There was an industry trade show of military robots this week which caught my eye since I’ve been mentioning robots, military and otherwise, in my postings lately. Apparently military enthusiasm for robots continues unabated. From the media release on Physorg.com,
“I think we’re at the beginning of an unmanned revolution,” Gary Kessler, who oversees unmanned aviation programs for the US Navy and Marines, told AFP.
“We’re spending billions of dollars on unmanned systems.”
In 2003, the US military had almost no robots in its arsenal but now has 7,000 unmanned aircraft and at least 10,000 ground vehicles.
The US Air Force, which initially resisted the idea of pilotless planes, said it trains more operators for unmanned aircraft than pilots for its fighter jets and bombers.
Interestingly, iRobot which sells robot vacuum cleaners (Roomba) to consumers also sells a “Wall-E lookalike robot” which searches enemy terrain and buildings to find and dismantle explosives.
This all reminds me of an article on BBC News (Call for debate on killer robots) which I posted about here when I was looking at the possibility (courtesy of an article by Jamais Cascio) of systems that are both unmanned and without operators, i.e. autonomous, intelligent systems/robots.
The University of Toronto (Canada) is hosting a conference on quantum information and control. From the media release on Azonano,
Quantum Information is a revolutionary approach to computing and communication which exploits the phenomena of quantum mechanics – the fundamental theory of nature at is most basic, sub-atomic level – to vastly enhance the capabilities of today’s computers and internet communication.
The conference is being held from August 24 – 27, 2009.
In yesterday’s posting about Andrew Maynard’s review of a book on science illiteracy I mentioned that I had a hesitation about one of the recommendations he made for further reading. Specifically, I have some reservations about the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School’s work on nanotechnology. To be absolutely fair, I’ve read only an earlier version of a paper (then titled) Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation.
I did try to read the latest version and the other papers on nanotechnology produced by the group but they’re behind paywalls (click on Download paper if you like but I just tested them and not one was accessible). So, I’m working off the copy that I could freely download at the time.
First, they are using the word cultural in a fashion that many of us are unfamiliar with. Culture in this paper is used in the context of risk perception and the specific theoretical underpinning comes from anthropologist, Mary Douglas. From the paper I downloaded,
Drawing heavily on the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas, one conception of the cultural cognition of risk divides cultural outlooks along two cross-cutting dimensions. The first, “hierarchy-egalitarianism” characterizes the relative preferences of persons for a society in which resources, opportunities, privileges and duties are distributed along fixed and differentiated (of gender, race, religion, and class, for example) versus one in which those goods are distributed without regard to such differences. The other, “individualism-communitarianism,” characterizes the relative preference of persons for a society in which individuals secure the conditions for their own flourishing without collective interference versus one in which the collective is charged with securing its members’ basic needs and in which individual interests are subordinated to collective ones.
This looks like a very politicized approach. Roughly speaking, you have the Horatio Alger/anybody can become president of the US success myth laced with Henry David Thoreau and his self-sufficient utopia cast against collective action (American Revolution, “power to the people”) and communism.
The authors found that people tended to shape their views about technology according to their values and the authors worried in their conclusion that nanotechnology could be the subject of intransigent attitudes on all sides. From the paper,
Nanotechnology, on this view, could go the route of nuclear power and other controversial technologies, becoming a focal point of culturally infused political conflict.
For my taste there’s just too much agenda underlying this work. Again, from the paper,
Those in a position to educate the public–from government officials to scientists to members of industry–must also intelligently frame that information in ways that make it possible for persons of diverse cultural orientation to reconcile it with their values.
Note that there is no hint that the discussion could go both ways and there’s the implication that if the information is framed “intelligently” that there will be acceptance.
If you can get your hands on the material, it is an interesting and useful read but proceed with caution.
As it’s Friday, I want to finish off with something a little lighter. Raincoaster has two amusing postings, one about Stephen Hawking and the debate on US health care reform. The other posting features a video of Carla Bruni, Mme Sarkozy and wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, singing. (She’s pretty good.) Have a nice weekend!
ETA (Aug.14, 2009 at 12 pm PST) I forgot to mention that the article concludes that how much you learn about nanotechnology (i.e. your scientific literacy) does not markedly affect your perception of the risks. From the paper,
One might suppose that as members of the public learn more about nanotechnology their assessment of its risk and benefits should converge. Our results suggest that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.