

Why is state controlled or state funded (funded IS controlled) education seen as a fundamental function of government? The US Constitution certainly makes no mention of it. Of all of the things that Libertarians get worked up over, many of them I find trivial, state funding of education is as legitimate of a concern to me as anything else modern governments control. Public education is the strongest method available for government indoctrination from an early age (the Hitler youth example is the easiest extreme example).

I can't even begin to list the number of things I learned in school that had to be overcome just to begin thinking like a Libertarian, a process that has taken me over a decade. Regardless of the details, in public school in America we were taught that government is a good thing that can make everybody's life better, and lack of government action is almost criminal, inviting "bad people" to do "bad things" without being brought to justice. I'm still amazed after 12 years of public education and 4 more of college (thankfully for me at a relatively conservative University) that I could stumble into becoming a Libertarian at all.

When people talk of writing a new, better Constitution why is public funding of education a proper government function? Was the lack of public education in much of America during the first 100 years of the US a key ingredient for keeping the government small and relatively unintrusive? People of that time weren't as uneducated as most people think, so it's not the same argument that most couldn't read, write and do math.

It would be an interesting debate.

My basic reasoning is that a functional democracy requires an educated populous. Many of the founders agreed with this. The point is that you shouldn't trust a majority to act unlike a mob unless they have spent a bit of time thinking about something.

This has little to do with any manipulative curriculum you might have experienced, especially at the university level. A free market education system, where a minimal level of funding comes from the government, would rid us of such a system.

Funding does not equal control, as least not fundamentally. If the system worked that it was an individual’s choice of schools without a stipulation of government determined "accreditation", all control would be in the hands of the individuals. Increased funding for any program can be enforced by constitutional mandate to not exceed inflation + population growth, the government would tie its own hands to provide education at a reasonable level, guaranteed. A review every decade or so could give an optional boost in the level of funding if some larger increase is needed, but this might not be a good idea.

The point: education can work in government, but it was formulated improperly at its onset, and never reformed, only expanded. Indeed we are only at the first iteration of public education. Private education prior the the 20th century is virtually irrelevant given the changes in required levels of education needed to function on a basic level in this world.

Another point is something that might sound a bit cliché after you’ve heard Bush mention it a few times: training workers for the 21st century.

The rate of change of technology is increasing. Think about that for a moment. It isn’t just that we are improving. It is that we are improving faster than before. We’ve already seen the time is takes to adopt new modalities of communication change once those technologies are proven in value. The Internet was 10 years from obscurity to common usage. Cell phones were 5. Blogs are even faster. [__] will be even faster proportional to its size.

One of those technologies to fill the blanks which we don’t even know about today is robotics. ‘Robot’ is from the Czech word for forced labor or serf. Fortunately in this road to serfdom, robots won’t have the free will to describe a robotic economy as oppressive.

Anything that requires very little thought will be automated. Put in more gruesome terms on a longer time scale: anything that doesn’t explicitly require a human will be done by a robot.

I think this is GREAT. It will be true freedom. It could yield an end to scarcity, which would be interesting indeed from an economics standpoint. The exploration of space and other hostile environments becomes feasible when you don’t need to protect biological life. Mechanical Immortality will creep its way into reality. Scientific study, when automated, will yield amazing increases in technology, e.g. automated testing of pharmaceutical drugs.

It would make bad jobs unavailable. If you truly love what you do for work, needless to say you could still choose to do it.

There is one concern I have about this: what will impede technology's progress? We are already seeing illogical issues with biotechnology and soon we will see more fear around nanotechnology. It is and will be worse for robots because the intuition is ingrained in the minds of the masses and plastered across the silver screen: robots are a threat to you and your way of life.

We need lubrication for the inevitable friction. Some argue that welfare is a form of stabilization of free markets, where a safety net prevents revolution. I think they overestimate the will of the poor and their level of poverty, which relatively speaking is far above sustenance, especially when you take into account private charity.

The point in this context is that a better educated populous will be more adaptable to these and other changes, and it is well worth the price. With our current path, I wouldn’t be surprised to see legislation designed to slow the spread of robotics spawned by the whims of the recently unemployed lacking in foresight.

Here is one example of this friction. There are thousands more in the media and movies. Education is the key, and worth the coercion of individuals through taxes to achieve it.

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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Robo-Cars Make Cruise Control So Last Century:: NY Times on robotic cars. They mention only large car makers which are slow adapters of technology. This is mainly because their production cycles are very long. A new technology that Toyota decides to buy might be able to get into the 2008 or 2009 line of cars.

Personally, the biggest motivation is the 50,000 deaths which occur in car accidents yearly just in the US. Automation in driving would also affect city planning, traffic, productivity, and a number of other areas.

The article makes no mention of technologies already developed in universities, such as NavLab at CMU.
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